It’s a natural rite of passage for most women – at time that marks the end of fertility, or childbearing years. The majority of women experience natural menopause on average at about 51 years of age, although it can occur as early as the 30s or rarely as late as the 60s.
According to Dr Clarinda Burton-Shannon, University Medical Center OB/GYN, "Menopause results from the ovaries decreasing their production of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Many women can tell if they are approaching menopause when their menstrual periods start changing. ‘Perimenopause’ is the term used to describe this time. Women who experience perimenopause – or the years immediately prior to menopause – often experience such changes such as irregular menstrual patterns, hot flashes, fatigue, mood swings, forgetfulness or difficulty sleeping."
Dr Burton-Shannon states, "There are no universal answers to help assure a woman the best quality of life through perimenopause and beyond. Today’s woman must work with her doctor to determine her own individual health status and risk factors for developing diseases in later years."
We do know definitively, though, that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can have an enormous impact on health. Women’s bodies are going through some major changes during perimenopause, making it even more important for her to adopt a healthy lifestyle, including getting adequate exercise and eating a healthy diet (especially with adequate vitamin D and calcium for strong bones).
In addition to helping maintain a healthy weight, a healthy diet may improve the health of a woman’s heart and blood vessels – helping to avoid a heart attack. More American women die of heart disease than any other disease, and by the time women reach 65 their risk of heart attack equals that of a man because the body is no longer producing oestrogen.
The American Medical Association recommends eating a low-fat, high-fibre diet rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains. They also recommend reducing consumption of saturated fat – the kind found in meats and dairy products and hydrogenated oils in many prepared and packaged foods. Some women also find that eliminating alcohol or caffeinated beverages – including coffee, cola, tea and hot chocolate – reduces the frequency or intensity of hot flashes.
(Source: University Medical Center: February 2009)