The term menopause has been known throughout history as many things, most notably “the change of life” or “the change” and struck dread and fear in most women. Women were made to feel that life was over and they were destined for wrinkled stockings, hairnets, false teeth, weight gain and the thought of waiting to shrivel up and say bye-bye to this world. Medicated with a pre-meal of carbonated soda, large belladonna plaster placed at the pit of the stomach or vaginal injections of a solution of acetate of lead it’s no wonder women were thought to be going mad. Prescriptions in the 19th Century ranged from opium and hydro-chlorate, morphine to chloric ether and distilled water. Women were also invited to try a flavoured powder made by desiccating and pulverizing cow ovaries in an attempt to reduce some of the symptoms of fluctuating hormones. Thank goodness we now armed with a holistic medicine cabinet that can incorporate exercise, food and hormone therapy and not a cow in sight!
Where does the word menopause come from and what does it mean?
Derived from the Greek word menos meaning month, and pausos, meaning and cessation/ending, menopause is a stage that EVERY woman goes though, no matter what part of the world she lives. A natural menopause is generally known as the permanent end of monthly periods and fertility and a woman who has not had a period for 12 consecutive months, without any other cause, will have gone through menopause and is now post menopausal. The age for this to happen varies between 46 and 53 but in the UK it is usually around the age of 51, with most women having their last period between the ages of 49 and 53. However nothing is set in stone, it may be determined by genetic and environmental factors too.
Should I be worried about menopause?
Not at all, in many cultures women actually embrace this time of their life as it is the beginning of a new era in a woman’s life, a second spring, where she can impart her many years of experience and knowledge onto others and begin to enjoy life with confidence and vitality. Menopause should be embraced positively, after all it happens to every woman and research suggests that a positive attitude to menopause transition and menopause can lead to less severe symptoms and a more favourable experience for women. A positive menopause will allow women the freedom to get on with their lives and thrive not just survive.
Why am I experiencing all these symptoms? I feel like I’m going mad!
Prior to menopause, a woman will experience a fluctuation of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone that is called peri-menopause or menopause transition. This period leading up to the last menstrual period and those 12 months afterwards, is the most problematic for many women as these hormone fluctuations can produce an array of symptoms like hot flashes, fatigue, mood swings, irregular heavy periods. This transition can take between 6 – 10 years on average and start between the age of 35 to 40 years.
Do all women suffer the same symptoms?
All women will go through peri-menopause and menopause no matter where in the world they are. Although menopause is not unique to any population, we do see varying differences in how women experience menopause depending on where in the world they live. According to a small study by the University of Westminster in 2010, women in the UK seemed to suffer more symptoms than women in America, Canada and Japan, with researchers siting stress could be one exacerbating key factor. The study also indicated that 64% of women in the UK reported suffering tiredness, compared to 38% of American women and only 6% of those from Japan. Similarly 54% reported aches in their joints compared with just 39% of Americans and 14% of Japanese in the survey. The study found that although hot flushes and sweats were common in all women, Japanese women seemed to suffer less hot flushes than both UK and America women, which suggested that large amounts of Soya in their diet could ease the effects. Other symptoms such as tiredness, insomnia and mood swings depended on culture, age and geography.
The Simple Biology behind it all
When a baby girl is born she has about two million tiny immature eggs in her ovaries, and from then on they shrink and disappear. By puberty, the number has dropped to around 400,000 and only 500 will ever mature to develop and release an egg, the vast majority will disappear of their own accord. The menopause is simply the time when no eggs are left in the ovaries. The most obvious result of this, is that a woman can no longer fall pregnant. But that aside, the developing follicles on a monthly basis are also the main source of hormones for a woman, which means that at menopause their levels fall drastically.
Our ovaries produce three main hormones, known as sex hormones. These are oestrogen, progesterone and small amounts of testosterone. Interestingly these hormones don’t just act on the womb and genital tissue but throughout the body through receptors found in the breasts, bones, skin, connective tissue and brain. From the age of puberty and for the next 40 years or so these hormones not only play a huge roll in fertility but also in physical and emotional wellbeing – not a surprise then when the ovaries stop working things can go haywire.
The hormone that plays havoc most is the decrease of oestrogen for women. It’s the hormone that causes hot flushes and sweats. As time goes by the drop in oestrogen can cause vaginal dryness, loss of sex drive, thinning of bones, a decrease in collagen in the skin and the genital area leading to less fullness in the skin, more wrinkles and a tendency to incontinence. It sounds awful but there are plenty of things we can do to help keep fit and healthy when our oestrogen levels drop.
Remember Menopause is NOT a disease and it doesn’t need to be treated like one. There is so much we can do to help alleviate the symptoms that accompany the transition through menopause and on my website and in Clinic I work with women to give them enough knowledge that they feel confident about their bodies and able to cope with this period of their lives.
Hope you found this information of help and interest.