Shrouded in social discomfort, the perception of menopause is framed by our culture. Understanding menopause better can help you create a more positive, empowered experience.
As menopause approaches, it can bring with it the same sense of the unknown felt at puberty. What’s going to happen to my body? Is what I’m experiencing normal? If you’re feeling unsure about what to expect, you’re not alone.
Given half the population journey through this natural biological stage, surprisingly little is known about it, remarks Dr Nicola Gates, clinical neuropsychologist at Brain and Mind Psychology, Sydney and author of The Feel Good Guide to Menopause .
“Society’s always been uncomfortable with women’s reproductive sexual health,” Gates says, citing the furore over TV sanitary pad adverts. Menopause also has the double-edged sword of being associated with ageing.
Simply defining menopause is confusing. Technically speaking, it refers to the permanent end of menstruation. Due to the irregularity of a woman’s cycle in the lead-up to this event, you’re considered to have reached menopause retrospectively 12 months after your final period, explains naturopath Ruth Trickey in Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle . While menopause can occur for some in their early 40s or late 50s, it’s most typical between 45 and 55. A whole lot more happens before and after that! “Around our mid-40s, a women’s oestrogen levels start to gradually diminish to become that of a man,” Gates explains. “Puberty is the increase in sexual reproductive hormones, menopause is the gradual diminishment of them. You’re going from a high dose to support fertility to this low dose that supports normal body and brain function. All our body systems have to adjust, and that’s why we get these symptoms in menopause.”
Because menopause, perimenopause and postmenopause are so arbitrary, Gates prefers the term “menopause transition” to encompass the entire time you’re impacted with symptoms. Menopause starts around 50, and symptoms go for one to two years
In Australia, the average age of menopause is 51, Gates says. While menopause can occur for some in their early 40s or late 50s, it’s most typical between 45 and 55. For many women, menopause occurs prematurely as the result of a medical procedure or health issue.
Most women underestimate the length of the menopause transition. Four years is the average length; however, symptoms can last much longer than previously thought — up to 10 years or more, according to the British Journal of Family Medicine .
The average age of menopause varies between cultures. For example, Mayan women have been reported to experience menopause around 45 years of age. My body no longer makes oestrogen
In menopause, your ovaries cease producing oestrogen. However, your adrenal glands continue to make the hormone, Gates says. Fat tissue also produces some oestrogen. But as your ovaries produce the lion’s share, the levels drop significantly. Hot flushes are the most common symptom
Yes, you got it. About 60 per cent of Australian women experience hot flushes, Gates says.
Di Wallace, a naturopath and natural health and support service manager at the Australian Menopause Centre, says other common symptoms include night sweats, poor sleep, headaches and fluid retention. “The list of symptoms is massive,” she says. “And poor sleep exacerbates everything else.” I’m going to gain weight
While not inevitable, weight gain is one of the biggest complaints voiced by women experiencing menopause, Wallace says. “During menopause, metabolism changes dramatically. Many menopausal women try to flog themselves harder with exercise and grow frustrated they’re not losing weight. It’s not working because their body is going through a shift.”
The bigger picture is that often there’s a lot going on at this time, she says. “Maybe, because they’re tired, they stop exercising. They’re getting hot flushes, cranky and exhausted, it’s a whole encompassing experience, and for some women it really rocks their world. They may use the coping mechanisms, like food and wine, that used to work.” On top of that, women are also carrying more weight than 10 years ago, she adds. Menopause is a health disorder
In The Feel Good Guide To Menopause , Gates reveals how historical domination of the state, religion and medicine by males has shaped the treatment of menopause as a disease.
When Australian university researchers asked four focus groups of women aged 40–64 years for their opinion, they found most viewed menopause as a natural progression. They believed society’s view on menopause and ageing to be mostly negative, low-profile and in need of change. Furthermore, they wanted minimal interference in terms of treatment, and favoured lifestyle therapies such as yoga, exercise and meditation. They also attributed much of their stress to lifestyle factors. Menopause equals declining health
Postmenopausal women do have an increased risk of health issues, including osteoporosis, stroke, cardiovascular problems and diabetes, linked to loss of the protective benefits provided by oestrogen, Gates says.
Obscuring the issue is the natural ageing process and the fact midlife women can have a lot going on. “It’s easy to misattribute things to menopause because it’s such a big change in your life,” Gates says. “What tends to happen is that other health issues are often exacerbated by menopause.” I’m getting dementia
Gates says women in menopause commonly report cognitive difficulties, like brain fog, memory and word-finding problems. This can lead some to fear they’re developing dementia.
“Oestrogen plays a role in memory and brain metabolism,” she explains. “So brain fog is a common symptom experienced by women when they don’t have their normal hormone load. They can lose their usual emotional equilibrium too, because oestrogen and progesterone support normal, healthy positive mood.” A research review by Dr Gail Greendale and colleagues suggests cognitive symptoms tend to resolve themselves postmenopause.
Stress and fatigue also tax our mental abilities and emotions. “Women of our generation have a lot more on our plates than those of previous generations,” Gates reminds us. It’s all downhill for my sex life
On the upside, you can enjoy sex free of the inconvenient monthlies and […]