WHEN DID PERIMENOPAUSE START FOR YOU?
Perimenopause is a precursor to menopause, whereby the ovaries gradually begin making less oestrogen. It's a natural phase in life and causes women to experience irregular menstrual cycles and fluctuations in hormones, along with symptoms like anxiety attacks, weight gain and drops in libido. Most women will start to experience perimenopausal symptoms in their 40s, some even earlier, in their mid-30's. However, it varies from person to person based on their genetics and health issues. Menopause is officially recognised when you have not had a period of an entire year.
Growing up, I never really worried about my period. Not even in my 20's and 30's was I concerned. My periods were always irregular, but there were times when I would go 1- 2 years without them. I attributed that to being into fitness and competing in fitness figure competitions at a low body fat percentage, which was not a healthy state, but that was my journey.
My mother and sister started perimenopause quite early, and I did too. Perimenopause and menopause have such negative connotations, but I have viewed it as a new beginning - accepting the changes in my body and embracing them as part of life. I try not to stress about menopause, it's part of life, and I deal with it the best I can.
DID YOU NOTICE ANY CHANGES TO YOUR BODY?
The changes happen over time. I get my blood tests done twice a year to ensure I'm on track and to rectify any deficiencies if needed. In the early stages of perimenopause, I noticed the falls of oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone in my blood levels. My periods had stopped entirely; I became anxious and started to experience dry skin, low energy, followed by hot flushes, bloating and a lowered metabolism.
I was waking up at 3 am most mornings for months and missing out on the quality sleep that my body needed. I was in the throes of menopause when I turned 50. My blood test results were quite abnormal to what I usually get – they showed a suppressed thyroid and massively elevated cortisol and adrenal fatigue. The hormone cortisol also often plays a role in weight gain. Women in perimenopause and the throes of menopause may experience high-stress levels, which can elevate cortisol levels, leading to fat storage.
WERE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE HEALTH-RELATED CONDITIONS ASSOCIATED WITH PERIMENOPAUSE + MENOPAUSE?
It's important to get a complete check-up with your health practitioner regularly – even if you don't notice any symptoms. I make sure to do this religiously, even when I'm feeling well. Menopause is associated with increased risks of developing heart disease and osteoporosis due to drops in oestrogen. Our metabolism, as well as our collagen production, also slows. So make sure to check in with your doctor or health care professional for regular check-ups.
CAN DIET + LIFESTYLE PRACTICES ALLEVIATE SYMPTOMS?
Lifestyle therapy (exercise and diet) can make a significant difference to your health and how you feel. I focus on eating a Mediterranean wholefoods diet rich in antioxidants, protein, calcium, vitamin D, + healthy fats to help support my hormones, bone density, lean muscle, and skin.
The recipes in my cookbooks and the Healthy Chef App focus on a Mediterranean based wholefoods diet. I try and keep my diet gluten-free as I feel better and bloat less. Including quality protein such as wild-caught fish for omega-3 and supplementing with Healthy Chef Protein and Marine Collagen helps balance my hormones such as insulin and supporting metabolism.
Exercising most days is crucial. It helps my mental health, helps me sleep better, reduces insulin, supports lean muscle, reduces body fat, and calms my body. I've adjusted my fitness regimen and diet to suit what my body needs. I'm fortunate that years of bodybuilding has built up my bone density, and I do yearly DEXA scans to monitor it.
Sleep is also crucial. It's the time when the body repairs itself. If we don't get enough sleep, it suppresses our immune system, affects our state of mind, and elevates cortisol, which breaks down collagen. Excessive stress and poor sleep are linked with higher cortisol levels, decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression. So, I try to get to bed by at least 9.30 pm.
CAN SUPPLEMENTS HELP WITH SYMPTOMS?
Absolutely! It's the main reason I started my brand, The Healthy Chef. I needed to find nutritional solutions to support my health as well as my husband's health.
I have protein, and marine collagen shakes most days as they are the building blocks to the body - protein and collagen help support hormone, skin, bone, immune and muscle health. Protein also helps to balance blood sugar and reduce insulin spikes. I usually make a strawberry smoothie, adding Healthy Chef protein, Marine Collagen, avocado, and water.
"I make sure to saturate my body with vitamin C every day. Vitamin C is vital not only for immune health but also for collagen production, supporting healthy bones and healthy skin. I love Healthy Chef Natural Immune Support and our new Immune Spray. Both are rich in vitamin C, D and zinc to keep my whole body in good health."
Prebiotics and probiotics are also key in my nutritional supplementation. Studies show probiotic-rich foods may assist with the management of diabetes, obesity, yeast infections, urinary tract infections and gastrointestinal disorders. As well as foods such as yoghurt or kiwi fruit, I also add Everyday Greens to my smoothies or water to help boost probiotics and nourish my digestive system.