The Life Transition Cycles of a Woman

From Menarche, Menstruation, perimenopause, to Menopause and the Wisdom Years 

Written by Dr Arien van der Merwe


Menopause, like the onset of puberty and menarche, the first period a girl has (9-16 years of age), causes dramatic changes in a woman’s body. There are so many life transition cycles a woman goes through, we all need some support and information to guide us through it. Menopause lasts from about one to five years, with menstrual periods becoming less frequent (peri-menopause) until they stop altogether, into the postmenopausal years that can last for many years.

Perimenopause (the period around menopause), also called the menopausal transition, is the period during which a woman’s body makes a natural shift from mostly regular cycles of ovulation and menstruation, toward permanent cessation of ovulation, or menopause, as she gradually slows down and stop producing oestradiol (the strong oestrogen) and progesterone. The perimenopausal period can start from late 40’s to  early 60’s. Signs include irregular periods, which may become shorter, heavier or lighter, with sometimes more and sometimes less than 28 day cycles. Once you’ve had 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, you’ve officially reached menopause and the perimenopause is over.

Menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, sleep disturbances, moodiness and vaginal dryness are caused by decreased production of oestrogen and progesterone by the ovaries, but other factors can also affect their severity and duration. Heredity, general health, nutritional status, medication, lack of exercise, stressful events in your life (children leaving home, difficult teenagers, financial problems, marriage problems, looking after elderly parents) and your mental-emotional attitude to life, all play their part. Increased emotional and nutritional demands that put too great a burden on the body and mind can aggravate menopausal symptoms.

Post menopause, or as I prefer to call it, the wisdom years – 5-20 year period after menopause, when menstrual cycles have ended, but internal growth and self-exploration carries on.

While the marked decrease in the amount of oestrogen and progesterone from the main source (the ovaries) will clearly cause dramatic physical changes, the production of oestrogen in the body never stops completely. A woman’s body can compensate for the decline in ovarian oestrogen production, by making more of the weaker oestrogens, namely oestriol and oestrone, in other organs (the adrenal glands, liver, fatty tissue and brain). This process can be supported. 

The single most important factor in managing the important life transitions, is a positive attitude and taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing. Stress management and daily use of relaxation techniques are essential, as is coming to terms with the fact that you are becoming more mature, and entering a new phase in your life. These are important times of growing into young adulthood, then maturation and wisdom. As the reproductive role starts, flows, then ends, a woman can contribute to the community and her family on a deeper level of wisdom and support.

Some holistic health tips to support the life transition cycles

Energy levels

Energy levels may become lower during this time. Try to get enough sleep – 7 – 8 hours a night, in quiet and darkness. Take a morning or afternoon power nap if you have trouble sleeping at night. Foods that supply plenty of vitamins, minerals and energy include berries, raw honey, red grapes with the pips, spirulina, chlorella, brewer’s yeast, molasses or treacle, lecithin and kelp (or marine algae).


Drink plenty of water (at least 8 glasses a day, or 1 glass for every 10 kg in body weight). Water keeps the body young and energetic, with all the biochemical reactions functioning at peak performance. Water also diminishes cravings for sweet or salt, which often indicate a deficiency of fluids or water in the body.


Eat fresh, wholesome food, including plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain products, seeds and pulses (legumes), especially the various coloured lentils, peas, chick peas and soya beans. Oatmeal porridge with added oat bran is a good tonic – it provides fibre (roughage), lowers LDL cholesterol and contains many vitamins and minerals. Your food can be divided into six or eight small portions to be eaten throughout the day, preventing low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), which aggravates menopausal symptoms.

Eat foods that are rich in protein, such as fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products (low fat yogurt and cottage cheese) and nuts. Healthy oils include extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil, coconut oil and linseed (flax) oil. Avoid refined sugar, white flour, processed foods, processed meats, fried food, saturated (mainly animal) fat, preservatives and too much alcohol. Good-quality protein and plenty of B-complex vitamins support the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, which in turn control the ovaries and the female hormone cycle, and slow down the onset of menopause. Note that women who are strict vegetarians, with a very low cholesterol level, tend to go through an earlier menopause. Cholesterol is very important for the production of the female hormones.

Foods that contain the B-complex vitamins include green vegetables, wholegrain products, wheatgerm and yeast. Adequate levels of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), choline and inositol support the adrenal glands as well as the pituitary gland and hypothalamus.

Soya is a rich source of proteins, minerals, vitamins and natural phyto-oestrogens (i.e. oestrogens from plants) that can compensate for the body’s lowered production of oestrogen. These include fermented soya beans, tofu and soy flour. Vegetarian cookery books contain many delicious recipes for tasty soya dishes. Soy flour can also be combined with almond, coconut and complex wholegrain flour. Two of the active ingredients in soya beans, daidzain and genistein, are effective against menopausal symptoms and as antioxidants they protect the body against premature ageing and diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and cancer. Linseed oil (flax oil) contains plenty of these plant oestrogens. Add the seeds to salads, sauces and sandwich spreads, and a tablespoon of ground linseed in a glass of water a good remedy for constipation. Herbs like wild yam, chaste tree berry, black cohosh are natural remedies to balance progesterone and estrogen, and can control hot flushes and menstrual regulation.

Calcium supplements

Calcium supplements are essential. It is better to prevent osteoporosis than wait until there are signs of it. The body’s minimum daily calcium requirement is 1 200 mg, which is almost impossible to obtain through diet alone. Your supplement should also contain magnesium, vitamin D, which has many important functions in the body (500 – 1 000 IU a day), vitamin C (600 – 1 000 mg a day), boron (2 – 3 mg a day) and potassium (150 mg a day) to ensure optimal calcium absorption and bio-availability. Boron also elevates oestrogen levels naturally.

Women should start to use Calcium & Magnesium supplements as early as possible, but it is never too late to start. Calcium and magnesium are involved in many functions in the body. Ensuring an additional daily supply prevents the body from taking it from the bones, thereby accelerating osteoporosis. The best way to absorb calcium and magnesium is to take them in an amino acid chelated form (amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and therefore familiar to the body). This ensures optimal absorption in the intestinal tract and bio-availability of these nutrients into the cells. Foods rich in calcium and many other nutrients that help to ensure strong bones and a healthy body, include fish, leafy greens, wholegrain products and dairy products such as yoghurt, cottage cheese and milk (choose low-fat or fat-free).

Calcium and magnesium help relieve many of the symptoms associated with menopause, especially headaches, anxiety attacks, hot flushes, insomnia and irritability. They also relieve leg cramps, backache and muscular pain.