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Menopause – everything you need to know, with Andrea McLean

Ask a hundred people and you will get a hundred different answers. I asked my 240,000 social media followers ‘What does the word ‘menopause’ mean to you?’ The response I got was a tsunami of symptoms and feelings, from women who felt helpless, anxious and lost.

I did what anyone else would do when they want to know the answer to something; I googled: ‘What is the menopause?’. It offered me 24,300,000 answers…

According to nhs.uk: ‘The menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally… The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55-years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51.’

Oestrogen, in the simplest terms, is a sex hormone that women produce, which is responsible for development at puberty. As well as regulating our menstrual cycle, it also affects how our skin looks and how strong our bones are.

Symptoms of menopause

Each one of us will experience the build-up to the menopause in our own way, and there is a whole host of symptoms and experiences that come under the umbrella term of ‘menopause’. There are apparently 34 signs of being menopausal, including:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Bloating
  • Breast tenderness
  • Brittle nails
  • Body odour changes
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Bleeding gums
  • Hot flushes
  • Hair changes; increased facial hair, but thinning hair elsewhere
  • Headaches, especially at the start of the menopause
  • Bladder incontinence
  • Irregular, pounding heartbeat
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Irritability
  • Itchy skin
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of libido
  • Memory lapses
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle tension
  • Night sweats
  • Osteoporosis
  • Panic attacks
  • Sleep disorders
  • Tingling extremities
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Weight gain

How beneficial is HRT?

Menopause Consultant, Dr Tina Peers MBBS, DRCOG, DFSRH, MBCAM says hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help women with both the physical and mental symptoms of menopause because it stimulates the oestrogen receptors and so stops these symptoms occurring. 

HRT has got some bad press over the years, with headlines linking it to an increase in breast cancer, for example. Women are worried about using it and GPs are reluctant to prescribe it.

According to Dr Peers, The Women’s Health Initiative study in 2006, “overstated risks − many of which were not statistically significant and did not take account of confounding factors, in a very poorly designed study.” She believes women need re-educating about HRT.

But, if they would still prefer not to use HRT, or are unable to, then diet, exercise, food, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), reducing alcohol intake and losing weight are all recommended.

How can my diet help with the menopause?

  • Eat plenty of calcium: milk, yoghurt, kale, canned fish complete with the bones.
  • Eat less junk – your body is going through a tough time, so give it the nourishment it needs. 
  • Drinks lots of water − it’s not only good for the body but it helps your skin stay plump and hydrated.
  • Drink less alcohol, especially in the evenings, when the sugar slips through your lips and lands on your hips, and you’re not moving from in front of the telly to work it off.
  • Stay clear of spicy foods in the evening too, especially if you are suffering with night sweats – they only make things worse.
  • No caffeine after lunch – it only adds to the sleepless tossing and turning.

Let’s talk about sex and the menopause

Whatever your experience of sex has been throughout your life − good, bad or indifferent − the menopause is one of those times when it most definitely changes.

The menopause makes you feel more sensitive about everything: criticism that comes your way, your body, how you think you look, how you think they think you look! A lot of your conversations will be happening in your head and may not be happening in his, so keep this in mind. Explain that you aren’t feeling like you used to and try and find a way for you to work through it together.

We should talk about the menopause more

Whether it is talking to your doctor, your friends or your partner, getting the best support you can means asking for it. You only live once, so make sure you live a life that is on fire for all the right reasons!

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