Identified as the transitional time before entering the menopause, the perimenopause marks the ending of a woman’s reproductive years and is usually first characterized by an irregular menstrual cycle. Although often ignored or undiagnosed–and easily confused with a slew of other health conditions faced by middle-aged women–the perimenopause, just like the menopause itself, can bring huge changes and challenges. With symptoms ranging from (but not limited to) hot flushes and disturbed sleep to mood swings, it can be a tumultuous time.
One way to offset the impact of some of these changes is through diet. If adopted early enough, the right tweaks will not only help to ease immediate symptoms, but could also help make your transition through to menopause less traumatic. “It’s more about a shift in your whole [way of] eating, because what [you might have] gotten away with in the past, you can’t really get away with during the perimenopause and menopause,” says Naomi Potter, MD founder of Menopause Care and the author of Menopausing. “[That means avoiding] the hyper-palatable, high fat, high sugar, high salt foods that, if you are not feeling so great, you tend to reach for. It’s about shifting away from things that are quick and easy.”
Stimulants like caffeine and alcohol should also be avoided where possible, as they can exacerbate or even trigger hot flushes, and steer clear of anything too spicy that might cause inflammation in the body. “Diet is key [and] the thing to remember is that our bodies are not… in compartments, it is all connected,” says skin and wellness expert Marie Reynolds.
Vogue asked the experts to share their advice on what women should be eating more of while experiencing perimenopause.
Stick to whole foods
It goes without saying that your basic diet needs to be healthy, fresh and balanced if you’re facing the perimenopause. That means eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, good quality protein, and fiber. By keeping the foundations of your daily diet strong, you’re setting yourself up to better handle the changing hormones that can impact your physical and mental health. “If you go for foods that are complex and unrefined, they are normally more nutrient rich, so they’ve got the micronutrients and macronutrients,” says Potter. “They are not insulin surges, so they don’t give you that quick sugar rush that then leads to the sugar and insulin low.” Fueling yourself with lots of satiating protein and slow-release carbohydrates, like lean meat, fish, oats, and sweet potatoes, is a good way to maintain a level blood sugar balance. That’s key if you are looking to reduce the sugar cravings and lack of energy associated with perimenopause.
Harness plant power
Declining levels of oestrogen are a hallmark of the menopause, and it often starts during the perimenopausal years. A critical female sex hormone that’s responsible for menstruation, bone health, puberty and pregnancy, when it begins to tail off the impact can be significant. Although not a like-for-like replacement for that which is being lost, plant oestrogens or phytoestrogens should be included in abundance in your diet, because they bind to the body’s oestrogen receptors in a similar way to hormonal oestrogen.