Menopause has many different names; midlife crisis, change of life, climacteric, menopausal syndrome, time of life. Menopause is also a confusing term as it refers to the specific time when menstruation ceases, so retrospective! Generally, we use the term menopause to refer the time and symptoms both leading up to and after this date! More correctly the transition period is called peri-menopause and afterwards post-menopause.

I am passionate that women understand the menopause and can prepare for it. Many women experience hot flushes, night sweats, suffer low mood and energy and gain weight. All this adds to stress and a vicious circle of exacerbated symptoms often leading to a lack of performance and low self- esteem. I personally was ignorant and in denial.

There is distinct lack of knowledge about the menopause from school to adulthood. Until recently menopause has been shrouded in mystery, it was not talked about, even between mother and daughter. Additionally, everyone experiences it differently leading to further confusion. Increasing awareness is key and here I have listened some common questions and observations!

How to know if you are menopausal?

This is a common question, including the range of symptoms and age it begins. Many are concerned about the impact on their health in later life too.

Menopause is when the pituitary, the master gland in the brain stops telling the ovaries to produce sex hormones and over time ovulation ceases. Medically this is when there are no menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months, for the over 50’s or for 24 months for the under 50’s. Obviously medical conditions should be ruled out. As stated, there is confusion in the terminology as menopause is an actual moment in time that we only know retrospectively! It is the end of fertility but also the start of a beautiful new phase in your life.

In the western world, the average age at which menopause starts is now 51 but can be as early as 30s or late as 60s. Although there are many factors affecting the age of menopause onset, there is no agreement on them. If your mother’s menopause was early, theirs a high chance yours will be too but not necessarily! Oral and other hormonal contraceptives may influence onset, but there is no evidence as the hormones may disguise the symptoms of menopause.

Factors affecting age of menopause;

Later menopause

  • Starting periods later after 13
    If you are over-weight
    Alcohol consumption,
    Light physical activity
    Eating fruit and a high protein diet

Earlier menopause

  • Starting periods before the age of 12 makes you 31% more likely to have menopause between 40 and 44.
    Having no children,
    Smoking (average 2 years earlier)
    Heavy physical activity
    A high consumption of polyunsaturated fat contributes to earlier menopause

Peri-menopause

The changes leading up to the natural menopause are called menopause transition or perimenopause and can begin an astonishing 10 years before. The levels of hormones produced by the ovaries fluctuate, leading to lower progesterone and oestrogen and irregular menstrual patterns, often but not necessarily the first sign!

  • Hot flushes (a sudden warm feeling with blushing) and night sweats
  • Psychological problems; anxiety or depression and a lack of motivation.
  • Vaginal dryness linked to urinary problems and lack of interest in sex.
  • Headaches, migraines, poor memory and concentration
  • Joint aches and pains muscle stiffness mistaken for ageing.
  • Sleep disturbances both indirectly from night sweats and due to hormones
  • Low energy, tired all the time
  • Dry skin, hair and nails, itchy skin and ageing skin.
  • Weight gain

If you’re in your nearing or in your 40’s and experiencing some of more of these symptoms, then you may well be peri-menopausal. If they occur younger a different hormonal imbalance may be more likely, although early menopause can happen bes to see a sympathetic GP. These symptoms aren’t limited to peri-menopause but be post-menopausal too. Not everyone experiences them all or at the same intensity, this invariability adds to the confusion.

Post-menopause

Once oestrogen levels have fallen women lose the protective effects of oestrogen hence higher rates of cardiovascular disease and strokes. Lower oestrogen takes effect on metabolism affect digestion, gut health and reflux and weight gain. Bone density is also affected with more inflammatory conditions and autoimmunity evident. Some problems are more common like poor sleep, depression, mood and cognitive function. This demonstrates that menopause and the transition is a total body system change. Because of this it is important to look at the whole body and any potential imbalances that may occur.

Culture

Often menopause is seen as a negative in our western culture. In the media recently it’s been more widely discussed with celebrities and journalists and bloggers being transparent about experiences. Meg Matthews, Ulrika Johnson, Angelina Jolie after her hysterectomy, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Western culture looks at Menopause as a disease, rather than a natural point in a woman’s life, possibly influenced by our medical system. But this time can be viewed as a positive beginning of a new phase of life, with opportunities to take preventive action against major health risks. E.g. heart disease, joint and bone health, diabetes, weight gain.

Of course, we are living longer too so we will live more of our lives post-menopausal, so ways to manage it are essential. Women need to cope with life, families and work commitments. We need to give ourselves permission to have the time and space to go through the process, otherwise stress can increase that disrupts hormones and can increase symptoms.

Your Second Spring

In most Eastern cultures many women do not suffer in menopause partly explained by differences in diet and lifestyle, but also perhaps because age is respected and valued in these cultures. In India women like the menopause as it means more social inclusion and no veil, they also see it as a spiritual awakening! The Japanese have no word for hot flushes and indeed the menopause is not ‘celebrated’ or demonized, and it is thought this is why experiences are less intense.

It is more optimistically known as second spring! Women from the Eastern world often have similar symptoms, but they don’t appear to be so intense. Unfortunately, this may also be due a lack of reporting as these countries culture often prevents openness about such intimate symptoms. A study suggests that menopause produces similar symptoms in many women from different countries  demonstrating that cultural differences can still shape how people experience this stage of life for better or worse! Showing that our outlook is very important!  This is not to say that symptoms experienced in western world aren’t real in fact many women moving to a western countries then experience ‘menopause’ symptoms like us which points to nutrition and lifestyle!

In Conclusion

Embracing a ‘Second Spring’ requires acceptance of aging and change. Western culture has a great fear of aging expressed in our fascination with youth. It is possible to celebrate the natural stages of our lives, menopause can be beautiful, and vibrant! This often is a process of rediscovery a focus on new values including health and wellbeing. I would love to help you on this journey with personalised nutrition and lifestyle techniques for a smooth transition.

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Sources

Menopause across cultures: a review of the evidence

Culture and symptom reporting at menopause

NHS conditions/menopause/