By Melissa Smith, outreach and communications officer and Meleni Aldridge, executive coordinator
The gaslighting of women over menopause in recent years has left many terrified of what awaits them as they approach their transition through this entirely natural life stage.
More and more young women are expressing their fear of what the menopause might hold for them. Fuelled by the way it’s portrayed in the media as a narrowly defined symptomatic condition or even disease state that leaves women at the mercy of uncontrollable changes in their body that they have no control over.
More so, a time which requires treatment with synthetic drugs for an indefinite period in order to continue to lead a meaningful life, despite any potential health risks posed by the medication.
This is classic “disease mongering” – a tactic used by Big Pharma to generate a demand by healthy people for highly profitable drugs. The disturbing phenomenon was described by Ray Moynihan and others in the BMJ some 20 years ago and continues unabated.
In the past, the topic of menopause was largely taboo, viewed somewhat paternalistically, as a “woman’s issue”, spoken of in hushed tones. Yet, incredibly this view is still echoed by a recent IPSOS survey, although conducted in the US, it explored attitudes towards menopause in 33 countries globally.
However, the advent of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has made menopause an increasingly ‘hot’ (pun intended) topic! Especially lucrative for the pharma industry as it’s a largely unavoidable life stage for women who live through their 40’s to 60’s. The HRT market is predicted to grow to $30 billion by 2028. However, those projections are based on the success of the campaign to medicalise menopause and instil fear into the hearts of younger women whilst positioning HRT as the only saviour to get you through. Ka-ching go the (electronic) cash registers!
You don’t hear about ‘Puberty Awareness Month’, but women across the globe are now being encouraged to share their personal experiences of menopause through October 2022, which has been designated Menopause Awareness month. Tuesday October 18th was nominated as World Menopause Day (no one ever says by whom) in order to help overcome the “stigma of menopause” and help women access ‘the treatment’ needed to navigate what is essentially a natural life stage. Can you still hear the cash registers?
Unsurprisingly, for an organisation committed to promoting and defending natural approaches to health care and connection to Nature, at ANH we don’t share this view. Without wanting to diminish in any way the difficult transition that some women do go through, many women today and in the past, move through menopause either symptom-free or with very manageable symptoms. Others describe their menopausal and post-menopausal years as some of the happiest years of freedom and creativity in their lives. Let’s also not forget that in indigenous cultures the world over, menopause has been embraced and celebrated as the tribe welcomes more wisdom-carriers to guide the younger generation, whilst offering stability and support to the entire community. Far from needing to be put on the scrap heap and have one’s value defined by the end of her fertility, this life stage is pregnant with opportunity.
In the UK, such is the focus on menopause, there’s even an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) devoted to it. Its latest report calls for early screening of women, as well as making HRT available without prescription charges and fostering a greater understanding of how the menopause can affect women. All laudable aims if the report weren’t so myopic about HRT as the magic bullet, with barely a nod to other natural, nutrition and lifestyle interventions that we know are powerful modulators of health and hormonal pathways.
Menopause, is derived from the Greek words, menos, meaning month, and pausos, meaning ending. In this instance the ending of a woman’s ability to menstruate and bear children. Puberty is marked by the start of menstruation and menopause is by its cessation. The term peri-menopause describes the lead-up years where a woman’s cycle and hormonal patterns start to change. Like the menopause itself, some women transition seamlessly through peri-menopause, others can suffer challenging and even debilitating symptoms. But the good news is that the majority can be helped through natural, nutrition and lifestyle interventions. Menopause is completely natural and we are ‘Of Nature’, which means that there are a wealth of options before having to move straight to drug therapy.
His wife’s menopause, sparked a new direction for naturopathic physician, Dr Joseph Collins, which caused him to devote decades to helping women through this life stage. Seeing so many menopausal women led Dr Collins to be able to identify and describe the symptom patterns associated with not one, but 12 different menopausal journeys. His little-known book, ‘Discover your Menopause Type’, takes you through a questionnaire so you can find out what your individual menopause type is and then explains and outlines the most appropriate support to reduce associated symptoms you may be experiencing.
>>> Step 1 — Complete the questionnaire to discover your menopause type
>>> Step 2 — Go to the relevant chapter in the book, Discover your Menopause Type, to find out more about yours and how to support your health as you navigate your menopause journey
Stress and menopause
Stress is one of the most potent, life-altering, emotional and physiological states we experience as human beings. At one end of the continuum, it not only produces a suite of powerful biochemical responses in our body associated with survival, but at the other, when it is prolonged and becomes chronic, it has the ability to reduce our life expectancy by shortening our telomeres – the ‘shoelace caps’ on the ends of our chromosomes that control how long we live and how age.
So too, does stress play a part in how a woman transitions through menopause because as her ovaries cease to produce oestrogen, it’s the adrenal glands which take over the production of secondary sex hormones. If they are ‘exhausted’ and overwhelmed by over production of stress hormones, they aren’t going to perform at their best. In evolutionary terms, survival trumps sex hormones, especially in a woman beyond her childbearing years, so the adrenal glands will always prioritise the production of stress hormones.
This creates unnecessary imbalance, which can lead to more uncomfortable symptoms than would otherwise be normal for that woman during the menopause transition.
Control your telomeres
Just a word on telomeres and ageing if the previous sentence sparked your interest. The good news is we can also improve our telomere health by the same kinds of natural nutritional and lifestyle interventions that create health – and happier menopause journeys. But also, through using advanced nutraceuticals in the form of small peptides derived from ovaries and other glands or tissues, it is possible to also positively impact a woman’s transition through menopause.
Here are 2 video interviews with Dr Bill Lawrence to give you the low down on peptides and ageing.
Is there a darker side to menopause?
Health authorities and the media are full of dire warnings for menopausal women being at higher risk of developing cancer, and heart disease because of higher levels of cholesterol or from suffering brain shrinkage, along with a multitude of other very negative health messages. Listening to all this understandably sounds the death knell to younger women, many of whom are now desperate for the magic bullet to save them from something they can’t avoid. No one stands in the path of a headlong collision willingly.
Only there’s no collision necessary. Would it surprise you to learn that any brain changes are usually temporary or that the benefits of HRT have been overstated and the risks of synthetic hormones understated? Or that Nature has seen to it that women during and post-menopause naturally have higher levels of cholesterol levels to parent more steroid hormones and protect against heart disease because the ovaries are no longer producing any?
Seek help for menopause symptoms from conventional doctors and you’re likely to find yourself with a prescription for HRT with no discussion of alternatives and little, or no explanation, of potential side effects. Also, that HRT isn’t a one-size fits all treatment. Concerns over the links between breast cancer and HRT are routinely dismissed following re-analysis of the data that previously pointed to an increased risk.
This is not to say that hormone replacement support doesn’t have a place or isn’t supportive. But we feel that it’s every woman’s right to be given the opportunity to make an informed choice between synthetic HRT and natural bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, or BHRT.
BHRT vs HRT – a misinformation minefield
Misinformation and disinformation about the benefits and risks of all natural therapies is rife. However, this is especially the case wherever natural approaches most threaten pharma’s biggest cash cows. Think cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis – and menopause.
In some countries, the pharma lobby is so intense that health regulators have taken a hard line on natural, herbal support for menopause. Among the most targeted and useful herbs are the rhizomes (roots) of black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), that have been classed as medicinal by the European Medicines Agency. This decision has caused many European (including UK) regulators to withdraw food supplements from the market in many countries. Given high demand for the clinically proven rhizomes of black cohosh and its availability online, or through retail outlets that have yet been shut down, other regulators try to warn off use, such has been the case in Denmark and USA.
Then there’s the ongoing attacks on BHRT led by protagonists of conventional HRT, that relies on synthetic hormone analogues. For many women looking for safer or more effective options, this is deeply confusing and troubling. Typically, the criticism comes from doctors who have no experience of using BHRT, nor any real understanding of the decades of science and clinical experience that underlies it.
So, we went to long-term ANH friend and colleague – and renowned expert on BHRT – Dr Nyjon Eccles, who is both a doctor who prescribes BHRT and a researcher. You can read more from his guest feature on this controversial, yet so important subject.
A life stage to be celebrated
For decades, Western medicine has minimised the importance of the menopause by reducing it to a purely biological state defined by symptoms, many of which carry disease classification. This time in a woman’s life cannot be viewed in isolation, but should be considered in multiple contexts, that include, but are not limited to, genetic, emotional, environmental, nutritional, historical and cultural considerations. A recent survey commissioned by UK-based food supplement company, Vitabiotics, reveals the positives of menopause.
For many women, especially with the right, natural support, menopause can be a deeply enriching and transformative life stage.
In traditional cultures, menopause marks a woman’s transition to a time where she steps into her deepest feminine power, acquiring new status as a wisdom-carrier and wayshower, allowing her to share a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom for the betterment of the tribe.
Here are some fun facts to ponder upon. Such is the inversion of our world, that terms used to bestow positive meaning to older women such as crone and hag, have become some of the most derogatory references one can make to women of a certain age. In ancient times the word crone, described a woman who had gained a special revered status for wisdom-attained and her presence and leadership were treasured at tribal ceremonies. The word hag, is having less of a comeback, but derives from hagio, which means holy.
Tips for transitioning more smoothly
Firstly, let’s celebrate the menopause! After all, it’s opens up a new wellspring of power, freedom and creativity as women step from the responsibilities of child-bearing and rearing — and, let’s face it, the end of the monthly menses.
- Enhance your metabolic flexibility and increase your intake of healthy fats so you ignite your fat burning pathways to counteract the tendency for the 'menopause middle'. Ketones, that the body produces from burning fats feeds the brain and keeps neurotransmitters healthy and well-functioning
- Intermittent fasting is a powerful, natural way to allow your body to repair itself. Leave at least 5 hours between meals and 12 hours overnight
- Eat a rainbow of coloured vegetables and limited fruits, rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients
- Dump the junk! Remove highly processed foods from your diet and replace with nutrient-dense wholefoods
- Modulate your stress response and be brutal about stepping away from the things and the circumstances that cause you unnecessary stress in your life
- Sleep – every cell in the body needs it. You can’t regenerate without it. Prioritise sleep. Aim for 6-8 hours a night in a pitch-black room. Minimise screen time an hour before bed.
- Stay active. Remember to choose exercise that you love and alternate strength and endurance training
- Me time! Spend as much of it outdoors in nature and indulge in forest bathing whenever you can
- Take time to breathe. Join Meleni Aldridge for what she calls “The Sovereign Breath Practice". No special skills required, except being able to breathe!
- Find your purpose in life – your Ikigai. Now is the perfect to do what you love and live in the present moment as children fly the nest
- Laugh and do what makes you happy. This month (October 2022), share your story or recipe for happiness and be in with a chance to win a signed copy of RESET EATING or lunch with the authors, Rob Verkerk PhD and Meleni Aldridge.
>>> Check out our book RESET EATING for a practical guide on changing your diet
>>> Get some inspiration on maintaining your health and vitality as you approach menopause with our Health Hack video
>>> Become an ANH Pathfinder member and join Meleni in our monthly members’ Intention Circle to support your journey inwards to connect more deeply to the source of your inherent power.
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your voice counts
02 November 2022 at 7:18 am
I enjoyed this article, but just wanted to comment on the discussion about Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT), and to challenge what is said about only BHRT being natural, and the HRT you can get in the NHS only being ‘synthetic.’ As a registered nutritionist (registered nutritional therapist for seven years, but not practising anymore), I always manage my health as naturally as possible of course. But after nearly ten years of managing perimenopause naturally, after reaching 50 a few years ago I felt I needed/wanted some more help with hormones for various reasons. Of course I knew about private clinics offering bioidentical hormones (BHRT) but was aware that they charge a lot for these hormones, after expensive tests to check levels, and then probably more tests needed after a trial of the first set of hormones, and so on.. After having paid for many private tests over the last 13 yrs, and continuing to do so (thyroid, vitamin D, essential fatty acids, hormone tests such as the DUTCH etc.), I knew I was not willing to start paying for hormones and tests in this way. I did some research and realised that actually the NHS does offer hormones in the same molecular structure as our hormones, but they call them 'Body Identical' HRT. I asked for a referral to a menopause clinic, and after an eight months' wait saw a Professor at Barts Hospital, who I have seen regularly since. We know that most GPs are not up to date on menopause and the different types of HRT, but from my experience anyway, doctors in these specialist menopause clinics are. It helped that I knew what to ask for, but for instance, they will often give body identical hormones these days, rather than synthetic. For info, the only body identical progesterone is called Utrogestan in the UK, but there are plenty of different body identical oestrogens, in gels, patches and sprays, as well as local oestrogen for vaginal dryness (which does not go systemic). I believe some sort of testosterone is available soon (I am soon to find out). So as there is only one body identical progesterone (Utrogestan), you have to take this separately to whichever type of body identical oestrogen you choose. Any combined progesterone and oestrogen is indeed synthetic. The point is, it is not as it used to be: a choice between either private bioidentical and natural, or NHS synthetic. The NHS does offer these days, often, body identical (use the word body identical rather than bioidentical with the NHS) hormones which are the same molecular structure as our own hormones, made from soy and yams. As noted, bioidentical hormones are 'compounded' hormones, made to fit your body after blood tests, but more expensive. Body identical hormones are available in the NHS, yes in set dosages, but you try different doses until you find what works for you. They have been working for me. Of course your body can change and want different things as time goes on though. I am on a low dose and do not intend to stay on them long term. I had to share this, as you do not need to necessarily pay for expensive private treatment to get natural HRT (though it is everyone's option to choose what they want of course). But you need to do your research, to ask for what you want with the NHS. The Professor I see is happy to give me what I ask for, and what I feel I need each time. Of course, to feel and be healthy throughout this time, you also need a healthy diet and lifestyle too. Thanks for the lovely reminders at the end of the article ‘Tips for transitioning more smoothly’, and I have enjoyed Reset Eating, though just managed to read a little of it so far - need more time to read the rest! Sarah x
Melissa Smith https://www.anhinternational.org
02 November 2022 at 8:17 am
Thanks so much for your comment Sarah. This is very helpful and good to hear that the NHS is offering more options now as long as women know what to ask for, which you've outlined.
15 November 2022 at 9:38 pm
While I was thrilled when menopause hit at age 44 because my cycles had been brutal there did come a time when I tried hormone replacement. The first time I was told it would help me sleep better ,have more energy and feel great. Wrong. $2000 & 9 months later I did not receive any benefits and after 20 years of menopause they managed to bring back my period!
Six years later when I actually did have a real problem with vaginal atrophy I saw an Endocrine Gynecologist. He was very kind and talked me into "natural plant based" estriol & testosterone pellets surgically implanted in my hip. [like they do to livestock];plus a progesterone pill. $400 and 6 WEEKS later I woke up at 4am passing clots the size of chicken livers and with terrible cramps! Also during the next 6 months the lining of my uterus went from normal 5mm to 10 mm and doctors pushing for D&C. What a racket.I waited another 5 months for hormones to clear out ;repeated the ultrasound and I am back down to 7mm so no surgery; thank you.
In the meantime I solved my own problem with Carlson's Vitamin E suppositories nightly. After 3 years of pain & tearing I can now be intimate with my husband again. My regular gynecologist could not believe the improvement down there ! WAY cheaper & safer than hormones too.
11 December 2022 at 4:49 pm
I am on natural HRT since March. I did my research before heading to GP for a prescription. I was recommended Dr Louise Newson website and her you tube videos, she is a UK GP specialising in menopause. Excellent resources, all you need to know about menopause and starting HRT. I agree that GP-s are not deeply trained to guide through menopausal issues. However, the basics are available: consultation about breast cancer family history, liver health, blood test if necessary. From my experience, NHS prescribes natural HRT without any hesitation. I was given patches at first, which contain natural oestrogen, but synthetic progesterone - this didn't work for me (caused 'pumpy' sensations in lower legs, which I remembered from the periodic use of contraception pills, which I never liked using anyway). Although many woman I spoke to, are on patches. I then asked for a natural progesterone Utrogestan, which I use vaginally rather then orally; and oestrogen as transdermal gel. Both hormones are made from wild yam. I am also going to join a zoom menopause support group, offered by NHS (DHC, Surrey).
On a few occasions, I noticed that these natural HRT was out of stock for couple of weeks. There must be a very high demand and not enough is supplied. I hope it helps woman looking for some guidance.
Melissa Smith https://www.anhinternational.org
12 December 2022 at 9:52 am
Thanks so much for sharing your experience of using hormones as part of your transition journey Anna. It's always useful to get different perspectives.
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