You may be mystified when you notice what turn out
to be the first signs of early menopause: irregular periods, weight gain, fatigue,
changes to libido or hot flashes. You think, what’s going on? I’m only in my 40s
— it must be the beginning of perimenopause.
But when your periods stop — and don’t come back — you may find yourself in early
Early menopause occurs between the ages of 40 and 45 when a woman experiences menopausal
symptoms and then goes a full 12 months without a period. Many women at this age
feel too young for menopause
and the idea of losing their reproductive ability can be a real jolt.
Early menopause is often unexpected and unwanted, and it can bring on very difficult
symptoms. Even though this change may be hard to accept at first, once you understand
what’s going on, you can take natural steps to feel good and support your overall
Signs of early menopause
If you’ve noticed changes in your body, they could be early signs of menopause,
- Hot flashes and/or night sweats
- Fatigue, lack of energy
- Moodiness or irritability
- Poor memory/fuzzy thinking
- Weight gain, especially around the middle
- Low libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Irregular periods before menstruation stops completely
- Urinary incontinence, frequency or urgency
- Urinary tract infections
- Skin changes (increased wrinkling or dryness)
- Hair issues
These symptoms are very confusing when they hit because early menopause is probably
the last thing on your mind. But other shifts happen inside your body that you can’t
feel, including bone loss, which often accelerates during the menopause transition.
Bone loss that starts with the onset of early menopause is a real concern. Your
doctor can check your bone density with an
n-telopeptide urine test that measures bone turnover. But even if tests
confirm increased bone turnover, there is plenty you can do naturally to save your
bones, and your body, in early menopause and beyond.
But first, you have to know what you’re dealing with.
How to know if you’re in early menopause
Even though the symptoms of each are very similar, early menopause,
perimenopause and menopause are different events for your body.
- Early menopause: occurs at age 40-45 and often announces itself
with surprising, and sometimes scary, symptoms. Menstruation stops completely.
- Perimenopause: can start as early as 35 but usually begins in the
mid-to-late 40s. Menstrual cycles continue but they may be irregular. Symptoms appear
and may be frequent and severe.
- Menopause: average age is 52, but it can only be confirmed after
12 months with no menstruation at all. Symptoms can continue indefinitely but may
change and persist into post-menopause.
There can be other circumstances that lead to dramatic menstrual changes in women
before or around age 40.
Premature ovarian failure (POF), a frustratingly-named condition, happens
when the ovaries slow down or stop producing mature eggs and reproductive hormones.
Women with POF may still have occasional, but unpredictable, periods. POF is sometimes
confused with premature menopause when the menstrual cycle stops for good in women
who are under 40.
Other kinds of menopause include “surgical menopause,” which happens abruptly with
hysterectomy, oophorectomy (removal of ovary/ovaries), and certain other pelvic
surgeries. “Medical menopause” can occur after disease treatments such as radiation
Early menopause is just what the name implies: menopause that happens about 10 years
before the average age. But the health implications of early menopause are worth
noting because whenever your hormone status changes, there can be consequences.
What causes early menopause?
The first signs of early menopause are triggered when a woman’s sex hormones, including
estrogen and progesterone, start to fluctuate more rapidly or abruptly before the
average menopause age of 52.
These early hormonal shifts can be dramatic and intense. That’s because as hormone
levels surge and recede unpredictably, your body struggles to just produce hormones
and maintain balance between them. But the body’s ability to make hormones continues
to decline steadily, leading to the eruption of symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal
dryness, and sudden fatigue.
Each woman’s body has its own ideal balance of hormones but, at some point,
all of us experience the hormonal shifts that lead to menopause. And if you’re not
prepared for them, the hormonal fluctuations of early menopause can make life miserable.
4 factors that matter to early menopause
Science has not identified the causes of early menopause, but there are specific
factors that alter the healthy balance between your hormones and increase your risk for an earlier transition:
- Family history of early menopause means you are 60% more likely to go through menopause
before the average age.
- Poor nutrition makes it impossible for your body to get the vitamins, minerals,
healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and lean protein required for even basic hormonal
balance. A diet composed mostly of foods that are processed, or filled with sugar,
preservatives and chemicals, works against your hormonal health.
- Environmental toxins and certain chemicals, including widespread xenoestrogens from
BPA found in plastics, and potent synthetic substances can easily disrupt normal
hormonal activity, production and regulation.
- Smoking increases your risk of early menopause by 30%, making it a major influence
on your hormonal health.
Once the process of early menopause is underway, you can’t stop it. This may be
hard to accept, particularly for women who think they still have plenty of time
to get pregnant. But if you see, and feel, the signs of early menopause now, you
can help your body manage this hormonal transition naturally.
What to do if you have signs of early menopause
Early menopause happens under the influence of severe hormonal imbalance. But finding
ways to make the shifts less extreme will reduce your symptoms and decrease their
intensity. Here’s what to consider so you can stay comfortable, healthy and happy:
1. Eat real food because it’s packed with nutrition.
Your body is still making hormones, even in early menopause.
The right foods and raw materials create the conditions for good hormonal
balance. Choose lean proteins, colorful vegetables, leafy greens, healthy fats,
good quality fiber, and skip the sugar. Supplement if you need to because many nutrients
are codependent and need each other to do their jobs.
A great daily multivitamin is a perfect companion to a healthy diet.
2. Actively restore hormonal balance with targeted herbal compounds.
Components in certain plants have hormonal qualities that help coax your own hormones
into balance with each other. Then, you’ll have more energy and more resilience
against the effects of stress. Look for a
diverse herbal formula with black cohosh, red clover, passionflower, and
wild yam. Bonus points for ashwagandha with its wonderful mood-stabilizing properties
and aphrodisiac effects. These herbs help smooth out the hormonal spikes and plunges
in cortisol, estrogen and progesterone.
3. Think about your lifestyle. Hormonal balance is
easier to achieve when you get enough sleep, clear out toxins, and find exercise
you like enough to do regularly. Exercise helps with everything including building
bone strength and relieving stress. Ongoing stress is a big threat because it keeps
cortisol high for weeks, or even months, creating symptom-causing imbalances between
estrogen, testosterone and progesterone.
Make early menopause the beginning of good self-care
Early menopause can have a deep emotional impact on your life, and your plans for
the future. Early menopause often comes on suddenly and unexpectedly and that can
make you feel disappointed and mad at your body. By taking everything one day at
a time, you can move past the emotional and physical challenges of early menopause
and support your body.
As women, we’re often told what menopause is going to mean for us, usually in a
negative way. While you may be confused about when menopause will start or think
“I’m not ready for this” we want you to know that you can take control and make
this time of your life a wonderful one.
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