Irish Examiner - busting menopause myths
I was delighted to be called on by Mags Jennings to contribute to her excellent column Ageing With Attitude in the Irish Examiner.
Ageing With Attitude: Busting myths will help you cool down about menopause
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Being well informed and mentally prepared for the ‘the change’ can help guard against getting a shock when the transition starts, writes Margaret Jennings
NIGHT sweats, mood swings, weight gain, and a flagging sex drive — it wouldn’t take too long to guess that this profile fits the menopausal woman.
Not every woman gets those well-publicised symptoms to the same degree, and indeed many get a shock when they finally realise they are going through ‘the change’, disbelieving that they have reached that stage because they are not prepared.
Aisling Grimley was 48 when she entered this phase of life three years ago. “I suddenly experienced some crazy moods — sudden extreme irritability, wanting to be left alone, and I had unexplained low confidence and low-grade general nervousness.
“These moods felt hormonal so I anxiously wondered could I be pregnant, as my period was also late,” she said.
After she had realised what was happening, she set up a website called My Second Spring to provide a platform offering information and inspiration for other Irish women around this stage of life.
Eileen Durward, menopause expert at natural medicine company A.Vogel, says not all women get hot flushes and night sweats, for instance. “Approximately 75% of women get hot flushes and night sweats, but the other 25% who don’t, quite often don’t realise they are in the menopause.”
We asked these two experts to clear up a few myths about the subject:
Happy 50th birthday — it’s the menopause!
Aisling got her first symptoms at 48. It can hit anytime, on average between 45 and 55, but some women can start a little earlier and some a little later.
“A tip I give to women is to consider that the age you start the menopause can be hereditary — so if you can check out when your mum, grandmother, aunt, or sisters started that might give you a clue,” says Eileen. However, there are certain things that can bring on an early menopause, such as smoking, being very overweight, or having certain chronic health conditions.
You can’t get menopause symptoms while still having periods
Your hormones often start to change very subtly as you approach the menopause — not enough to stop periods, but just enough to produce symptoms such as joint pain, itchy skin, mood swings, and bladder problems — but because women are getting regular periods they don’t associate it with the menopause. If you are in that average menopausal age bracket, it’s time to tune in and educate yourself.
You’re going to get fat and that’s it
Hormonal changes can change how we store fat, often around the middle, but the major culprit in weight gain is our own bad habits, says Aisling. As we get older, we lose muscle mass, which decreases the rate at which the body burns calories, and we tend to move less, so maintaining our weight takes more effort. Couple that with poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles and you can find the pounds piling on. The aim is to maintain or improve our current health and fitness levels.
Eileen agrees, and suggests cutting down on carbs, upping protein, and increasing fruit and veg intake.
Blame the hormones — your sex drive disappears
While the drop in oestrogen and testosterone can cause changes in desire, arousal and lubrication, there’s loads of advice available to ensure women can enjoy sex just as much after menopause as before. Most women will benefit from a good lubricant such as liquid or organic coconut oil, says Aisling, and many find great freedom in not having to worry about getting pregnant.
Eileen says that though the hormone dip can lower libido, taking a toll on your body, fatigue can also increase due to lifestyle at this stage. You may have a busy job, family commitments, be caring for ageing parents, and be feeling generally down. No surprise then, that you are not up for sex. Seeking support on various levels can help, and research shows that having sex can actually promote wellbeing.
Life will never be the same again
Lots of women bring this fear to Eileen, she says. But for the majority, once their symptoms tail off, they feel fine again, especially if they exercise, practice relaxation methods and eat sensibly. Aisling points out that for some women, menopause brings an opportunity to dramatically overhaul bad habits, and they actually look and feel better than they did in their 30s and 40s.
You can’t prepare for the menopause
Being prepared is empowering. It helps you to understand ‘the change’ and do the best for yourself through the transition.
Aisling Grimley is founder of ‘My Second Spring’ at www.mysecondspring.ie.
Eileen Durward is menopause expert at www.avogel.co.uk/health/menopause/