Menopause occurs for every woman when her ovaries lose their reproductive function and their periods stop.
Women experience many types of change in their lives – positive and negative – leaving home, going to uni, getting married, having babies, big work changes, personal changes, endings to relationships, bereavements, losses. Menopause is the change that doesn’t get talked about so much. Women are just expected to just ‘get on with it’. In some communities, there isn’t even a word for it. Yet it can be really debilitating when trying to work or function normally in society.
Some unlucky women go through it very early or very late but it usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 and the average age is 51. Most women will experience ‘perimenopause’ on average 4 years before their periods actually stop. Whilst some later symptoms are worse after. It is a very personal existential journey.
We all know the symptoms by now:
Other symptoms that can appear later on in the journey are Vaginal dryness, Bladder problems, Brittle bones and Heart problems.
Many of us manage the early stages fairly well. Research has shown that changes in diet and lifestyle may have a big impact. Eating more soya, drinking less alcohol and caffeine, exercising (particularly strength training) to keep bones strong. There are also many herbal remedies on the market including; Black cohost, Red clover, Flaxseed, Calcium, Vitamin D, Ginseng, Dong Quai, Soy, DHEA and St Johns Wort. Not all have been proven to work and some have side effects, so make sure to seek professional advice before trying anything new.
I found Menopace Night very effective for years, then later when they weren’t holding the sweats at bay, transitioned to Phyto Estrogen capsules and natural plant-based Progesterone cream (though dosage was more of an art than a science). I did reformer based Pilates training for strength and lots of dog walking and thought I’d got it under control. Then, some 10 years later, the symptoms came back with a vengeance and I gave in and sought medical HRT. As when I’d tried the pill many years before, I hated it. I felt bloated, put on weight and had headaches. I had to almost starve myself and give up drinking even the smallest amounts of wine to lose the tiniest amount of weight. A rather unsympathetic female GP laughed at me when I complained as I wasn’t obese, just heavier than I like to be. For me, it was a ‘slippery slope’ I wasn’t happy to take. Many women find that HRT that works for them and glow with health and vitality. I wasn’t one of them, despite trying several different types.
Then I discovered ‘Bioidenticals’. Bioidentical hormones are helping me to get back to normal. They often help because of their capacity to duplicate the body’s natural physiology with few side effects though even hormones derived from plants can be over-used and it’s important to get the levels right. Some doctors call this the ‘goldilocks’ effect. Just the right amount is important as is careful monitoring.
One major determinant of how serious your menopausal symptoms are is stress. When we are stressed in a negative way, the hormone Cortisol is released. Women are very susceptible to the prolonged release of high Cortisol (which may also contribute to weight gain). We experience this when we experience a ‘threat response’ in the brain. Whereas, when we experience life in a positive way, a ‘reward response’ occurs in the brain, happy hormones like Oxytocin and Serotonin are released, making us feel happy and likely to connect well with others. I know that when I am experiencing high stress at work my symptoms intensify.
There is no ‘one-size fits all’ for menopause, but there are a few basics we can all learn:
Remember, our journey through menopause is also an existential right of passage. Loss of fertility is big one for many, especially those who have lost or not had children, whether through choice or biological problems. It may be deeply felt for many and involve a lot of heart searching. It is not just a medical condition but a personal experience.
Be kind to yourself and ask for support from others.