I speak with women over 40 every day, and what I’m seeing and hearing is a lot of mis-information (menopause myths), which can be confusing when you’re trying to work out how best to look after yourself at this time.
I was certainly in the same boat in my early 40’s when I was suffering from stubborn weight gain, exhaustion, mood swings and brain fog. I had no idea that it was anything to do with the menopause – in fact I was horrified when my dad told me it was my declining hormones!
So I thought I’d share with you my top 10 menopause myths, the most common misconceptions that come up when I talk to women. Because this is what I would have loved to have known when I was going through my issues.
- Menopause happens in your 50’s
You may think you’re too young to think about menopause (I certainly did!). Officially menopause is classified as one year after your last period, and on average this happens at age 51-52. If you don’t have sudden menopause induced by surgery (hysterectomy), your hormones naturally start to decline and fluctuate from the age of 35 onwards (and often earlier!). These years are known as the peri-menopausal years, and this long transition period can cause havoc for many women. Because the hormone changes are so gradual, you may not notice any symptoms until you’re well into your 40’s (or even 50’s). By being aware of this, you can start to focus on looking after your hormones now.
- It’s just about hot flushes
Hot flushes (or flashes) and night sweats are the most well-known (and horrible) symptoms of menopause, and are generally thought to be caused by oestrogen fluctuations in the thermoregulation part of the brain. However there are so many more symptoms that you might not be aware are hormone related, including weight gain, low energy, mood swings, depression, brain fog, memory loss, insomnia, stress and anxiety, low sex drive and joint pain – to name a few! You can have some or all of these with or without hot flushes, every woman is different.
- It’s all about low oestrogen
Oestrogen levels do decline during your 40’s, however they can fluctuate wildly during this time. So you can have both high and low oestrogen, which can be confusing for you and your doctor! Oestrogen declines very gradually once your ovaries start running out of eggs (ouch) but progesterone levels decline at a much faster rate, leaving times when your oestrogen is high compared to progesterone. It’s this ratio that counts, not so much your overall levels of each hormone. Progesterone only gets produced when you ovulate, so as your egg reserves start to dwindle there will often be months when ovulation doesn’t happen. That’s why progesterone tends to decline more quickly. When oestrogen is high compared to progesterone you can get symptoms of Oestrogen dominance – PMS, painful and/or heavy periods, breast tenderness, bloating, headaches. Progesterone is also the antidote to cortisol your stress hormone, so low levels can increase stress and anxiety and interfere with sleep.
Oestrogen and progesterone tend to level out after menopause, however low levels are not ideal as both are needed for bone health, brain function, sex drive and heart health.
Other hormones are also involved in the peri-menopausal years. I talk a lot about the Feisty 4 hormones – cortisol (stress), insulin (blood sugar), thyroid (metabolism) and oestrogen (sex hormone), as these 4 are totally inter-connected. So an imbalance in one can really affect all the others, impacting on how you look, feel, think and behave.
- You’ll lose your sex drive
Not feeling as sexy as you used to? Oestrogen is vital for getting in the mood. Not only does it help with the initial desire but it’s needed to keep the vagina lubricated and supple, and when sex is dry and painful it’s hardly a turn on! So when your levels start to decline, so does your libido. But it doesn’t happen for everyone going through menopause, in fact some women report an increase in libido during this time. For those that aren’t so lucky, it might not just be about low hormone levels – all sorts of factors affect your desire (eg your relationships, stress levels, diet, energy and lifestyle). Get these things in shape and you’ll be surprised at how things can change. Also using a natural lubricant can be really helpful.
- HRT is the only option
Well it might seem that way if you’ve gone to your Dr and they have told you that your only solution is HRT (this happens A LOT!). While it certainly helps a lot of women, I have found that if you get the healthy foundations in place first (diet, lifestyle, supplements) many women don’t need to use hormone replacements.
If they do everything I recommend to balance their hormones, and they still have symptoms, it may be a good option. But I would always recommend you look into Bio-Identical Hormones over synthetic HRT. Ask your Doctor for more information (they are available on the NHS).
- Dieting will help with weight gain
Oh boy, the ‘weight creep’ is so frustrating! The minute you hit 40 it seems like your metabolism dies a death and you have to literally starve to lose weight. And then it comes right back on again (and more) once you start eating again!
Low calorie and low fat diets are the worst thing for women over 40. You may lose a few pounds in the beginning, but it won’t last and you’ll just be mal-nourished – and your hormones will be all over the place. Get away from low calories, deprivation diets, anything ‘diet’ or ‘low fat’ – and start thinking about foods that nourish your hormones. It’s your hormones that control your weight, so if you look after them, it makes sense that they will look after you back!
- Symptoms are all physical
Menopausal symptoms are often reported as hot flushes, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, joint pain, brain fog etc. But some of the most debilitating issues for many women are the emotional ones; stress, anxiety, tears, anger, frustration, loneliness, and often a real sense of loss. Loss of who they once were. Not just not being able to conceive any more, but the loss of the girl they used to be – happy, slim, calm, worry-free, sexy and adventurous.
- Menopause supplements will help
Many women I see in clinic are taking an over the counter ‘menopause’ formula that is usually heavily marketed at women who are suffering. Unfortunately, they very rarely help, as they are often cheaply made, full of artificial fillers and additives, and very low in the actual vitamins and minerals that you need. Other formulas might be recommended that can actually do you more harm than good, especially if you are on medications. There are lots of very helpful quality supplements that a qualified health practitioner can recommend for you, safely and personalised to your own individual needs.
- Your periods will be lighter
The one good thing you think might happen as you approach menopause is that your periods will be less often and a lot lighter. WRONG! It can often be the opposite – PMS, heavy painful periods, even if you may never have suffered before. What’s that all about? It’s that oestrogen dominance from declining progesterone. It’s like being a teenager again, without the raging sex drive!
(If you’re on the Mirena coil, your periods may be lighter or have even stopped. The synthetic progestin in the coil prevents the buildup of the uterine wall, thereby stopping pregnancy. What it might also do is stop you ovulating, which means no natural progesterone production.)
- There’s nothing you can do about it – You just have to get on with it
NOT TRUE! There are so many things you can do. From cleaning up your diet, to minimising your exposure to household chemicals, to better managing your stress, to getting the right exercise, to taking the right supplements…some simple tweaks to your diet and lifestyle (that are pleasurable not difficult) can make all the difference to your symptoms.
If you are suffering from peri or post menopausal symptoms, then please ASK FOR HELP. I really don’t want any woman suffering in silence because either they don’t know how to get help or they have been told to get on with it by the help they have already sought.
Woman are so critical to everyone around them. We support and juggle like crazy to make sure everyone else is OK. Isn’t it time you put your oxygen mask on first?
Please contact us and we can tell you how to get properly tested and what your options are for a better quality of life.