Menopause: Dispelling the myths

Every woman will go through the menopause, but despite being such a universal experience there are a lot of myths and misunderstanding out there about this important life stage. Read on to sort out the myths from the facts:


Myth: All women have unpleasant symptoms around the menopause.

Fact: A minority of women have difficulties. A large US survey reported 66 percent of women managing the menopause easily. The majority of women have one, or a small number, of menopause related symptoms. Five to 15 percent notice no symptoms at all.


Myth: Middle aged spread goes hand in hand with the menopause.

Fact: A number of pesky factors – such as a slowing metabolism, stress and decreasing oestrogen levels – all seem to increase the likelihood of weight gain with the menopause. But, although it is harder to stay in shape, it is not impossible. Regular exercise, stress management and a healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruit, vegetables, soya, nuts, seeds and legumes will help you stay in shape – and in some cases feel fitter and slimmer than ever before. (If you are struggling with extra weight around your waist then see my ‘Fat around the Middle’ book.)


Myth: Every woman gets hot flushes with the menopause.

Fact: Up to two thirds of women get hot flushes and these range in severity from mild to intense. This means that up to a third of women have no hot flushes. And as only about 20 per cent of women ask their GP for help, this indicates that many women who get hot flushes are not troubled by them.


Myth: Many women get depressed and moody because of the menopause.

Fact: There are many problems that often coincide with the years around the menopause: troublesome teens, elderly parents and work overload; and all these can cause stress and depression. Although women with a history of depression were more likely to report mood swings and hot flushes, researchers have found that menopause symptoms do not cause depression.


Myth: Menopause means your best years are behind you.

Fact: In past centuries, age inevitably meant ailments – but medical advances have changed all that. In fact, 21st century women who exercise every day, eat healthily and keep stress levels under control, can enjoy their life in a way previously thought possible only for young people. In some ways you could say that there are a number of bonuses with the menopause, including freedom from menstruation and contraception.  Don’t forget – you can now live 30 to 50 years past the menopause. 


Myth: Loss of libido is common around menopause.

Fact: As they enter the prime of their life, many women gain a new sense of self and feel sexier than ever before. While it is true that declining levels of oestrogen around the menopause can cause a dry vagina, making intercourse less pleasurable, it is important to understand that many other factors can cause a loss of libido. Common factors include too much alcohol, poor diet, stress, fatigue, illness and medical conditions. Some of these common factors can be worked on to great effect with healthy diet and lifestyle changes – and a determined effort to put love making higher on your list of priorities. Kegel exercises can help strengthen your pelvic muscles and make sex more enjoyable and motherwort tincture, or 1 -3 tablespoons daily of flaxseed oil taken orally, can increase vaginal lubrication within a month of use. You can also use a natural lubricant (not the chemical based ones you buy from the chemist), the one I would recommend is an organic lubricant called Yes (see the Resources Page).


Myth: If your periods started early, your menopause will be late.

Fact: This is another old wives tale as research into the age of menopause has found no strong connection. What has been established though is that the menopause may occur several years earlier if you smoke. The average age of the menopause is 51, and women who don’t smoke will be in the age range 48-55 when they go through the menopause. It is even thought that smoking can cause not just a few years difference, but can cause premature menopause where a women goes through the menopause before the age of 40.


Myth: There is no alternative to HRT.

Fact: You do not have to take HRT at the menopause to combat the hot flushes and night sweats that are associated with fluctuating levels of oestrogen. In fact, it is preferable to take oestrogens, which occur naturally in plants, to supplement declining oestrogen levels after the menopause. Include more phytoestrogens in your diet in the form of soya products, whole grains and legumes. Eating healthily, managing stress and exercising regularly can keep the symptoms and risks of menopause at bay, naturally. You can also add in some herbs, like black cohosh, agnus castus and dong quai, if the symptoms are bothering you (see Black Cohosh Plus on the Resources Page).  Remember this is only a transition, so the symptoms do not last forever – and the sooner you do something about them the easier this stage in your life will be. 

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