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Everything You've Ever Wondered About The Menopause, But Were Too Afraid To Ask

It's not just all hot flushes.

The menopause is something you can’t ignore. It’s unavoidable. It’s inevitable. And it can be daunting. 

If you are a woman, or you know a woman – you probably know something about periods.

Periods punctuate most women's lives at least monthly (unless you fall pregnant) for more than three decades.

But menstrual cycles don't last forever, which means that for women who experience them, those periods will stop. And as the saying goes, when one door closes, another open opens...this is known as Menopause.

No matter your gender, it's important to know about menopause. It's going to affect either you, your partner, sister, mother, aunt and female friends - directly or indirectly - for up to a decade.

Yes, that's right, an entire decade.

And because menopause isn't just about hot flushes and no longer having a period, we spoke to Jane Atherton, founder of the world's first luxury menopausal skincare range, Phytomone to find out everything we need to know about the menopause so that, when you do face this potentially confusing time in your life, you know exactly what you are dealing with…

Q: Let's start at the beginning, what is menopause? 

"A woman is born with a finite number of eggs, which are stored in the ovaries. The ovaries are also responsible for making the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which control menstruation and ovulation. Menopause begins when the ovaries no longer release an egg every month and menstruation becomes irregular, this is the peri-menopause stage. When a woman eventually runs out of eggs, menstruation stops altogether."

There are three stages of menopause:

Perimenopause - "this is when hormones begin their slow decline as a woman runs low on eggs. This can start in your mid-thirties. However, most women won't associate any symptoms with menopause at this age, it’s generally early to mid-forties before the connection is made."

Menopause - "is confirmed when you have gone 12 consecutive months without a period, or 24 months if under 50. The average age to reach menopause is 51/52 (However, around 1 in 100 women experience menopause before 40 years of age. This is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency."

Post-menopause - "once menopause is confirmed, you will then enter the post menopause cycle, which you will remain in for the rest of your life. Hormones are now at an all-time low and you are no longer fertile."

Q: How can you tell if you're menopausal? 

"One of the earliest indications you’re peri-menopausal is a change in monthly periods, they can now become longer, shorter, heavier or lighter and this can go on for many years."

Q: Are there any everyday misconceptions?

"Yes, quite a few!"

  • "Menopause goes on for a lot longer than most women realise and symptoms do not stop upon reaching post-menopause. They will eventually calm down, but it could take quite a few years."
  •  "Remember, you can still get pregnant during perimenopause, so take precautions. HRT is not a contraceptive."
  • "Be aware of Psychological symptoms, not just the physical ones such as hot flushes. This is a time to take care of your mental health, as well as your physical health."
  • "Every woman’s menopause is different and she will experience it her own way."
  • "You do not need a blood test to confirm you’re in peri-menopause. They are unreliable due to hormones fluctuating so wildly."
  • "HRT does not delay or stop menopause, that’s not how the body works! It just relieves you of symptoms while you’re taking it."

Q: How do you know when you're having a hot flush? and why do these occur?

"Hot flushes and night sweats are pretty much the hallmarks of menopause, with over 75% of women experiencing them.

They're often described as a sudden feeling of heat that seems to come from nowhere and spreads throughout the body. You might also experience light or heavy sweating for several minutes, palpitations and flushing of the face and neck.

Hot flushes are thought to be caused by changes in hormone levels affecting the body's temperature control."

Q: At what age do women typically go through the menopause?

"The average age to reach menopause is 51/52."

"Menopause ending is a bit of a misnomer because post-menopause is a cycle you will stay in for the rest of your life. However, as your body adjusts to low hormone levels your symptoms will improve."

Q: Is it true that menopause can affect your bone health?

"Yes, without the influence of oestrogen there is a drop in bone density, so it is important to protect bone health with regular exercise and a healthy diet."

Q: Can menopause affect your skin? 

"Yes, loss of oestrogen has a dramatic effect on skin health. Without this hormone, the body is unable to make sufficient collagen or natural oils and skin cell turnover slows down, so our complexion looks dull, lines and wrinkles become more noticeable and skin will look and feel dry." 

Does your skincare routine need to change in order to combat menopause?

"You may find that your regular skincare products are no longer working or suit the needs of your changing skin. Phytomone is the leading brand for menopausal skin and has developed a range of products to specifically target hormonal skin ageing. The specialised formulations use ingredients to ensure your complexion can reach its full potential and look it's very best."

Q: What is the most effective way to manage symptoms? 

"As each woman will experience her menopause journey her own way, she needs to adjust her lifestyle to suit her own changing needs.

But a good starting point is to exercise most days, even if it’s just a 20-minute brisk walk and try to maintain a healthy eating regime. I would also recommend taking a natural all-in-one menopause supplement, which has a good balance of vitamins, minerals and botanicals to give your body the boost it may now need. Gut health is important in helping to regulate hormones too, so make sure you include lots of probiotics in your diet, such as kefir, sauerkraut and natural yoghurts.

It is also important to make time for yourself. Self-care isn’t selfish."

Q: What is HRT? And is it a safe option to manage symptoms?

"Hormone Replacement Therapy usually consists of oestrogen and progesterone (and sometimes testosterone), prescribed by your GP in either tablets, patches, creams or gels.

It can be taken during perimenopause and post-menopause and can help relieve the severity of symptoms and give many women their quality of life back.

HRT is very much a personal choice but is still shrouded in controversy, which can leave women feeling confused. If you have tried to manage your symptoms the ‘natural’ way, but are still struggling, then do speak to your doctor about HRT to see if it would be the best option for you."

Q: Are there any natural, non-hormonal options to treat symptoms?

"Yes, there are many and you could spend a small fortune trying them all out. The trouble with natural supplements is, what suits one, may not suit another, so it is trial and error.

Start with an all-in-one menopause supplement I mentioned earlier. Magnesium, Vitamin B6&12 and Vitamin D are also good to add into the mix.

High strength sage supplements help some women with hot flushes and adaptogens such as Maca root or ashwagandha may help balance hormones."

Q: Can what you eat affect menopause? 

"Certain foods may trigger hot flushes, such as caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods, so restricting them may help.

By eating healthy and putting good nutritious food in your body you will be doing your best to optimise your health and this, in turn, will help you have a healthy and possibly an easier menopause transition.

Make sure your diet is well balanced and include foods such as oily fish, lots of green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables, sweet potatoes, purple and red berries, whole-grains and lean protein."

Q: How can you take control and give yourself a boost during the menopause?

"Now is the time to start putting yourself first. You have given so much of yourself to other peoples needs over the years, you now need to say ‘NO’ more often and not feel guilty about it.

Do things you enjoy, treat yourself, see friends, spend time by yourself and enjoy your own company, read, meditate, try alternative therapies such as acupuncture, take up a new hobby or revisit an old one...This is now your time, so do things that fulfil YOU!"

READ: Dear Derm: I Think My Contraception Is Affecting My Skin – What Can I Do?

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