How can menopause affect our health?
A conversation with our friends at the co-creation supplement range & midlife community, MPowder.
AAn important chapter in the lives of over half the human population, we think the menopause is something we should be talking about more openly (and frequently). Whether it’s menopause bloating or menopause tiredness, the amount of associated symptoms of this phase of life is wide-ranging and often surprising. We spoke to the menopause specialists MPowder to find out more.Shop MPowder
What exactly is menopause?
To put it simply, this is when a woman stops having periods and is unable to get pregnant naturally. And we know that menopause is a whole body and mind experience. Research by Gen M in 2021 revealed that 75% of us feel ‘hit sideways’ by the range of symptoms that can be associated with the lifestage.
What are the three stages of menopause?
For those of us who have a natural menopause, there are 3 distinct biochemical stages that our bodies will go through:
Perimenopause means ‘Around Menopause’. And, until very recently, it was rarely mentioned (for most of us we’ll be in it by our early 40’s). Our menstrual cycle may still be regular. We may still be able to get pregnant. However biochemically, our bodies are transitioning. These hormonal shifts impact every single cell in our bodies. From anxiety, to imposter syndrome. From sleeplessness to a racing heartbeat. Bone ache. Perhaps changes to our hair and skin. Bloating is very common - alongside food sensitivities and IBS-like symptoms. And the more recognised symptoms of brain fog, mood swings and hot flashes.
Menopause itself marks the 12 month anniversary of your last bleed. It’s a single day. And, for many of us, it is hard to identify! You may be on contraception that controls your cycle. You may simply forget. You may go 10 months without a bleed, and then have to start counting again. But 12 months in a row without a period marks the end of our ovaries’ reproductive function. In the UK, menopause is likely to occur, naturally, around the age of 51. For 5% of us it will occur under the age of 45 - and this is called early menopause.
This life stage doesn’t really have an end date. And, for those of us in midlife right now, we are the first generation that could live 40-50% of our lives ‘post-menopause’. At this point, it is also really important to focus on nourishing your body and mind. Regardless of whether we have taken HRT or not as part of our menopause journey, the loss or reduction in oestrogen and progesterone in our bodies means we become more susceptible to certain conditions and diseases. We need to prioritise bone health, heart health and our blood sugar. Our brains will thank us for paying close attention to cognitive health too.
How long does menopause 'last'?
Statistically, those of us who have a natural menopause (rather than surgically induced), the period from perimenopause to post-menopause lasts around 8-10 years. But it is important to remember that post-menopause is, effectively - the rest of our lives!
What are the worst signs of menopause?
This is a really interesting question - as it is entirely subjective. What we’ve found is that, for example, one woman may have 7 hot flashes a day but, because of her lifestyle or outlook, be untroubled by them. Another individual may have just 3 but find them debilitating. The important thing for all of us is to be aware of the range of symptoms, be aware of when you’re likely to start experiencing the hormonal shifts, and to ensure you’re talking to your doctor regularly about how you feel.
What are the most common symptoms of menopause?
Again, the symptoms we see across individuals can vary significantly. However, we do see cluster symptoms. Within our community, in perimenopause we’re more likely to see concerns around anxiety and low mood. We also see concern with bloating, sensitivity to food and weight - as well as persistent tiredness. Post menopause, we see an increase in people reporting concern about hot flashes or flushes, poor sleep, brain fog and a loss of libido.
Finally, if a member of our community is reading this, what would you like to share about the best way to approach menopause?
We have two things we always recommend!
First and foremost, make your doctor your friend. Learn what is available to you from a medical perspective. And ensure you keep talking - it is critical that we don’t self-diagnose because symptoms of menopause can also be symptoms of other conditions too. If you feel dismissed or misunderstood, ask whether your surgery has a menopause specialist. If not, ask if you can be referred to a menopause clinic, for free, on the NHS.
Then secondly, reframe midlife mentally now! Our belief at MPowder is that midlife can be a superpower. We just need the tools and support to thrive. Look to the inspiring women doing phenomenal things in midlife. Learn about the magic of what happens to our brains as they transition through menopause. Look at the stats around the value we bring to society as we age. Focus on what we acquire rather than what we may feel we have lost.
For a list of menopause specialists within the UK, see here.