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Let’s Talk About Menopause

Hot, red and tired – a cry from a menopause heart!

Menopause, Menopause, MENOPAUSE! Yes, I know it’s a word and subject that we shy away from but why? Half of the population will go through menopause. It’s a fact of life and while some women sail through others experience symptoms which at best can be described as unpleasant, at worst – extremely debilitating. So let’s debunk some menopause myths…

– Gill

What is menopause?

Understanding our body is always step number one

Most women have a regular monthly period as part of their reproductive cycle. It’s the body’s natural way of giving a woman the best chance of getting pregnant and continuing the human race.

At some point in every woman’s adult life her reproductive cycle draws to a natural close. The production of the hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone (which control the reproductive cycle) stops. Sometimes this stop is a gradual process, but it can be sudden particularly as a result of surgery or some medical procedures such as chemotherapy.

The stage 2-10years before the periods actually stop is known as ‘perimenopause’. During this stage, the hormones fluctuate unpredictably. It is common to have symptoms during this stage but it can often feel confusing because we’re still experiencing periods so we assume the symptoms are not linked to menopause.

The time when the periods actually stop is ‘menopause’. Again, symptoms are common and we explain what they are in the next section.

What are the symptoms?

This helps us join the dots between what we’re going through on the day to day and the biological changes brought about by menopause

Most women have some or all of the symptoms listed below during menopause. There are other symptoms and the severity of the symptoms differs for each woman but most will experience some.

  • Hot flushes
    • Thought to be caused by changes in the levels of hormones that control body temperature these flushes are often described as a sensation of extreme heat that comes unexpectedly and travels through the entire body.  They are extremely unpleasant and can lead to disturbed sleep if they happen in the night and embarrassment if they happen during the working day
  • Loss of libido and vaginal dryness
    • This is a rarely spoken of symptom of menopause so let’s get it out in the open. It follows logically that as the hormones that fuel our reproductive cycle start to diminish, we are less inclined to want sex.  Our bodies produce fewer sex hormones and some natural excretions that are part of our reproductive process are also reduced, specifically those that line and lubricate the vagina.
  • Difficulty sleeping
    • Our reproductive hormones are in a continuous cycle for most of our adult lives.  When this cycle starts to change our body’s natural rhythm can be disturbed. This coupled with hot flushes in the night (night sweats) and increasing levels of anxiety can lead to disturbed sleep patterns
  • Low mood / anxiety
    • It is a very strange feeling to suddenly find yourself worrying about things that you know full-well would not have concerned you a few months or years previously, but this is what happens. The reason why this is connected to menopause is unknown, but it is probably part and parcel of the huge hormonal changes that are occurring in the body.  Afterall the body’s stress response is controlled by hormones so it makes sense that the changes affect the stress response in some way.
  • Memory and concentration
    • Again, it isn’t known why this is a symptom of menopause, but it most certainly is! It doesn’t affect all women but can be distressing to those that it does. It is rarely severe and usually calms down as menopause passes or women figure out coping strategies.
  • Loss of muscle tone, bone density and elasticity in the skin
    • I’ve grouped all of these together as they are all part of the natural aging process and although associated with menopause they are not exclusive to the female sex and so menopause is not totally to blame! These things would happen anyway!

What can you do about it?

There is hope! And it’s achievable too.

In some cases the symptoms of menopause are so extreme that Doctors will prescribe hormone replacement therapy to help manage them. In many cases it is possible to manage the symptoms with changes to daily routines, diets and relaxation. The potential ways to manage menopause symptoms warrants a whole new blog in its own right. Here is a quick taster of the types of things that blog will cover:

  • Daily routines:
    • build a regular rhythm into your day. It will really help your body. Try to have a routine, especially at bed time.
  • Acupuncture and complementary therapies:
    • Acupuncture has been proven to help alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause – particularly hot flushes. Other therapies such as reflexology can have a balancing effect on the body and can really help to boost relaxation.
  • Diet:
    • Some foods are menopause friendly and some are not.
    • Try to avoid the following:
      • simple carbohydrates such as white bread, rice and pasta
      • refined sugar and products containing refined sugar
      • alcohol
      • Caffeine
      • Carbonated drinks with artificial sweeteners
    • Have more of the following:
      • Fresh fruit and vegetables
      • Healthy fats such as omega 3 found in salmon, flax seeds and mackerel
      • Whole grains
      • Quality protein such as eggs, fish and white meat
  • Movement, activity and relaxation
    • Building some form of movement or activity into your daily routine will help to combat the anxiety associated with stress hormones
    • Weight bearing movement such as walking or running will help to prevent the loss of bone density that can lead to brittle bones
    • Relaxation techniques such as rhythmic breathing can help to combat anxiety and give a better quality of sleep

Let’s embrace the inevitable

Whatever your gender or life stage, we need to get better at talking about our biology, bodily functions and processes.

Menopause is a fact of life, a natural process. Not something to be embarrassed about or belittled for. The more we openly talk about it, the easier it becomes for the people going through it – less embarrassment and less reason to be hard on ourselves. It’s also helpful for those people who know someone experiencing the symptoms – it means a better understanding of their context and perhaps an explanation for changes in their actions.

Watch this space for more useful menopause advice – a blog about managing menopause, and maybe even a podcast! Coming soon!

Best Wishes,

Gill

More information on menopause can be found here: