It starts with the initial stage known as perimenopause, which lasts approximately 8-10 years before a woman enters menopause, then transitions into full menopause when a woman completely stops having a menstrual period. It concludes with a phase known as postmenopause after menopause comes to a close.
A Closer Look at the Stages of Menopause
To understand how we arrive at the final stage of this process and whether or not it truly exists, let's begin by taking a deeper look into the various stages of menopause.
What Can a woman expect to experience during Perimenopause?
Perimenopause, sometimes referred to as the menopause transition stage begins as early as 8-10 years before menopause. A woman's production of estrogen (by the ovaries) begins to wane beginning in her late 30s or 40s. This stage remains in place until the ovaries cease their release of eggs.
As perimenopause enters its last year, estrogen levels rapidly decline, and a woman might begin to notice slight changes in her body, including irregular periods. Women may make the mistake of thinking they are actively in menopause and can no longer conceive a child. However, it is still possible to conceive a child during perimenopause.
The perimenopausal stage concludes after a woman has gone for a minimum of 12 months without her period.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is the stage that takes place when a woman no longer experiences her period. In order to qualify for this stage, she has to go without a period for at least one year. Menopause generally occurs as women enter their late 40's to early '50s but can occur earlier in some instances or for those women who undergo the surgical removal of their ovaries. Our ovaries stop releasing eggs into the fallopian tubes, and the menstrual cycle ceases.
Hormonal Changes during Menopause
Menopause can often trigger a series of responses within the body, mainly driven by hormonal changes that occur once the ovaries stop producing the same level of hormones as they did in a woman's youth.
Our ovaries produce estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Estrogen and progesterone are responsible for our menstrual cycle and menstruation.
Estrogen also affects other aspects of our bodies such as our hearts, how we utilize calcium and cholesterol levels present in our blood.
What to Expect during Postmenopause
As the name of the phase indicates, postmenopause takes place in the years that follow menopause. Estrogen levels are at their lowest, and the risk and susceptibility toward health conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis are at their highest. Studies show that estrogen or hormone replacement therapy can help to improve calcium balance in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis (1) but not without the troublesome side effects that often accompanies this treatment approach.
At this stage, many women report that many of their menopausal symptoms begin to pass.
Common Menopause and Post Menopause Symptoms
As a woman transitions through the various stages of menopause, it is highly possible that at one point or another, she will experience a myriad of symptoms depending on her level of health going in. Some of these symptoms will be barely detectable, and others will be intense and may even trigger an intense physical or emotional response for some.
Here are a few of the symptoms a woman may experience as a result of menopause (2):
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hot Flashes
- Night Sweats
- Mood swings, depression, and irritability
- Changes in urinary habits (i.e., frequent trips to the bathroom)
- Libido changes
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness or discomfort during sex
- Thinning hair or the growth of facial hair
During the post-menopausal stage, women may experience one or more the following (2):
- Heart disease
- Poor muscle tone
- Poor skin elasticity
- Poor bladder or bowel functions
- Vision changes
Some postmenopausal women report that their symptoms ease after menopause, but they are never entirely free of all symptoms.
The Management and Treatment of Menopause and Postmenopause
Multiple schools of thought exist around the menopause process and its effects on the body. Not every woman will require any treatment for her symptoms, and others may need a take a variety of proactive and preventive measures to manage their symptoms. Both natural or conventional in approach.
Some of the most common approaches to managing menopause include:
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Consuming herbal supplement extracts for support
- Vaginal lubricant
- Regular exercise
- Boosting calcium and vitamin D intake
Dietary changes, the introduction of effective natural remedies and positive lifestyle changes will make a great impact.
Plant-Based Lifestyle for Menopausal and Post-Menopausal Women
A plant-based diet is a must in helping a woman to better navigate this phase of her life even if she decides to take a conventional or natural approach.
Certain plant foods, especially soy contain plant-based estrogen compounds known as phytoestrogens.
Phytoestrogens resemble estrogen in the body and have the ability to even regulate estrogen levels in the body. The 3 most common phytoestrogens are isoflavones, lignans, and coumestans.
Don't worry about committing these three words to memory. In a nutshell, there are dozens of foods that contain these compounds and natural progesterone which may both serve as natural, effective hormone replacement therapy (3) with little to no side effects.
Vitex for Menopause and Post-Menopausal Women
In the last decade, Vitex agnus-castus has gained a fair amount of attention as an herb that can help to alleviate menopausal symptoms (4). This herb, also known as a chaste tree, monk's pepper or chasteberry, has been used for years in solving for hormonal challenges associated with both menstrual cycles and menopause. It naturally helps to regulate a woman's delicate balance of hormones thus helping to minimize troublesome symptoms.
Taking 160-240 milligrams per day can make a difference in the severity or intensity of your symptoms. According to a study published by Gynecological Endocrinology, this plant remedy is safe and proves to be highly useful in combatting hot flashes and can help to solve issues of insomnia related to hormone imbalance (5).
In closing, postmenopause is one of the stages in the overall menopausal process. Women will eventually transition through this final stage and may experience some symptoms. There are some select and effective actions a woman can take to manage the symptoms that may sometimes accompany this time in her life –both naturally and conventionally.
If one is not sure whether or not you she is in one of these stages of menopause, she should contact her primary health care provider. He/she can perform tests to measure true hormone levels to evaluate the final status of where someone is at in her cycle/ stage of life.
1. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 51, Issue 6, 1 December 1980, Pages 1359–1364, https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem-51-6-1359
2. WebMD (Retrieved June 18, 2019). Menopause Basics.
3. The Firshein Center for Integrative Medicine (accessed June 18, 2019). Natural alternatives to hormone replacement therapy.
4. Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste-Tree/Berry) in the treatment of menopause-related complaints. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Aug;15(8):853-62. doi: 10.1089/acm.2008.0447.
5. Phyto-Female Complex for the relief of hot flushes, night sweats and quality of sleep: randomized, controlled, double-blind pilot study. Gynecology Endocrinology. 2007 Feb; 23(2): 117-22