In the simplest terms, menopause happens when a woman stops menstruating and she can no longer get pregnant. Menopause literally means “the end of monthly cycles.” Once your body has gone a full 12 months without a period, you’ve reached menopause.1
In a broader sense, however, we use the word menopause to describe all of the changes a woman goes through, and the symptoms she experiences, as her ovaries gradually produce less estrogen and eventually stop releasing eggs.
To learn more about menopause
Every woman’s body is unique, but for most women, the natural transition to menopause generally starts in their mid to late 40s, with a stage known as perimenopause. When a woman’s estrogen production fluctuates, her menstrual cycles may become irregular or unpredictable, and she begins to experience the first signs and symptoms of menopause.1
Symptoms vary from woman to woman in frequency, intensity and duration, but may include1,2
- Irregular or unpredictable menstrual cycles
- Changes in cycle length and/or menstrual flow
- Hot flashes
- Irritability and/or mood swings
- Night sweats and sleep disturbance
- Vaginal dryness
- Reduced libido
- Muscles aches
- Joint pains
- Weight gain (especially around the abdomen)
Be aware that
Symptoms do vary between women
, so what you experience will not necessarily match up with what others do.
Yes, weight gain, especially around the abdomen, is a fairly common symptom of perimenopause and menopause. The hormonal changes of menopause ― specifically, reduced estrogen levels ― as well as menopause-related stress, muscle loss, sleep disturbance, and the natural aging process may slow down metabolism, the rate at which your converts food into energy. A slower metabolism means more calories are converted to fat. As a result, it may be more difficult to maintain your weight and your waistline during the menopausal transition.1
To help minimize menopause-related weight gain, many doctors will recommend an increase in activity, especially exercise to build fat-burning lean muscle, as well as dietary changes such as eating more protein and reducing sugar intake.
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Tips on Combating Weight Gain
Perimenopause is the stage just before a woman enters menopause and stops having periods altogether. Perimenopause can last anywhere from two to eight years to a decade but is typically four years.1
The prefix “peri” means “around” or “near,” so perimenopause essentially means “near menopause.” During perimenopause, a woman begins to experience the hormonal fluctuations that cause the symptoms associated with menopause, including hot flashes. The first sign of perimenopause is usually an irregular or unpredictable menstrual cycle, along with heavier or lighter flows, and/or spotting. It is important for women to remember that they can still become pregnant during perimenopause and should remain vigilant about birth control.1
Click here for more on the stages of menopause
In a strictly technical sense, menopause only lasts a single day ― the very first day after a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a period. Before that day, you are perimenopausal, and after you’re postmenopausal. More commonly, however, we consider menopause to be the stage in a woman’s life after she stops having periods but continues having menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, sleep disturbances, aches and pains, vaginal dryness, and mood swings.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to the question of how long menopause symptoms last. The duration of perimenopause and menopause symptoms vary from woman to woman. Symptoms can last anywhere from one year to a decade, but most women can experience symptoms for seven to fourteen years over the entire menopausal transition.2
After menopause, many women continue to experience symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and sleep disturbances, but the duration and severity of symptoms tends to decrease. Because the body’s estrogen levels remain low, there are several new health conditions postmenopausal women should be aware of, including increased risk of both heart disease and osteoporosis.1
This is a bit of a trick question because we tend to use the word menopause as a blanket term for all stages of the menopausal transition, but the answer is very different for women in different stages of menopause.
A woman who is in menopause, meaning she has gone at least 12 months in a row without a period, cannot get pregnant and does not need to use birth control to prevent pregnancy.
But perimenopausal women, who are still producing estrogen and progesterone and still have periods, can still get pregnant, even if her periods are sporadic. In fact, perimenopausal women are second only to teens in unexpected pregnancies, possibly because erratic cycles give women a mistaken belief that they aren’t fertile enough to conceive. So, perimenopausal women should remain vigilant about birth control.1
It’s never too early or too late to see a doctor about menopause symptoms. In other words, anytime is a good time, especially if you have questions or concerns. If you’re experiencing symptoms or have an irregular period, let your doctor know. To make the most of your time with your doctor, come prepared to your visit with any questions you have.
Click here for tips on 10 questions to ask your doctor about menopause
S-equol is generally considered safe to take with other foods, supplements, over-the-counter and most prescription medications. If you are taking any medications and/or are on hormone therapy, you should consult your healthcare professional first before adding any new supplements to your wellness regimen.
Night sweats refer to excessive perspiration or sweating at night. Although there could be a number of causes, women in menopause typically experience them when they have hot flashes that occur at night, as they are sleeping. For many women, night sweats are worse than normal hot flashes during the day, because they can be very disruptive to sleep.
Hot flashes, like all perimenopause and menopause symptoms, are related to hormonal changes. Estrogen plays a critical role in circulation and temperature control, and fluctuating estrogen levels during menopause wreak havoc on our internal temperature regulators.3
Your body works best when its temperature is about 98.6°F. When your body gets hotter than that, your brain sends a message to your body, telling it to sweat. The sweat moistens the surface of your skin and, as it evaporates, cools you down.
Some researchers believe that fluctuating estrogen levels cause brain chemicals that are responsible for temperature regulation to overreact to heat triggers such as stress, hot drinks, or slight temperature variations.2 As a result, our internal thermostats become confused and ramp up too fast. Rather than cooling us down, we end up with hot flashes.
Early signs of perimenopause/menopause include1
- Irregular or unpredictable menstrual cycles
- Periods that are longer or shorter in duration
- Lighter or heavier flows and/or spotting
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
- Vaginal dryness
Menopause doesn’t just stop abruptly. Rather, the symptoms tend to decrease and gradually taper off, and it’s not uncommon for menopause symptoms to continue for several years even after you’ve permanently stopped menstruating. Menopause symptoms may be coming to an end when there is a continued decrease in frequency and intensity of symptoms such as hot flashes.
Common menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness may also have other causes. It is best to consult your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have. Depending on your symptoms, he or she may run tests to confirm your symptoms are related to menopause and not another medical condition.
It is not typical for periods to stop suddenly in menopause. You are more likely to experience irregular or unpredictable periods, sometimes skipping your period for several months, as well as periods that are longer or shorter in duration and heavier or lighter than normal.1
However, while it is not typical for periods to stop suddenly, it can happen. If your menstrual cycle stops suddenly, consult your healthcare professional. Abrupt cessation of menstruation can cause menopause symptoms to be more intense and give rise to other health concerns.1 The key here is knowing whether your period has stopped permanently or you are just skipping a few months, which is fairly common in perimenopause. If you have concerns, don’t hesitate to let your doctor know.
The last stage of menopause is post-menopause. The very first day after you’ve gone one full year without a period, you are considered postmenopausal. This doesn’t mean your menopause symptoms will suddenly stop. Most women continue to experience symptoms for several years after their last period.
However, hormone levels in post-menopause will eventually decline to a steady level, and your body will reach a more harmonious hormonal balance. As a result, any menopause symptoms you experience in post-menopause should become less frequent, less intense, and less disruptive to your life.1 Click here for more on the stages of menopause
In general, women will start to experience some fluctuations in menstruation in their late 40s/early 50s, due to the onset of perimenopause and most will stop having periods altogether by the age of 58, but the path from perimenopause to no more periods varies widely from woman to woman.1
There really is no ‘remedy’ for menopause, but there are options for managing and relieving symptoms. These include lifestyle approaches, such as1,2
- increasing physical activity
- reducing stress
- avoiding excess sugar, alcohol and caffeine
- eating foods that are high in phytoestrogens such as soybeans, soy milk, sesame seeds, wheat berries, oats, barley, and flax
- taking an S-equol supplement that is a source of a phytoestrogen such as Equelle
Click here for more tips on how to manage menopause symptoms
The key to managing hot flashes is to identify your hot flash triggers, then take appropriate action to prevent them.1,2
- Avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine
- If you smoke, quit
- Strive to maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce stress as much as possible
- Invest in a pillow made from “stay-cool” material
- Try lukewarm or cool showers
- Blow dry your hair on the “cool” setting, or avoid using the hairdryer altogether, if possible
- Wear lightweight, looser-fitting clothes made from natural fibers such as cotton
- Dress in layers, so you can remove articles of clothing as needed when a hot flash strikes
- Keep a portable fan in your bag or office drawer
- Try controlled-breathing and self-calming exercises like yoga
Click here for more tips on how to manage hot flashes
Yes, hot flashes are not always related to perimenopause or menopause. Other possible causes of hot flashes include pregnancy, hyperthyroidism, heart disease, food allergies, intolerance to spicy foods, viral or bacterial infections, cancer and cancer treatments, negative reactions to prescription medications, tuberculosis, anxiety and panic attack.5
If you are experiencing hot flashes but do not believe you are in perimenopause or menopause, consult your doctor.
Certain stimuli can trigger hot flashes or make them more severe.2,4 Common hot flash triggers include:
- Spicy foods
- Hot places
- Tight clothes
- Cigarette smoke
The most common food triggers for hot flashes include2
- Processed, sugary, or spicy foods
- Hot foods and beverages such as soup, coffee, hot cocoa and tea
There are plenty of
superfood and diet recommendations
to help make your menopause transition easier.
In addition to foods that trigger hot flashes, some foods can also make menopause worse by contributing to weight gain and exacerbating symptoms.5
These can include:
- Sugary and processed foods, including donuts, cake and cookies
- Fatty meats
S-equol is a naturally derived compound of the soy isoflavone daidzein that is produced through the fermentation of soy germ. It is structurally similar to estrogen and mimics some of estrogen’s actions in the body, helping to alleviate some symptoms of decreasing estrogen levels during menopause.†
The average age of menopause in the United States is 52. The range for women is usually between 45 and 58.1 Every woman’s body is unique, but for most women, the natural transition to menopause generally starts in their mid - late 40s, with a stage known as perimenopause, when a woman’s estrogen production fluctuates, her menstrual cycles may become irregular or unpredictable, and she begins to experience the first signs and symptoms of menopause.1
†This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.