When one of the women on the MyMT programme send me last week’s article from Dr Max Pemberton, who writes a medical column for the Daily Mail, with the headline, ‘Is the Menopause all in the Mind?’ I just shook my head in frustration.
When Dr’s don’t understand the intricate relationship between menopause changes and what happens in the body when low oestrogen and progesterone levels intersect with our modern way of living, then yes, it can seem that some of us go a little bit crazy and our symptoms get a bit out of control, but there is a physiological basis for this, not psychological, as Dr Max implies.
Your statement saying, “Yet what causes such problems — and other associated physical complaints such as hot flushes, sleep disturbance and mood changes — is not understood. While there’s no clear biological mechanism that neatly explains them, one interesting theory is that the menopause is a result of the West’s obsession with youth” is a bit out of kilter. There are hundreds of evidenced research studies that indicate that there are biological mechanisms that changing reproductive hormones during menopause do contribute to hormonal chaos (due to the feedback mechanism of hormonal balance in the body), and yes, to some extent, some women are not coping with their biological ageing and try to live the life they always have, but these women in general are few and far between! When I myself thought I was ‘going crazy’ with my own symptoms, including experiencing forgetfulness, brain fog and sore muscles/ joints and endless hot flushes, and when mid-life women who are regular exercisers, who participated in my women’s healthy ageing research were telling me similar stories about their worsening symptoms and intolerance of the exercise that they used to do, I decided to investigate more deeply.
As a university-level lecturer in physiology and sports science, the first thing I did was to put on my ‘physiology and endocrinology hat’ and put the pieces of the menopause puzzle together. Then, I did what few Doctors have done. I went down the rabbit hole and looked at every menopause symptom women experience (including forgetfulness and of course, changing cardiac health) and then married these up against evidenced LIFESTYLE strategies that help to turn these symptoms around.
So, Dr Max, here are my 5 top reasons menopause symptoms are NOT in the mind.
- When oestrogen production begins to decline in peri-menopause, the two ‘master hormones’, LH and FSH, are still pumping out signals to the ovaries to increase production of oestrogen. In fact these master hormones, go into overdrive. This can even lead to polycystic ovarian syndrome, but it means that other cells that receive oestrogen around the body, become sensitive to these messages. This includes FAT CELLS which store oestrogen.
- When oestrogen is stored in fat cells, this produces a condition called Oestrogen Dominance. This leads to LOW PROGESTERONE. The symptoms of low progesterone are well known in female athletes, who experience undue fatigue, lose their periods and have sore muscles, joints and increased headaches. For many women still trying to do lots of exercise and go on calorie controlled diets then this can create worsening progesterone levels as they go through peri-menopause. As ‘younger’ Baby-boomers, we are the first group of women to go into peri-menopause having come through the modern dieting and fitness industries and therefore, it’s really important to understand that biologically, we are ageing, so our nutrition and exercise, needs to change accordingly. This is what I teach women on the MyMT programmes.
- Low oestrogen levels cause low Vitamin D levels. This is because Vitamin D is absorbed into the skin with the help of oestrogen. Therefore, many women are at risk of low vitamin D levels and because Vitamin D is now recognised as a hormone, low levels have an effect on other hormones in the body too due to the feedback system that operates with all of our hormones. When Vitamin D is low, hot flushes are increased and memory loss/ foggy brain becomes worse. This is because Vitamin D is implicated in melatonin production, so insomnia increases and serotonin production, which is our mood and motivation hormone. Restoring Vitamin D and sleep is crucial to women’s health as they transition into and through menopause. Again, this is so powerful for our health, that the first modules women receive on the MyMT programmes, teaches them how to sleep all night, naturally.
- In women, the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis is powerful. The HPA axis connects the brain with the adrenal glands. What this means in menopause, is that if our pituitary gland (which is controlled by the hypothalamus) is not working well, then this can increase feelings of anxiety, memory loss and stress. The way to manage the HPA axis is through improving the optimal function of the pineal gland – which controls the circadian rhythm.
- Finally, unlike Dr Max, my strongest message to women is that worsening menopause symptoms are not in your head – they become worse because of the build-up of inflammation in the liver, gut, muscles (including cardiac muscle) and blood vessels. Over many decades, women (and men) have been the ‘guinea-pig’ generation for foods, fluids, medicines, chemicals, high impact sport and exercise and other pollutants, which have led to cellular changes in our cells and tissues. By the time menopause arrives, much of this ‘invisible’ inflammation is switched on with a changing hormonal environment. So, the key to solving symptoms, lies in my 3 phases of health regeneration:(a) Reducing inflammation that’s been building up for decade
(b) Restoring gut and liver health so that health-giving nutrients are absorbed
(c) Changing the way we live our lives so that we are following healthy ageing studies, not following the fitness, dieting and sports science advice (except if women are competing or training for a specific performance).
So, Dr Max – please send Yasmin Le Bon my way. I will sort out her symptoms and memory loss with the MyMT ‘Circuit-Breaker’ programme. 12 weeks to renewed health, vitality and memory! Can’t wait!
Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher & MyMT Programme Coach.