Over the past 8 years since setting up the My Menopause Transformation programmes, I’ve witnessed an explosion of interest (both scientifically and in popular media) in the menopause transition.
As I’ve read or viewed much of these discussions over the years, including throughout 2022, I’ve been struck by four recurring themes:
- There is an almost fanatical devotion to menopause HRT by many celebrities, journalists and yes, even celebrity Doctors and women themselves.
This is all very well, however there doesn’t seem to be a lot of balance to these conversations. Menopause HRT, whether delivered via the patch, the pill or any other mode, is not for everyone. This is especially true for women who are sensitive to oestrogen or have a history of blood vessel changes, including blood clots. With the changes that occur to blood vessels in women as they age, this is probably all of us!
- Weight gain gets minimal attention as a symptom of menopause. Nor does the fact that the end-stage of peri-menopause, when periods stop, is a vulnerable time for weight gain.
Yet, the SWAN studies (Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation) have consistently shown that body mass index (BMI) changes as women complete the transition into menopause, when periods end.
As the studies mention, this is explainable by the fact that adipose (fat) tissue causes increased oestrogen production from within the fat cells themselves. This oestrogen production is derived from hormone precursors, i.e. the compounds which help to make oestrogen.
Cortisol from stress is one of these oestrogen precursors, as is alcohol, and then there are estrogen-rich foods and exposure to chemicals. If you’ve been reading my newsletters this year, then you will have read about some of these effects.
- There seems to be very little conversation about the differences between the three stages of menopause.
However the stage of menopause that women are in matters to their symptoms, including weight gain. My personal observation, is that many of the celebrities and others who are most vocal on social and popular media about menopause are only just arriving in their late 40s or early 50s. Hence, they may not have reached menopause or post-menopause yet. Their experiences and knowledge therefore, remain limited!
- With medical and pharmaceutical interventions now dominating the ‘menopause-landscape’, the positive social and psychological perspectives are being lost.
Our menopause transition is so much more than ‘just’ hot flashes or brain-fog. Thousands of women who join me in the MyMT™ community can attest to this. Indeed, in India and other countries, this stage of life is a time of celebration and renewal – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
How women shape the next phase of their lives, their ageing years is, to me, an important theme that is missing from many menopause discussions. The primary emphasis on hormonal and supplement interventions is drowning out these ‘other’ perspectives.
Exploring how and why midlife women think about their health and the factors that influence engaging in healthy behaviours as they age, was a topic of interest to me in my doctoral studies.
This was also explored in the work of Kathleen Smith-DiJulio et al (2012) who learnt that the women they interviewed, described lives of healthy eating and exercise, yet they also associated midlife with guilt at not doing enough to be healthy. Furthermore, they also felt that health professionals provided a very limited framework upon which to judge what is healthy.
Women in Smith DiJulio’s study, framed their healthy ageing as “being able to do what you want to do when you want to do it.” A similar theme emerged in my own studies – however, when I dug deeper into the meanings given to chasing improved health as they moved through midlife, women in my studies were similar in that their ‘why’ was “because I don’t want to age like my mother.”
Our physical and emotional health and wellbeing through our menopause transition shapes how we age. Which is why as 2022 ends and a new year begins, I encourage you to think about your menopause transition differently.
Whichever intervention or approach to your symptom management that you choose, I also want you to look further towards the years you have ahead of you. What do you want to achieve? What is your ‘why’ for pursuing improved health as you age? How will you get there, where-ever ‘there’ is for you, and what support do you need on your journey?
These are the same questions that I had to explore myself.
As such, my reason was to feel healthy, functionally active and get back to feeling and being ‘me’ again. Just as women on my programs aim to do as well.
In this pursuit, we all tend to move through various stages of change – behavioural, emotional, physical and spiritual. Which is exactly what a ‘transformation’ entails.
And yes, even though many of us get off track with the realities and vagaries of our day-to-day lives, I love how, when we keep moving in the right direction, i.e. towards improved health as we age, we can eventually get there, with so many learnings along the way.
Thank you for being here with me in the MyMT™ Community this year. Whatever stage of menopause you are in, or even if you are well through this stage as I am, welcome to the ‘new you’ (re)discovering the ‘old you’ as you age.
Happy New Year to you.
Dr Wendy Sweet (PhD)/ MyMT™ Founder/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine
Smith-Dijulio K, Windsor C, Anderson D. The shaping of midlife women’s views of health and health behaviors. Qual Health Res. 2010 Jul;20(7):966-76.