When does menopause begin? Expert Alice Smellie on your need to know

  • Marie Claire gets the nod from its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission on some of the items you choose to purchase.

  • Introducing your new monthly menopause column, Let’s Talk Menopause, written by me, bestselling menopause author, Alice Smellie.

    Here, my team of industry experts and I answer the age-old question many women wonder: when does menopause begin? And is it different for everyone?

    When I was 37, a couple of years after my third child, I noticed that my once-regular periods were suddenly out of whack. I vaguely wondered why, but with three small children and a stressful job, I didn’t dwell on it.

    Over the next few years, my sleep fell off a cliff and my PMT became increasingly distressing (both to myself and those affected by my “irritability”). Since three years ago. at age 46 I had a couple of menstrual cycles that were accompanied by crushing anxiety. I still had no idea what was going on.

    Menopause is like the expanding universe, with no clear beginning or end, and we all have very different experiences. You are actually said to have gone through menopause exactly twelve months after your last period – average age 51.

    It is a retrospective diagnosis, and I would say that it is rare for a woman to know exactly when this happens.

    Absolute fact – if you have your period, menopause will affect you. Then there’s the moment, usually long before, when you realize your hormones are in a state of flux.

    Perimenopause is the term used to describe the years leading up to the final moment, when your ovaries struggle to produce eggs and the two hormones they make – estrogen and progesterone – begin to decline. This is when menopausal symptoms – of which there are over 50 – can begin, according to NHS inform. This usually happens in the early to mid-forties, but it can be earlier. These perimenopausal years are when most of us realize things have started to go awry hormonally.

    Incidentally, menopause before the age of forty affects one in a hundred women and is called Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI). Between forty and forty-five is called early menopause and this will affect five percent of women.

    Somewhat embarrassingly, as a health writer, my personal Eureka moment had to be described by a couple of running friends, the presenter and the journalist Mariella Frostrupwith which I then wrote a book on the subject, To crack the menopause, and another friend, who happens – helpfully – to be a menopause nurse. As we gasped our way up a steep Somerset hill, I voiced my concern. “It’s definitely the onset of menopause,” said my nurse friend. “You need to see your GP,” Mariella advised.

    I have since learned that many women have this – months or years of vagueness suspicions and symptoms that finally coalesce into “Oh, it is what is ongoing. I thought I was sick or going crazy.”

    If you think it’s all up and running, here are some expert tips.

    1. Make a list

    Are symptoms affecting your life? “Start documenting them and educating them yourself on the lifestyle and HRT options that can help,” advises Menopause specialist Dr Juliet Balfour which runs an NHS menopause clinic. “When make an appointment for your surgery, ask the receptionists what health Healthcare professionals have a special interest in the menopause.”

    2. Look at the sprite

    “The first thing that goes wrong is often your sleep,” says the nutritionist and creator of The podcast Happy Menopause, Jackie Lynch. “I recommend cutting back on alcohol, which is a huge sleep disruptor and a nightmare for hot flashes.”

    You either lose the booze completely or have at least four consecutive nights off week.

    3. Take vitamin D

    Did you know? “Vitamin D is important for mood, mental health, calcium absorption and immune function and some studies suggest that deficiency may affect sleep,” says Lynch. She recommends taking 1 – 2,000 IU each day year round.

    The darker your skin, the lower your levels are likely to be, because the higher the melanin makes it more difficult for the body to produce vitamin D from sunshine, the experts explain Nutrition.org.

    I would recommend giving it a try BetterYou D3000+K2 oral spraya combination of vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 to support a healthy immune system and strong bones or Vitabiotics Ultra Vitamin D which provides 2000IU a day.

    BetterYou D3000+K2 Oral Spay, £6.40 | Amazon
    Optimal strength pill-free vitamin D, just three sprays give you 3000IU of vitamin D. Plus, it has a natural peppermint flavor so it can work as a way to keep your breath fresh.

    Show offer

    4. Move more

    “It can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise when you’re experiencing peri or menopause,” says personal trainer Lavina Mehta MBE. “But exercise and mental health go hand in hand, plus release of endorphins will benefit you both mentally and physically.”

    It is officially recommended that we do 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio training five times a week and strength training at least twice a week, but she reminds us that any amount is a good idea.

    “I promote my concept of exercise ‘snacking’ – conscious movement in short, small amounts during the day. Even a few minutes is beneficial.”

    Not sure where to start? Our home workout guide will help, or check out the workouts on her IG channel.

    5. Read a good book

    Knowledge is definitely power, and the more you know, the less surprising the whole will be.

    I loved Dr Philippa Kaye’s The M wordKate Muir is witty and brilliant researched Everything you need to know about menopause and off naturally, we’re all excited about Davina McCall’s very-aanticipate Menopause which will be released on September 15 and available for pre-book.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.