Menopause can be a rollercoaster. But it also has an aftermath. Both aspects are important. Right now we’re often not dealing with either.
Lately, major feature articles on menopause have been doing the rounds of newspapers. Gen-Xers, aged roughly mid-40s to late 50s, are discovering and dealing with it their way.
The articles usually ask two questions: first, how did we not know about this? And second, why aren’t more doctors prescribing hormones to deal with symptoms?
It’s interesting that menopause still comes as a shock. There’s no shortage of books and podcasts about it. There are even menopause wellness retreats.
But maybe in an era when women can have signs of age injected and lasered from their faces, and the average age of mothers has risen, menopause seems too far off to think about.
Invariably, the second question involves recounting the story of the American researchers who, in 2002, announced they’d be ending their trials of hormone therapy because it increased the risk of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer.
We’ve since learned there were several issues with the way that study was conducted, and it’s now clear that a lot of women can use hormone treatment safely, especially for symptoms such as flushes and sweats. Despite this, many doctors are still reluctant to prescribe it.
Menopause is probably getting more attention now because there are more women in senior positions, including in parliament. They’re struggling with sweats, brain fog, poor memory, insomnia, and so forth, and are speaking up.
For better or worse, menopause has also found a home under the huge umbrella of the wellness and beauty industries, with the help of a few celebrities.
Naomi Watts, for example, has created a menopause brand and sells products such as hair thickening serum, vaginal lubricant, probiotics, and herbal stress supplements. She’s also partnered with another company to sell menopause greeting cards.
Gwyneth Paltrow sells menopause supplements as well, through her website Goop. In addition, business magazine Forbes notes that, along with Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz, she’s helped finance a healthcare company providing hormone treatment.
And Serena Williams has invested in a supplement company selling herbal capsules, drinks and tinctures aimed at reducing stress and hot flushes.
But while menopause is being talked about and is attracting plenty of commercial interest, the focus is largely on treating symptoms.
Symptoms are one side of the menopause coin. There’s no question they can be debilitating, and there ought to be more support for women whose lives are disrupted by them, including with the skilled use of hormone therapy.
On the other side of that coin are the long-term consequences.
As we move through the various stages of menopause, estrogen levels nosedive. Estrogen is anti-inflammatory, and affects almost all cells and tissues in our bodies.
When we have less of it we’re more at risk of inflammatory conditions, including stiffer arteries; higher blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol; more belly fat; less muscle and bone; fatty liver and cognitive changes.
Flourishing in the face of this takes being proactive.
We need the best diet we can manage (vegetables, protein and healthy fats, minimal sugar and processed carbs) regular exercise, sleep and stress reduction. All of which are anti-inflammatory.
Most women don’t embrace this kind of lifestyle. Only about 10 percent of us meet the guideline of five serves of vegies a day, and while there’s nothing magic about the number five, that statistic tells us women aren’t looking after themselves nutritionally as well as they could.
In addition, as a rule, the older we get the less exercise we do. And many of us are stuck in the habit of rushing about after other people, putting ourselves last.
If menopause is still taking women by surprise, presumably doctors aren’t talking about it ahead of time. Which is a shame. We want women to be aware of the changes that are on the way and to be adopting the kind of lifestyle that will have them arrive at peri-menopause in the best possible place.
Doctors also need to be having the post-menopause conversation and recommending a health assessment within a year or two of menopause to check areas such as bone density and cardiovascular risk factors.
Menopause is an important passage in our lives; too important to be sidelined the way it has been. And if medical practitioners aren’t leading conversations about it, we need to.
Photo Source: abc.net.au