Karen Newby is a nutritionist who’s been practicing nutritional therapy for over 10 years. Her area of specialism is women’s hormonal health, especially menopause. She’s the author of The Natural Menopause Method, a nutritional guide to perimenopause and beyond. This woman knows so much about nutrition and women’s hormones. This is a brilliant and empowering conversation.
We talk about:
How we can best prepare ourselves for perimenopause
The first signs of perimenopause that Karen sees and what can be done about those
Good and bad estrogens
What we can learn from other cultures in terms of food and hormones
The importance of phytoestrogens
Food as medicine
How to stop sugar cravings and why they happen
Why modern life can make menopause worse
Why women may get heavier periods as they move into perimenopause
The importance of maintaining blood sugar levels
The role of the adrenal glands
Why we need to get better at managing stress
Why there is no easy fix when it comes to menopause
The six easy shifts to make to support us in perimenopause
Nicki Williams is a nutritionist, author, speaker, and women’s health expert. She’s the author of the excellent book, It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones. We often focus mainly on our sex hormones, but there are lots more to consider, especially in midlife.
We talk about:
How Nicki first got interested in hormones
How unprepared she was for the changes of perimenopause
Why we need to consider more hormones than just our sex hormones in midlife and beyond – we have over 100 hormones!
The Feisty Four hormones that can cause us most trouble: cortisol, thyroid, insulin and estrogen
The importance of diet and lifestyle
How we can take better care of our hormonal balance
The importance of stress management
Looking after the gut and liver
Why HRT may not be the panacea we want it to be in midlife
Understanding our thyroid
What to consider when things start to change in midlife
How we tolerate certain things less well as we age
Eliminating things like gluten and dairy short term to monitor any impact
Being open to possibility and curious about how to fix issues
My guest today is Becky Quicke who describes herself as the Menopause Psychologist. She’s dedicated to helping women cope especially with the emotional aspects of menopause. We talk all about managing anxiety but also about the tremendous power of hormonal change for women.
We talk about:
Becky’s personal experience of perimenopause
Connecting with and understanding your menstrual cycle and how it affects your body
Understanding anxiety around menopause
Helping women live through menopause in the modern world
How to not fight or deny the anxiety that comes with menopause
Channelling mid-life feelings into passion
Exploring the extent to which moon cycles can affect women
How menopause becomes a journey of deep connection with those around us
Sex isn’t just about reproducing and evolves as we age
Becky’s 6 step process to help women transition through menopause
Tuning into your body and facing menopause head-on
Think you might be in menopause? Are you sensing some weird stuff, making you wonder if by some remote chance you’re in menopause, but you can’t be really can you, cause you’re far too young!
Or just wondering what are the symptoms of menopause? And what is happening to your body! Who pinched it and what did they do with it?
Welcome! Relax. Here’s all you need to know about symptoms of menopause. It’s a tricky subject but we’re here to make it all that much more understandable and definitely way less worrying!
First things first! Some definitions. Menopause is that moment in time exactly one year after your last period. Usually around 51. Perimenopause is the period leading up to that menopause moment. But the world like to talk about menopause and the symptoms of menopause so rather than add to the confusion we’ll stick with menopause for now!
Second, quick reality check. Menopause happens to all women who are born female, IF we are lucky enough to reach the age at which menopause kicks in. You are no less of a woman because you are going through menopause. You are just as beautiful, vibrant, sexy, vivacious, gorgeous as you’ve ever been. DO NOT FORGET THAT!
You made it through puberty and menopause is just puberty in reverse. There’s a lot to be said for no more fear of pregnancy, hormonal fluctuations, PMT and just monthly bleeding for goodness sake! So take a deep breath. Menopause may just turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you! When this is over you will be off the hormonal rollercoaster for good. Yippee!
Third knowledge point before we get into the detail of symptoms. There are two creatures that go through menopause. Ourselves and whales. When female whales go through menopause, they become the leaders of their pods often for up to 50 years. They’re the matriarchs of whale society which would not survive without them.
So if you’re a bit stuck in thinking menopause is the end of meaningful life, JUST STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! Be more whale. When we go through menopause, we become more valuable to our communities as leaders than as breeders. Find out more about this in Let’s Be More Whale.
Menopause happened to me at 41! That was a whole decade earlier than ‘normal’ menopause age. And a bit weird and certainly unexpected. I was trying for another child so it kinda knocked me for six. I ‘d had no symptoms other than a bonkers hormone test! I hadn’t even noticed my periods must have been a bit off!
So don’t assume that symptoms won’t start till your 50s. And (peri)menopause can last for ages, so if you’re mid 40s and experiencing some weird stuff that might be menopause, fear not! That’s all fairly normal.
But how you live your life can impact both your symptoms and when it all kicks off for you so don’t panic if you’re nowhere near your 50s and still experiencing some weird stuff. We’ll get to how to manage it shortly.
Meanwhile what can you expect? There are apparently 34 potential symptoms of menopause. But why not just throw the kitchen sink in there for good measure! Everyone is different and some women may experience nothing at all, some a few and some lots.
STOP did you register that? You may not experience any symptoms. You may experience some or just a very few. There’s lots of reasons for the discrepancy between women but first off let’s look at what might happen.
The 34 potential symptoms of menopause
You may experience symptoms for a few months, several years, or NO TIME AT ALL! Here’s the full list – and I’ve starred* the most common ones.
Really symptoms of menopause?
BUT STOP RIGHT THERE! Cos this is just the full scary list and you are UNLIKELY to suffer the majority of these. If you do, then it’s your body telling you something needs addressing. That could be something physical or emotional.
You see, the only actual symptom of menopause is the cessation of your menstrual cycle. All the others are symptoms ASSOCIATED with menopause.
These can all be triggered by changes in our hormones. But there is probably an underlying cause to the symptoms which is revealed once the protection of our reproductive hormones starts to drop. If they were symptoms OF menopause, most woman would likely get them, but we all go through menopause very differently.
If you’ve always been a bit anxious, you may find you are more so during menopause. If you’ve always had trouble sleeping, that may get worse.
These symptoms are common but not normal! Think of menopause symptoms as the canary in the coalmine, warning you that you need to make diet and lifestyle changes to stay healthy long term. Thank you menopause!
It’s also easy to attribute all these changes to menopause but actually it could just be because our bodies are getting older. Or sadness might come because we’re languishing in the happiness U-curve which bottoms out in our 40s! Or we’re fed up with the life we have and relationships that no longer fulfill us and make us irritable.
Or we’ve bought into all the negative narratives about midlife, menopause and getting older as a woman (as I did at 41), and that’s causing us to be both anxious and depressed. Or we have an overload of unnatural toxic products in our lives that are causing our bodies to be hormonally challenged.
To find out more about all these potential other issues impacting our hormones, as well as the many products in our environment that can impact hormonal balance, for example, listen to my wonderful podcast with naturopath Angela Counsel, or read the transcription of that fabulously informative interview here.
Menopause gets blamed for a lot and it’s not necessarily to blame. Weight gain may speed up around menopause with hormonal changes, but fundamentally it happens because our metabolism slows down as our muscle mass naturally declines with age. If we make sure to do weight lifting to maintain our declining muscle mass, we can reverse that trend.
Often it’s a hot flush/flash that alerts women to changes happening in their bodies. Sometimes there’s an overwhelming feeling of sadness and many women are prescribed anti-depressants when what they really need is a bit more hormonal balance in their lives. Or those negative midlife narratives have taken hold, not to mention ageism kicking in.
Or maybe it’s a sudden inability to shift those extra pounds that alerts you to changes, but as we age if we continue consuming and behaving as we’ve always done, we’re bound to put on weight and find it more difficult to shift it.
Many women fear they have early onset Alzheimer’s because they feel they are getting a bit more forgetful or less able to concentrate. But no, it’s just hormonal changes. Good to know huh!
If you’ve had a child, think pregnancy brain. You may have had difficulty sleeping while pregnant and the same may happen during menopause. It’s all caused by hormonal changes.
It’s just that no one talks about menopause, it’s still taboo, we’re not prepared for it, we don’t know how to take better care of ourselves and it can all go on for rather a long time!
Just for clarity, I’m talking here about symptoms associated with a natural menopause. If yours has come very early or been caused by illness or surgery in particular, then the sudden change in your hormones may lead to more of these symptoms occurring – but also not necessarily.
One woman I know had a hysterectomy in her mid 50s and the only symptom she suffered afterwards was trouble sleeping which she fixed with tapping meditation.
Taking back control and helping yourself
If you go to the doctor complaining of menopause symptoms and have a blood test which confirms you are in (peri)menopause, you may be offered HRT. But HRT remains contentious for many and there are lots of natural ways to try to manage symptoms before resorting to HRT.
Menopause isn’t illness, so why not try other ways to help first? HRT can be a useful Band Aid for some women, but where will you be in 10 years time if you don’t fix the underlying issues? And if you mask those with HRT, you won’t have the chance to fix them either.
What you put in place now will also help set you up for good general health in the long term.
1. Balance your blood sugar and sort out your diet
A good diet will help with all menopause symptoms and maintaining consistent blood sugar levels will help to reduce stress levels in the body, thereby supporting hormonal balance. This will help you maintain more consistent energy levels and stop fatigue. It will also help to stop any night sweats that may be disrupting your rest.
Try to cut out sugar and processed food, eat plenty of different kinds of vegetables, eat protein with every meal, add in natural phytoestrogens and eat organic as much as you can to prevent chemicals and hormones that have entered the food chain from messing with your hormones. You can find out more about a good menopause diet here.
2. Get plenty of exercise
As we age, our metabolism slows down. It’s easy to blame menopause for middle-age spread but the natural ageing process is just as responsible. As estrogen leaves our body we need to work harder to maintain bone health. Regular exercise, both cardio and weight bearing will help in the long term as well as assisting through menopause. Exercise is also great for our mental health.
Yoga is wonderful for maintaining strong bones and flexibility. It may even help reduce hot flushes/flashes. If you’re overweight you’re much more likely to suffer from hot flushes. The better you feel about yourself and your general health, the more likely you are to have a positive experience of the change. Don’t forget your Kegel exercises too to sort out any urinary leakage issues!
3. Try natural remedies
Herbs such as black cohosh, sage and red clover can all help with symptoms particularly hot flushes. Take a fish oil supplement to help protect your bones. Sea buckthorn oil, taken as a supplement can help with vaginal dryness. Coconut oil can be eaten, used as a personal lubricant, cleanser and moisturizer.
The YES organic vaginal lubricant range is excellent and available on prescription in the UK. Here’s some advice on how to stay sexy through menopause and beyond. Pjur lubricant is my current favorite. It’s not the most natural but it’s very good! A regular mindfulness or general meditation practice can really help ease mood swings and anxiety.
Finally, when it comes to menopause, don’t expect the worst but also don’t suffer in silence. Get the help you need. If your symptoms are bad and natural remedies don’t work, there is also HRT.
Having gone through menopause at 41, I was advised to go on HRT to protect my bones and heart until I reached normal menopause age, when I chose to come off HRT. I chose the body-identical yam-based HRT rather than pregnant mare’s urine. These are also available on prescription in the UK though some doctors don’t seem to know this.
One natural remedy in isolation may not do much for you – but a package can really work.
My hormonal balance package
Since turning 51 (‘normal’ menopause age), I have managed any midlife hormonal challenges with a combination of: no caffeine; natural phytoestogens every day in the form of soya (instead of dairy) milk, ground flax seeds (on my mueslli) and chickpeas; limited sugar and processed foods; a relatively healthy diet with lots of vegetables; limiting (often unsuccessfully!) alcohol; meditation when I remember; running at least 3 times a week; yoga/stretching every day.
The real trick is to embrace menopause as a natural process that actually empowers you. We’ve been working with our wombs all our lives. Midlife is not the time to start fighting them and the essence of our feminine power.
At Magnificent Midlife we’re challenging stereotypes and changing perceptions. We think of midlife and menopause as a time of re-evaluation and regeneration as we embark on the exciting second half of our lives. I hope you agree.
This is a summary of my podcast interview with Jackie Lynch, nutritional therapist and author of The Happy Menopause.This is a long post full of great information on how to achieve hormonal balance. If you’d like to go straight to our hormone balancing diet checklist, you’ll find that at the end.
Balancing your hormones for life can be as simple as getting your diet sorted. What and how you eat can make all the difference, especially as we go through perimenopause. Here’s what you need to know to create a hormone balancing diet that will help you thrive through menopause and set you up for hormonal balance long-term.
Menopause as a transformational time in a woman’s life
Menopause is not a terrible and awful thing to be endured! It’s so much more than that.
Menopause is when all those reproductive hormones that have been driving us, our emotions, our motivations, everything since puberty, because we are hardwired to nurture essentially. They start to drop and with that comes headspace, so you’ve suddenly got time to start thinking about what you really want to do with your life.
I like to think of menopause not as something where the door is closing, and the start of a downhill slope, but actually the door opening to this whole new you. You can go and do amazing things because you’ve got the time, the space and the energy, both mental and physical to do that. But getting your hormones balanced is crucial and can be done very effectively through diet.
How some women suffer badly in menopause and others don’t
It’s really important to recognize that most women don’t suffer badly. It’s probably only about 20% and that’s one of the reasons I called my book, “The Happy Menopause”. I was starting to get a bit tired of the horror headlines about celebrities going through doom and gloom.
These poor women are going to be thinking that’s what’s waiting for them and for the most part, it really genuinely isn’t. There’s about 20% who sail through it and wonder what all the fuss is about.
Most of us in the middle, the remaining percentage, have issues some of the time, but not all the time and in varying degrees of symptoms and severity. Some of that will be hereditary too so it pays to talk to your older female relatives about their experience.
The massive importance of diet and lifestyle in midlife and beyond
As a nutritional therapist, I see the huge impact diet and lifestyle has in balancing hormones. The reason I really wanted to put the book out there was to show women there are ways of managing things naturally. During your early forties, you’re laying the groundwork for your health through menopause and beyond, and it can make a material difference to the severity and the length of your symptoms.
The degree of severity of our menopause experience can also be dictated by how we’ve lived our life in the past. Past health can catch up with us. All those things that we could do in our past, the body just doesn’t want to do it anymore.
In our twenties, we’re relatively indestructible and suddenly around age 29, it’s like a switch has flipped and you can’t quite be as fresh as a daisy after an all-nighter and all those other things.
The impact of stress and the myth of having it all
The biggest thing for women is the impact of stress. We’re the sandwich generation, aren’t we? Beyond being sandwiched, between looking after elderly parents and looking after children, there’s also the sense that we’re the first to really come through and try and shine in the workplace while “having it all”.
Looking back, most women would probably think they couldn’t have it all. They might have tried to and it might have looked like they did, but at what cost? The cost is going to be themselves.
I work with women in my clinic and they are just ground down. They’ve driven themselves so hard to be the perfect executive woman, the perfect mother running around, trying to get the cupcakes ready for school while they’ve got a workshop or presentation to get ready for the board, or whatever they’re doing.
While we’re hardwired to nurture, the one person we don’t nurture is ourselves and that’s where it really needs to come in for menopause. Stuff can catch up with you.
If you’ve been driving yourself incredibly hard, then it’s going to drag you down and it’s particularly going to affect your body’s ability to manage stress, your resilience. If you’ve got a lack of resilience, by the time you come into menopause, then the body’s backup plan for estrogen just simply can’t kick in.
The importance of maintaining stable blood sugar levels
As the ovaries stop producing estrogen, our adrenal glands take over that job, so we‘re not just left hanging. The body’s a really high-performance machine and it has a plan for us post menopause.
The problem is, the adrenal glands also produce our stress response. Because the stress hormones are our fight or flight response, generating cortisol and adrenaline is essentially lifesaving, so the body will prioritize that.
If you’re in a constant state of chronic stress, instead of producing the small amounts of estrogen post-menopause to keep things on track, your body’s just too busy producing the stress hormones.
What we need to do then is look at how nutrition can make a big difference to that. The nutrition 101 when it comes to stress management, is blood sugar, because basically every time your blood sugar crashes, your body releases cortisol and adrenaline. It’s dangerous for us not to have enough sugar in the blood because it’s our primary source of energy.
When your blood sugar crashes, out come the stress hormones. They want to redress the balance. They will then drive cravings for sugary food, refined carbohydrate, also some form of stimulant, like a cup of coffee or a glass of wine depending on the time of day.
The end result will be that you’ll stuff something in, and then instead of going back to where your blood sugar should be, in that nice level band, it’ll spike.
We’ve got another mechanism to deal with that. Insulin comes out and will then scoop up all that excess sugar and send it off to the liver to be stored. If there’s too much of it, it’ll store the rest as fat cells.
Every time your blood sugar goes up, you’re encouraging your body to lay down fat stores. Weight management is an issue for an awful lot of women in midlife.
I throw that in there as an extra tip, but that’s why blood sugar balance is so important because essentially, if you can keep the blood sugar nice and stable, you’re not going to be producing more stress hormones.
You can’t remove stress from your life completely. But you can at least make your body stronger, more resilient and make sure you’re not producing stress hormones needlessly. That’s where your hormone balancing diet becomes so important.
How menopause may not be to blame for what’s happening to us
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to managing everything. Taking a more natural approach in managing menopause is more complicated basically because no two women have the same menopause.
Some women have the severe hot flashes and night sweats. Others find they’re struggling more with cognitive, emotional or psychological issues like anxiety, loss of confidence, low mood, or rage.
It might also be headaches, fatigue, or weight management. There’s lots of stuff that can happen and the symptoms are many and varied. I always think getting blood sugar balance right is absolutely the first thing to do because that is the sort of underlying thing that will then at least make sure you’re not producing excess stress hormones.
If there are other external factors out there affecting you, then blood sugar balance is only one part of the picture. You would need to start looking at how you’re managing your time, what the principal sources of stress in your life are and what you can actually do about stepping back from them and perhaps not putting yourself under so much pressure.
With all these different symptoms, there are different things you can do because addressing issues like aching joints or headaches is going to be a different pathway in the body compared to addressing something like anxiety or hot flushes.
It’s worth remembering, we blame a lot on menopause, but maybe you’re getting a headache for a different reason. For example, headaches, fatigue, constipation, dry skin, confusion, loss of concentration, they’re all classic symptoms of dehydration. Are you drinking enough?
You need to look at some of those other basics just to make sure you’ve dealt with those, because a lot of the time, there’s other stuff going on.
With weight management, one of the things I see is that loss of confidence plays a part. Perhaps you used to be much more body confident and you’d go to the gym and do your thing. But now, suddenly, you don’t want to look at yourself in the light because you feel more self-conscious.
You probably look exactly the same as you did two years ago, but not to you and that’s the thing that can drive this. Then you stop going to the gym and you think, “Oh, well, I can’t go anymore because they’re all young and they look much better than me.“ It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How our thoughts and beliefs can impact our experience of menopause
The beliefs we have about menopause, our expectations about what it’s going to be like, can also affect our experience of it. If you expect the worst, you often get lost.
It’s just having that positive outlook. You can talk yourself into all of these negative things but maybe it’s also the time for you to try something new and take up a new hobby or learn a new skill.
In the nicest possible way, sometimes it’s about taking yourself in hand a bit and just thinking, what you can do to make this better for yourself, rather than just feeling passively that it’s going to be rubbish because you’ve read all these articles about how awful menopause is. It doesn’t have to be that way.
You see all these gray-haired, fat men in suits on TV and they have no trouble getting jobs whether it be acting jobs, presenting jobs, and yet the minute a woman has a gray hair or wrinkle, suddenly a newer version is wheeled in for the presenter of that particular program.
It becomes slightly ingrained. If you think of it from another perspective and think about ancient tribes, the older women were the wise women of the village. We knew stuff, everyone came to us, looked up to us and that’s how it should still be now. It’s important for us to realize what value we can bring.
It’s all about us stepping into that possibility of transformation and this is a natural third stage in our lives where we can have a different role in society in life and everything else. It’s time for more new and exciting things.
The importance of eating more protein with every meal and snack
I recommend women include more protein in their hormonal balancing diet because most women are terrible at eating enough. We need protein for lots of different things because it balances blood sugar.
It slows down the release of carbohydrate into the body which keeps you going for longer. When you read some of these weird crash diets, a lot of protein is included because it can help to reduce sugar cravings.
It also has masses of other roles and we’re literally made of protein. Every cell in the body is made of protein. When you start to worry about your skin, your hair, your nails, if we’re having enough protein, it’s going to keep those strong and you’ll not have hair or nails splitting and thinning.
We need protein for strong bones. Most women need to thinks about their bone health once they are through and beyond menopause. We also need the amino acids found in protein for the production of neurotransmitters that govern things like mood, memory, concentration, and motivation.
Issues in those areas are very common for women in mid-life. One of the things I say is to eat protein with every meal and snack.
When I say protein, it doesn’t have to be meat and fish. Your nuts and seeds are a great source of protein that can be from your breakfast. You’ve got things like soya, quinoa, all the pulses, beans and lentils, hummus and chickpeas.
There are lots of ways of factoring those into your diet much more regularly. Men are great at getting enough protein. We have every right to be as strong as men.
Getting magnesium, calcium and iron from leafy green vegetables
Leafy green vegetables are a massive one stop shop for menopause friendly nutrients. By leafy greens, I’m thinking things like spinach, rocket, watercress, and cabbage.
At a push, though not very leafy, broccoli is brilliant too. The reason for that is it’s a fabulous source of magnesium, which is my all-round favorite mineral.
Magnesium calms the nervous system which makes you more resilient, regulates the body’s response to stress so that you’re better equipped to deal with the challenges of daily life.
It manages and supports the adrenals and also helps with tired aching muscles and that twitchy eyelid which is a classic sign of magnesium deficiency. You need magnesium for the absorption of calcium, which we need for strong bones.
Leafy greens are also a surprisingly good source of calcium, probably about twice as much per hundred grams as milk. They contain iron which is great for any perimenopausal women who perhaps are starting to have iron depletion.
A couple of handfuls of leafy greens every day and lots of protein would be a great way to start.
How phytoestrogens mimic the actions of estrogen in the body
Phytoestrogens are great too in a hormone balancing diet. They’re plant compounds essentially that mimic the action of estrogen in the body. There are two main sources. First is the isoflavones which you’ll find in soy. I’m a particular fan of the original fermented form of soy or the whole bean like edamame.
Studies have shown that women in Asian countries tend to have much fewer incidences of hot flashes in particular. It is felt that it’s associated with the higher levels of the isoflavones naturally in their diet.
The biggest source of lignans, which is the other big phytoestrogen in the Western diet is flaxseed.
Flaxseed is a quadruple whammy. Flaxseed is protein, fiber and it’s packed with omega-3. We all know we need that, even if we’re not quite sure why.
We need omega-3 for a ton of things. It’s great for hormone balance, heart health, brain health, skin, hair, and all of those things. It’s a real all-rounder and then of course you’ve got the phytoestrogens in there, that’s four great reasons to be adding flaxseed to your breakfast.
The physiological stress we can put on our bodies through diet and lifestyle
We’ve allowed ourselves to get suckered into having quite a processed diet. The combination of processed foods, lots of stress, alcohol and caffeine, all come together to put the body under a lot of physiological stress – so it comes back to stress again.
Stress comes in many guises. It’s not just having a rubbish day at work. It can affect your psychological stress, emotional stress, and then the physiological stress within the body.
HRT is not a quick solution and still needs a good hormone balancing diet for the best support
It’s very important that women actually understand what hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is. It’s important that they understand the associated risks and benefits because it’s about weighing that up.
You need to look at your medical history, your family history, the severity of your symptoms, and then decide if it’s actually going to be right for you. I feel really strongly that women shouldn’t be entrenched in either one camp or the other and think, “it’s HRT or nothing or it’s nutrition or nothing. “
You should look at everything, understand everything, ask questions about everything and then decide, what’s right for you. Some women who have particularly severe symptoms, like depression and severe anxiety may well find they’d benefit from some extra progesterone.
It’s all about knowing what the right thing is. What’s super important to realize is that HRT is not the quick fix. You still have to have the right hormone balancing diet and lifestyle for it to work effectively.
It is important to realize that you need to find a way of being the best version of yourself as you move through midlife and beyond, because we don’t just want to live longer, we want to live healthier and better because there’s no point in living long and not being able to do anything you want to do.
Considering diet and lifestyle and how it can support you is really important. HRT on its own, plus a bad diet can help a bit, but I can guarantee you, you’ll feel way better if you do HRT and a really good diet or you just do a really good diet depending on where your decisions lie. HRT plus a bad diet, doesn’t make you feel great.
Be kind to yourself
My absolute top best advice is “be kind to yourself” because menopause is an enormous time of hormonal turmoil. If you have children or nieces and nephews or godchildren, you’ll be looking at them and supporting them through puberty and making sure they eat well, sleep well and that they’re getting fresh air and they’re not overdoing it.
You do all these things because adolescence is a big transition. You’ll survive menopause if you take a bit of time for yourself. Start to think about how you can eat better. Don’t just always think about what others like. Start to think about what will be the right food for you.
If that’s the leafy greens, it won’t do family any harm to have a few leafy greens as well. Taking time for yourself, managing your schedule so you’re not over promising at work or trying to fit in everything while you’re driving everybody to wherever they need to go and doing all those things.
Take time for exercise at the weekends. Take an hour a day for me time, whether that’s lying on the bed, reading a magazine or going for a country walk or playing a piano.
By being kind to yourself, the nutrition will become a part of that. Start to think about how you can genuinely nurture yourself. If it doesn’t come naturally, because you’re so used to doing it for everyone else, think of it this way, if you collapse, then everything else is going to fall apart.
If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the rest of them, because if you’re not able to look after them, then it’s all going to collapse anyway, isn’t it?
Your hormone balancing diet checklist
Don’t expect the worst – only 20% of women have a bad menopause experience
Do your best to reduce the level of stress in your life (external and what you put on your body through diet)
Balance your blood sugar levels
Balance your blood sugar levels
Balance – just kidding!
Eat plenty of protein and have it with every meal
Nuts, seeds, beans and pulses are all great sources of plant protein
Get magnesium, calcium and iron from leafy green vegetables
Consume natural phytoestrogens in the form of soya and flaxseed etc.
Avoid processed foods, added sugar and too much alcohol and caffeine
I’m often moved to write about menopause because I see a fact or statistic on social media and I question its validity, whether it’s been communicated with context, why it’s been mentioned at all and whether it’s true.
I watched a really great little video on Instagram about normalizing menopause. The video itself is really empowering and I thought, wow that’s great. Shame I’m not in it. But in the blurb that went alongside this video about menopause was the following comment:
“We can talk about empowerment all we want, but [a] lot of us are having a hard time, in our bodies as well as our minds. Let’s not forget that according to the latest numbers from the UK Office for Statistics, the age group with the highest rate of suicide is women ages 50 to 54.”
What do the statistics really tell us?
This is a statistic I often see connected to menopause. But the last statement is actually plain wrong. It’s true that amongstwomen the highest rate of suicide is the age group 50-54. But the age group with the highest rate of suicide overall is men 44-59 and the figure is three times that of women. In fact men in all age groups have a far higher rate of suicide than women.
So it’s simply not true to say that the age group with the highest rate of suicide is women ages 50-54. The rate of male suicide is greater than that of women in every age group except 15-19. It is true to say that the group with the highest rate of suicide forwomen is ages 50-54.
Below is the chart from the Office of National Statistics in the UK where you can see that even in this group we’re only talking about 7.4 women per 100,000 of population in the 50-54 bracket compared to 25.5 men per 100,000 in the 45-49 bracket. This compares with 6.9 women per 100,000 in the 45-49 age range and 6.5 in the 55-59 age range.
Yes, any suicide number is awful but knowing the context, doesn’t it take away some of the sting of the statistic mentioned above? Even when the statistics are correct, context is still crucial.
What really upsets me, and which I keep seeing mentioned in the media and suggested by others, is this correlation between the higher rate of female suicide and menopause. I believe this is pure conjecture and not based in fact nor research. This article presents a case that not only are there errors in the facts we believe about menopause, but there are also so many other things going on to cause anxiety and depression during the menopause years.
Menopause may be a contributing factor to midlife malaise in women and if you are suffering from depression, please ask for help. But I believe it is irresponsible and verging on scaremongering to suggest that menopause is responsible for this highest rate of suicide in women figure.
I’ve sat on this for ages and the time has come to put fingers to keyboard! I feel a need to set the record straight on misrepresented menopause statistics that suit a particular agenda.
Women, menopause and work
I hate it when facts are taken out of context, or are just plain wrong, especially when it relates to menopause. Women so need truth about this topic! At time of writing I’m trying to speak to ITV to get a ‘fact’ corrected which has been on their website for five years and which has been quoted even by a UK Member of Parliament, but is actually false.
This ‘fact’ is that one in four women considers leaving work because of menopause issues. ITV claims this is based on a research survey they did with women’s health research charity Wellbeing of Women in 2016.
I have spoken to Wellbeing of Women who told me there was no such joint survey and also to Professor Myra Hunter, Emeritus professor of clinical health psychology at Kings College London, who did the menopause research for Wellbeing of Women, and who said “I am not aware of this survey being published nor who authored it.”
There was a research survey done on menopause in 2019 by Wellbeing of Women and Professor Hunter, but ITV was not involved and there was no finding that one in four women consider leaving work because of menopause issues.
The ITV claim is blatantly false. Some women may consider leaving work because of menopause but there is no published research or evidence of this. Professor Hunter also said, “In my reading of the research literature, the evidence of women’s work performance being adversely affected specifically by the menopause is inconclusive.”
I have complained on ITV’s website, I have emailed them and I have tried to speak to them on Twitter. They continue to ignore me. I’m not going to include the article link here because I don’t want to give it more credence, but if you search for women considering leaving work due to menopause in Google you will find it.
This false statistic has become truth and is quoted ad infinitum. It adds weight to negative narratives about menopause but is simply not true. It is not based on credible research. If the 2016 survey was done at all, it was done by ITV without Wellbeing of Women and it was neither published nor peer-reviewed.
Why does ITV quote this ‘statistic’ and leave it on their website five years after the program aired? Because it helped them originally get viewers for their program about menopause and continues to make them money from advertising now.
When it comes to how menopause, and aging in general for women, are regularly presented, I have found there is often money lurking somewhere in the background.
What else might be going on concerning menopause and depression?
So returning to the suicide statistic, what else might be going on for women aged 50-54 to make it when there are more suicides than at other times? I have lots of ideas about that!
Women are taught from a very young age that we are only valuable when we are young and fertile. Girls are told that they become women when they go through puberty so what does that mean for us older women when we go through puberty in reverse? Do we stop being real women? I think many women actually fear this to be the case! It’s the ultimate confirmation that life is on a downward slope. I know when I went through early menopause at 41, my initial reaction was to see myself destined to a life as a shriveled up old prune sitting in the corner and of no value to anyone. Society taught me to view menopause in that way, because in the West we worship youth, the fertility that goes with it, and the beauty and value that we ascribe to it. So is it any wonder that we might be a bit anxious as we go through our 40s and into our 50s about what it all means? I would argue it’s not menopause to blame for this midlife malaise, but rather how we have been taught to feel about it.
Have you heard of the U-curve of happiness? Yes it’s a real thing. It’s been scientifically proven (with actual research this time) that we’re happiest at the beginnings and ends of our lives. Research shows that 47 is our most unhappy age. There may actually be nothing in particular making you unhappy; it’s just a natural phase of life. And it affects men and women. It’s the middle that can get us down, simply because it’s the middle. Feelings of discontent, restlessness and even sometimes worthlessness are not unexpected. Plus the big birthday soul-searching can make it all the worse. Yes that’s a thing too and the big 50 is a pretty major milestone for most of us. We’re still tied to those outdated ideas of what we should have achieved by a particular age, forgetting as we are wont to do, that we all have different lives, are on different trajectories and that comparison is the thief of joy. We may suffer depression in the middle, but hopefully once we’re through that, the only way is up. If your 40s and 50s are gloomy, there’s every chance that later the fog will begin to lift. Clearly there are other factors that may prevent that, but all things being equal that’s the normal trajectory of life. The U-curve holds.
We’ve been taught to perceive midlife (which is when menopause usually happens) as a crisis. Just search midlife in Google and all you get back is midlife crisis. But I prefer Brené Browns’ interpretation of midlife as an unravelling: “a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control.” For women especially, it’s when we often start questioning who we really are and what we want from life. Hormonal changes can add to our sense of discombobulation. Menopause is a big life marker reminding us of how long we’ve already lived and highlighting what time we likely have left to do whatever it is we want to do in this world. So yes it’s a time of introspection and potential inner turmoil but again, it’s not the actual menopause transition that’s responsible, rather, various different elements all coming to a head and exacerbated by the fact that our hormones are impacting us as much as they do during puberty.
Midlife is also a time when women in particular are subject to a whole litany of other stress and depression inducing circumstances. We may be coping with difficult teenagers or struggling to adapt to an impending or actual empty nest. We may be caring for older parents and shouldering the brunt of those responsibilities. We may be encountering ageism in the workplace, feeling side-lined and ignored when previously we were on an upwards trajectory, just like a man would be in his 40s and 50s. But the insidious combination of sexism and ageism makes it far more difficult for women to get visibly older than men. Men become silver foxes, women are accused of letting themselves go if they embrace their natural older hair color. Thank you patriarchy. Again follow the money: a lot of people get rich persuading us that actually looking like an older woman is bad, making us fight getting older. And when do we see the most accelerated signs of aging in women? It’s often in our 50s when our faces and bodies really begin to change if they haven’t already. Another contender for the midlife malaise.
Women simply don’t have enough good information about how to manage their menopause so, as well as the distressing emotional impact already discussed, the physical symptoms can become debilitating. Doctors often aren’t much better equipped, prescribing drugs for depression rather than recognizing that hormones could be out of balance and the impact that can have. But this absolutely shouldn’t be the case. I was able to reverse my early menopause diagnosis by making dietary and lifestyle changes. My mission now is to ensure that women have the information they need, when they need it, which is often earlier than they think, so that they don’t need to struggle with menopause. Just sorting out their diet and balancing blood sugar levels can have a major impact on women’s experience of menopause, but the majority of discussion is still concentrated on trying to fix it, usually by taking hormone replacement therapy. I have written extensively about how I believe menopause symptoms are actually the body’s early warning system. It’s trying to tell us that there are things we need to change about how we live if we want to enjoy long-term health. This includes cutting back on things like caffeine, alcohol, processed food and sugar which we may have enjoyed in our youth, but which our menopausal bodies are less able to cope with. It can mean adding in things we didn’t necessarily consider before, like more vegetables and natural phytoestrogens in the form of flaxseed and organic soy, for example. It also includes cutting back on the toxins in our environment, whether that be in the food we eat by going more organic, or the personal and household cleaning products we use. It means perhaps losing some weight if we’re a bit too heavy, making sure we get enough exercise which has been proven to reduce menopause issues and working hard to optimize our mental health because if anything is going to cause us to suffer during menopause, it is stress. I have no doubt that it was stress that caused my early menopause diagnosis.
Please help me set the record straight
So please, let’s all stay curious about menopause statistics that are quoted as fact. Find out where they come from and whether it’s a reputable and trustworthy source. Follow the trail back to the actual research before assuming it is true. I had assumed ITV was reputable but they have had false menopause statistics sitting on their website for years!
If you hear these particular statistics being quoted, please direct people here or tell them that the information is false or inconclusive. I want the world to stop blaming menopause by default for the majority of what can go wrong in midlife, leading to sadness and even depression. Instead I want women to embrace it as the gift prompting us to get our lives sorted that it can be.
And let’s stop scaring women, both those in menopause and the ones coming up behind, by upholding a doom and gloom approach to this important and empowering transition in a woman’s life.
Let’s instead start listening to our bodies, being curious about what else is going on and working to improve all of that rather than lumping the problems all on menopause and ignoring the rest. It’s working on all of it that will reduce suicide rates for women in midlife. Not just making menopause better.
Yes let’s talk lots more about menopause, but not in isolation. That’s not doing women any favors and will not bring about the overall change that women and society so desperately need.
I’m full of admiration for the women who’ve shared their experience of menopause, so others can get the support they need. We’ve seen a dramatic change in the UK, culminating in the menopause revolution campaign that took menopause to the heart of government and resulted in big changes which will benefit all women. It’s good that we’re talking more about menopause, that it’s being discussed in the workplace and organisations are embracing menopause policies. I’m delighted menopause is now included in the school curriculum so women’s sex education no longer ends with childbirth. It would be good to see more in the med school curriculum but there is gaining momentum thanks to those campaigning for change. It’s important that women who need HRT have access to it and are not penalised because of where they live or whether they can afford a regular prescription.
There are good things happening. But I question the overwhelmingly negative narratives about menopause, that seem to be getting worse not better, as well as the over-selling of HRT as the panacea to ‘fix’ it. Respected menopause specialists and campaigners are describing menopause as a hormone deficiency and promoting long-term use of HRT as a preventative measure against age-related disease. Women are becoming scared that if they don’t take HRT long-term, they’ll be at risk of Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, heart disease and even suicide.
This narrative harks back to the book Feminine Forever published in 1966 which described menopause as a deficiency that could be cured with hormone therapy. In his best-selling book, Robert A Wilson maintained that menopause was a serious, painful, and crippling estrogen-deficiency disease that should be treated with estrogen replacement therapy to prevent the otherwise inevitable “living decay”. He promoted the use of a drug that healthy women would take every day for the rest of their lives, so they could remain feminine forever.
Wilson wrote, “All postmenopausal women are castrates.” With HRT, “a woman’s breasts and genital organs will not shrivel. She will be much more pleasant to live with and will not become dull and unattractive.” It was later found that the book and promotional tours were financed by the drug companies producing HRT. Have we really not moved on from this ageist, misogynistic narrative about menopause and the place in society of post-menopausal women? Are women to be disempowered about how they manage their own health in later life? Is this the menopause revolution?
To add to the gloom, Carolyn Harris MP and Penny Lancaster wrote recently about a correlation they saw between menopause, depression and suicide. They quoted a 16-fold increase in depression in women aged 45-52 and a “staggering” 7-fold increase in suicide in women aged 40-50. They said that around 20% of perimenopausal and menopausal women present to their GP with symptoms of depression. Where did they see this headline grabbing data? Is it from peer-reviewed research? What country or region does it relate to and over what time period? Or rather, does the use of unqualified data to make a point that needs making, also undermine the very point being raised?
If we assume all women 45-52 (or 55 or later) are either perimenopausal or menopausal, does that mean that 20% of all women in that (undefined) age group are presenting as depressed to their GP? How many women is that? Maybe what was meant is that of the women who go to their doctor with problems when they are perimenopausal or menopausal, 20% of those women present with symptoms of depression. That’s a different number but equally ambiguous.
Where does this unqualified data come from? I tried to find out how many women there are aged 45-52 in the UK, for example, to see how many 20% might represent. There was a census done in 2021 in England and Wales, but the results have not been published. So I can’t even get the total number of women in this potential age range, let alone how many go to the doctor. Is there some public data on what women discuss with their GPs that I’m unaware of? The information is powerful, but it helps to know where it comes from, as well as its context.
I’ve seen similar data about suicide and menopause presented as fact in the past, again without referencing a source. The Office for National Statistics (ONS), reports that women aged 50-54 exhibited the highest rate of suicide in England and Wales (specifically in 2019), but the actual rate was only 7.4 women per 100,000 population. This rate compares with 6.9 women per 100,000 in the 45-49 age range, 6.6 aged 40-44, and 6.1 aged 35-39. From age 55, the suicide rate for women decreases until age 80-84.
Of course, any rate of suicide is awful. But these are tiny increases between age ranges, and the rate of male suicide is far greater than that of women in every age group. The ONS also noted a significant increase in suicide rates in males aged 10-24, 25-44 and 45-64, in England and Wales, since 2017. All data needs context. We should most certainly be asking questions about suicide rate change. But we need the full picture.
Suicide rates are higher for women around menopause, but can we conclude menopause is the cause? Other factors that peak at that time are redundancies, divorce and the death of a parent. Women may also be dealing with children leaving home, looking after elderly parents, and feeling the weight of the insidious combination of ageism and sexism that exists in our society and in the workplace especially. Not to mention the negativity and fear around menopause already mentioned. Big birthdays and their ‘over the hill’ cards can also be painful as we grapple with status anxiety and what we have achieved in life so far. The U-Curve of Happiness states that 47 is the unhappiest age for men and women. We’re also being told that over a million women could leave work because of menopause but again, is menopause the main culprit? How reliable is that research? Menopause may be hard for some, but no data I know of states it is the predominant cause of this increase in suicide rates for women.
When researching my book, I discovered that how we feel about ageing affects how we age. If we feel good about ageing, we are more likely to look after ourselves and therefore age in a more healthful way. Perhaps the way women feel about menopause and getting older has a direct impact on their experience of the transition too. I’m not saying it’s mind over matter. Far from it. However, a positive attitude towards menopause enables curiosity about what is going on when we start to experience changes. Menopause may not even be to blame for what’s going on. It’s not an illness to fix, it’s a transition, much like puberty in reverse, from the monthly hormonal roller coaster to still, deep waters. Menopause expert, Dr Jen Gunter recently said on Twitter, “menopause is no more a state of estrogen deficiency than being a child is.”
I believe menopause issues are the body’s early warning system, the canary in the mine, warning us that all may not be right with the way we live our lives. How did I come to this conclusion? When I was 41 I was given a diagnosis of early menopause. I was trying for a second child and had a hormone test. I was told I had the hormonal profile of a postmenopausal woman and no chance of having a child. I did some research, changed my diet and how I live, and within three months of getting that diagnosis, I was menstruating again and had a pre-menopausal hormonal profile back for a while. I didn’t get the baby, but I did learn that changing my diet and how I lived, had a direct impact on my hormonal balance and general health. I learnt to be proactive not reactive when it came to my menopause transition.
The diagnosis was made all the worse because of my emotional response to it. I walked out of the doctor’s office feeling like a dried up old prune. No one had told me that my life was over, but I felt like it. On reflection I had succumbed, hook, line and sinker, to the negative narratives about menopause and aging that are fed to women all our lives and relentlessly promoted by the marketing assault of the global ‘beauty’ industry: that youth and looking young are best, that we lose our beauty and value as we age, that we need to cover up signs of ageing, and that midlife and menopause mark the end of meaningful life. We can also add ‘menopause as hormone deficiency’ to that long list of negative narratives. It was only because I discovered and created more positive narratives and different ways of living that I managed to bring myself out of my midlife depression. If I were going through that now, I could also be feeling terrified of what lay ahead as a hormonally deficient woman.
I took HRT for seven years because of early menopause, but weaned myself off at the average menopause age of 51, as I was advised to do, if I felt OK. I have managed any issues since with diet and lifestyle changes. I want women to have the whole picture about menopause. Especially now, when menopause is again being positioned as a deficiency, to fix with HRT, as opposed to a natural and freeing stage of life where HRT may help. Some women are currently also finding it difficult to get hold of HRT. I want women to know they can make changes that will help with or without it. These include reducing intake of sugar, alcohol and caffeine, eating good food regularly to maintain blood sugar levels, reducing toxins in food and personal products, reducing stress or finding better ways to manage it, increasing intake of natural phytoestrogens that can be found in soy, flax and other seeds, for example, increasing exercise and losing weight if, hand on heart, you know you’re carrying a bit too much.
There’s no doubt HRT can help many women, and some need it, but there are also many other more natural ways to help women through the menopause transition. Some menopause practitioners suggest we need hormone therapy now because we didn’t live long enough to suffer in the past and we’re in more danger of age-related disease as a result. This isn’t based in fact either. The loss of menstruation with age is noted in both ancient Chinese and Greek medical writings. In 1680, life expectancy for a woman at age 15 (in other words, having survived childhood) in England and Wales was 56.6 years, rising to 64.6 years by 1780. Clearly, life expectancy differed depending on location, relative wealth, health, race, and so on, but at least in the British Isles, many women were living longer a lot earlier than some commentators suggest. If age-related disease is increasing, I suspect modern life is to blame.
When I read of women again being advised to take HRT forever for long-term health, I can’t help thinking that Wilson’s book has had a lingering impact on how we as a society and individually view postmenopausal women. No one can claim that long-term use of HRT is completely safe, at least not for another 20 years. The HRT manufacturers must be delighted at the prospect of every woman taking their drug for life. As with global sales of anti-aging creams and hair dye, just imagine how much money that would involve! I always say, follow the money.
A true menopause revolution will happen when menopause moves from being a taboo subject brought to awareness through fear tactics, to being seen in its rightful place as a powerful transition in a woman’s life. When we embrace it as heralding a new and magnificent next chapter, rather than labelling it as a ‘hormone deficiency’ that will blight us to the grave. When we recognise that we don’t need to be reactive to menopause, but can take a proactive and empowered response to our experience of it. When we stop blaming lack of estrogen for every midlife and age-related issue, and instead scrutinize modern life and endemic gendered ageism. When women are not scared into believing they must have HRT to prevent them getting heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, or even suicidal. Maybe it’s a counter-revolution we need! Let’s empower women to feel prepared not scared.
There’s a lot of change during perimenopause and getting more aches and pains is often something women notice. It could just be that you’re getting a bit older and perhaps not moving your body enough. Sometimes it’s hormonal changes or it could be something else entirely. It helps to understand more about what may be going on to help identify the right remedies for menopause aches and pains.
Estrogen has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, so as it drops, if we’re not finding other ways to reduce inflammation, this may be one reason why we start to experience aches, pains and stiffness around menopause.
If we put on weight, as often happens in midlife and around menopause, we can increase the strain on our joints which can cause pain. If we’re not eating the right diet, eating too many inflammatory foods and not enough anti-inflammatory foods, that can also lead to problems.
If you’re highly stressed and producing too much cortisol, that is also associated with inflammation and can contribute to distracting our adrenal glands from their important role of producing the estrogen post menopause (instead of the ovaries) that is needed for healthy joints (Jackie Lynch, The Happy Menopause).
It could also be that we’re not staying hydrated enough, especially if hormonal changes are leading us to dehydrate, such as hot flashes and night sweats for example. Estrogen has a role to play in keeping us hydrated so we need to put more effort into that as it decreases.
When it comes to pain we may experience the following:
loss of flexibility
chronic joint pain
or just generally more aches and pains
If changes are major and there’s no obvious explanation, they could be a sign of an underlying condition, so be sure to visit your doctor and get yourself checked out.
Osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and certain autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease or multiple sclerosis can all cause painful joints, so be sure to eliminate these as possibilities if pain is a big problem.
Sometimes we assume that aches and pains are a natural part of getting older but they don’t need to be. I love the wisdom of Ashton Applewhite, the anti-ageism campaigner when she talks about her knees.
For a long time she’d assumed that pain in one knee was age-related. But then she thought about it and realized that her knees were the same age, so if pain in one of them was age-related how come the other one didn’t also ache?! Listen to Ashton on the Magnificent Midlife Podcast.
1. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you suffer from hot flashes or night sweats.
2. Balance your blood sugar and improve your diet. This will help with your overall hormonal balance which will help with anything that can be attributed to hormonal fluctuation. Reduce actual stress and also the blood sugar spikes and drops that can lead the body to think it is under stress and stop producing estrogen in favor of stress hormones.
A little good food and often, and eating protein and complex carbohydrates (such as beans, whole grains, and starchy vegetables), which are high in fiber, with every meal is a good way to go. Now is the perfect time to make your diet healthier overall and include lots of fresh vegetables. Cut out that processed food as much as you can. Refined carbohydrates, in particular, are known to mess with our hormones generally, quite apart from the blood sugar spiking effect.
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and reduce your sugar, processed foods and caffeine intake. Eating organic when you can will also help, as you’re cutting out any pesticide or hormonal additions to food that can have an impact on your own hormones. Consider cutting down on alcohol,which is generally pretty bad for women’s bones and doesn’t help our hormones either!
3. Add natural phytoestrogens to your diet. These can be found in soy and flaxseed, for example, and will help to boost hormonal balance and counteract any impact from declining estrogen. This will help with most menopause-related symptoms because phytoestrogens help to balance your hormones naturally.
Here’s a comprehensive list of foodstuffs that can also help. Daily ground flaxseeds on my breakfast cereal as well as organic soya milk instead of dairy have massively helped me.
4. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet . This will make a big difference. Include foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and their associated oils. Many people believe meat can exacerbate aches and pains in later life, so consider eating less meat and moving more towards plant proteins such as soya beans and quinoa for example. Eat more cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
Cut out refined sugar and carbohydrates (those again!) as these are both highly inflammatory. Similarly processed meat is not going to help. I’m sure you’ve also heard that following a Mediterranean diet is particularly good to reduce inflammation in the body. Track what you’ve consumed in a food diary and how you feel each day, so you can be aware of what may be triggering extra pain.
7. Try glucosamine or chondroitin (or both together) supplements. Many people find glucosamine and/or chondroitin helpful for joint pain. I haven’t needed this yet but my neighbors swear by them!
8.Magnesium can really help with stiffness, joint and muscle pain. It’s also good for another menopause symptom, restless legs! It helps to calm our nervous system and I take it regularly in the evening. It’s supposed to be more effective when taken with calcium. This is what I take. You can also take it in the form of an Epsom salts bath which can be very soothing of an evening. Why not buy in bulk?! Much cheaper than the small bags you can buy.
9. Make sure you move regularly! We spend so much of our time sitting down these days and I truly believe sitting is the new smoking. Get a standing desk, take regular breaks and set an alarm on your computer or your phone to prompt you to get up regularly.
One of the most flexible women I’ve ever met, Katherine Allen, has an alarm on her computer every 30 minutes and she will get up and do a full body shake when it goes off. In her 70s she can lift her foot above her shoulder!
10. Start a yoga practice, (like Katherine). This I believe is absolutely crucial for long term health and wellness especially for women as we go through perimenopause.
A gentle practice of the flowing Surya Namaskara (sun salutations) helps to increase flexibility in the joints and works every muscle in the body, a complete physical and emotional workout in itself. Try practising 5-10 rounds of sun salutations per day. Even if you don’t have time for other yoga, you will experience dramatic relief from general aches and pains.
This is a summary transcription of my podcast interview with Angela Counsel who is a naturopath, kinesiologist and mindset coach working particularly with women in midlife. Like me, she’s on a mission to spread the word that menopause doesn’t have to be a tough time in life, in fact it can be a time of stepping into your wisdom and falling in love with yourself and your life. We talked about menopause, hormone imbalance symptoms and how to support our immune systems, particularly in response to Covid-19. You can listen to the full interview here.
I’m from Australia and I’ve been a naturopath for nearly 19 years. Before that, I worked in corporate as a project manager and consultant for large banks and telecommunications companies.
Doing that for about 20 years, I felt I needed a change. One of the things that triggered that change is when I had a miscarriage. I realized my job was impacting my health.
I took a break which I planned initially to be only for three months, but I haven’t returned to being full time employed ever again! I went to college and took up naturopathy. I fell pregnant, continued my studies and got a degree.
I opened a clinic after I have finished the degree. I’m now working with women going through menopause.
I’m always two or three years ahead of the clients I’m working with because I know and understand them. Now that I’m through menopause, I’m currently working with women coming through menopause.
It’s so common these days that we see more and more women who are going into an early menopause. I’ve worked with clients who come to me and they think they’re in menopause.
But once we rebalance their hormones and address what’s going on with their diet and lifestyle, their periods start again. They are surprised at what happened to them.
I tell them they weren’t meant to be going into menopause at that stage. They were only in menopause because their hormones were so out of balance.
Once hormones are balanced up again, they get back into their natural cycle and they will go into menopause naturally when they’re meant to. I’ve had that happen with several clients and I’ve heard those stories happen with other women as well who went into an early menopause.
If you’re cycling and you’re healthy, it means your body’s working the way it’s supposed to. When you go into a natural menopause, you’re more likely to go in without having any symptoms.
Everyone talks about all the symptoms, hot flushes, joint pain, weight gain, all of that and they say well, it’s just normal and in fact, it isn’t normal. It’s common but it’s not normal.
If it was normal, everybody would experience it. Everyone doesn’t experience it so that means it’s common and not normal, and that’s something I really want women to understand.
It’s not normal to be experiencing all these different symptoms. When they’re happening, it’s your body telling you something’s going on. Whether on a physical or an emotional level, something needs to be addressed.
It’s not just always about diet though. We’re being exposed to so many toxic hormones that are impacting our body and women are not aware of that.
They’re not aware of what they’re being exposed to. Not only does that impact our hormones, it impacts our immune system as well because that is a stress on the body.
If we look at the way our body functions, we’ve got an automatic nervous system. These are the things that happen automatically. We don’t even think about it. All of that just happens.
When we’re in sympathetic dominance (responding to dangerous or stressful situations), we’re actually in a sympathetic state. That’s a stress state and all the time, we down regulate our autonomic nervous system.
We turn down our immune system. We also turn down our digestive system and a lot of different things, but our heart rate goes up.
We increase our blood pressure because we’re now in a situation whereby the body is getting ready for fight, flight, or freeze. All these things are happening, and we have no control over them.
As women, we spend a lot of time being stressed, whether it’s emotional stress or physical stress that comes from the food we’re eating, the cosmetics we’re wearing and everything else that’s going into our body or on our body. It’s changing our immune system and increasing pressure which lowers our immune system.
Have you ever been on holiday and the first thing that happens is you get sick? It’s basically your stress levels. The stress hormone cortisol actually lowers your immune system to a certain level that it’s not actually reacting.
You go on holidays and you’ve just relaxed and then the cortisol levels just drop off. All of a sudden, the immune system can do its job, but you get sick because that’s what it’s been trying to do all along.
Because the cortisol levels have been keeping that immune system down, it hasn’t been able to react to whatever’s going on. This is what happens when we have long-term immune depression or the immune system’s not working the way it’s supposed to.
We are at a higher risk of things like cancer, because cancer is an immune condition. Ideally, the immune system keeps the cancer cells under control because they are just rogue cells and we have rogue cells all through our body all the time.
The immune system should keep that under control. When the immune system isn’t working properly, those cells get out of control and start to grow. They’ve got an imbalance that’s going on there.
For some people they just continually get sick, while other people never get sick. There are two things we need to look at. First, those who are getting sick all the time and never recovering like when you get a cold, which just seems to linger on and on and on because you’re not recovering.
Then there’s the people who say I haven’t been sick for five years and that’s a real red flag for me because we should be getting sick. We should because we’re being exposed to all different viruses and bacteria all the time.
We should actually get sick because that’s the way our immune system responds. . Getting sick is okay. Getting sick once or twice a year is okay with a sniffle or a sore throat but it’s how well you recover that matters. If you can recover from a severe cold within a week then that’s fine.
If it takes you six months to recover from a cold, then there’s something wrong. It means your immune system hasn’t done its job.
What are the issues with what’s going on at the moment? The reason why they call it a novel virus is because we don’t know how it’s going to act.
The doctors don’t know how it’s going to act, and the doctors don’t have a treatment for it right now. In Australia, anybody who says they have a treatment for COVID, there will be big fines from what we call the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Association) which is really strict.
No one can treat COVID. We as practitioners, as naturopaths, can support the immune system. If you go and look at the medical side of things, there’s nothing you can do to support the immune system. There’s nothing you can do to stop getting this virus but that’s because they don’t understand what’s going on.
If we get back to basics of what the immune system does, when you think of a child, they get sick all the time, particularly when you very first send them off to day-care. All of a sudden, they’re getting sick all the time because they’ve got a very immature immune system.
They have to get sick because that’s the way the immune system works It is a bit like memory. It has to be exposed to all these different pathogens, viruses, and bacteria. It has to react to them. Once it’s reacted to a particular virus or a bacteria or any other pathogen, it has a memory and it knows what to do.
If that particular virus comes along again, it will already know what to do and can actually deal with it. Quite often, you don’t get sick.
Sometimes if you’ve ever felt a bit achy, or your nose is a bit blocked, you feel that you might be getting sick, but you don’t actually get sick. It’s because your immune system has actually dealt with it really quickly.
It has seen that virus before. That’s why it was able to deal with it and you just go on and you just have a day and you only just feel a little bit off.
If the immune system doesn’t know what to do, you will then start to get sick because it needs to attack. You can think of your immune system like an army with different levels.
The generals have a high-level view and are basically just keeping control of the whole army. The captains are out there looking to see what’s going on. They are the one who notice there’s some type of virus that’s come in. The foot soldiers are those who go out there and kill that virus.
It’s also like the Pacman Video games where they go out and kill the virus.
If you ever had a cold or anything, you’ll notice that your mucus to start with is clear and then it goes green. When we’ve got clear mucus, that’s the sign that the white blood cells have raised.
What they’re doing is making the environment hostile to kill the virus. Once they start to kill the virus and the Pacman eat this virus up, then the mucus turns green because that’s all the dead viral bodies coming out.
We don’t actually want to stop a runny nose. The more we can allow a nose to run, the more everything just clears out. When we go and take a tablet, what we’ve done now is we’ve stopped the immune system from doing what it’s supposed to do.
It’s because this mucus is thick and sticky and it’s full of chemicals that actually help to kill the virus. It comes out in places where we’re actually open to the environment which is the nose and mouth and our lungs create mucus as well.
If we get a viral infection in our lungs, we get a whole pile of mucus and we cough. The idea of the cough is to lift the mucus and the viral bodies up so we can cough them out.
This is the body doing what the body’s supposed to do. But we think we know better, so we stop the cough and we stop the runny nose and we wonder why we don’t get well.
The other thing is the fever. We stop the fever because for some reason we’re scared of fevers, but there’s a reason we have a fever. Most viruses only survive at around 37 degrees Celsius.
The body raises the temperature above that, so that it kills the virus and then, the white blood cells can do their job. If we bring the fever down another way, the body isn’t able to kill it using heat.
This is another reason why it takes longer for us to get over illness because we keep taking things and we keep overriding the body’s natural processes because we’ve been told it’s inconvenient to have a cold or to have a runny nose.
I find it quite amusing to see what’s happened with Covid. . Everyone was told to stay home. It would have been great if we all had been staying home for years and years and years when we had colds and flu, rather than spreading them.
We’ve been told for years and years that we’ve got to soldier on. Now, we’ve been told, don’t walk outside your front door because you might spread a virus. It’s very conflicting advice and we probably need to be somewhere in the middle.
I think at some stage, and probably the generation before us, we started to lose connection with the way our body works, because it became easy to take a pill to fix a problem. Now, it’s just becoming more and more. I’ve got a problem, take a pill.
If we go back a couple of generations, when we still had the medicine women, when we still used a lot of herbs, we were using nature to help our body heal. A lot of times, you would have a cup of herbal tea which had a particular herb in it, which would help to support the immune system.
Herbs don’t work like pharmaceutical drugs. They don’t override the body’s natural processes. What they do is support the body’s natural processes.
There are times when it’s good to support the body’s natural processes. It’s good to support the immune system. When you do that with herbs, we have herbs that help you cough everything up. If you have a really wet cough and you’re very mucusy, we use herbs to help you lift that out of the lungs.
If you have a dry cough, which is just like an irritation, we have herbs that will actually suppress that irritation because it’s just something that’s irritating it.
That isn’t doing what drugs do. Drugs override the way the body works, herbs support the way the body works. We can do the same with food as well.
Food will support the way our body functions and specific foods will actually support the immune system.
Garlic, onions, and gingers are great antivirals. Fruits and veggies that are full of vitamin C are really great for the immune system. There are lots of foods that are great for the immune system.
In fact, any food that comes from nature actually has an impact on the immune system because it’s just healthy food and it’s not stressing the body. If you’re eating McDonald’s and all the other fast food, that’s a stress on the body.
As soon as you stress the body, you’re impacting the immune system. If we’re eating food that works for our body, nourishes and supports our body, we are going to be supporting our immune system.
To get rid of pesticides, eating organic food is an ideal way to do that. For some people, organic food can be expensive. If you can grow your own fruits and veggies, it will be absolutely fantastic.
If you can’t afford organic foods, one of the things you can do, especially because some foods are more susceptible to pesticides than others, you can wash them.
I wouldn’t be worried too much with anything that has an outer skin because you’re not eating their skin. Things like an apple where you eat the skin, you can actually wash it.
There’s a couple of ways you can wash it to get rid of the waxy coating they put on which is the pesticide and everything else.
It’s actually designed to be waterproof so rinsing in normal water won’t do it. You have to scrub it by combining apple cider or brown vinegar with water. If you can’t afford organic at all, wash what you can. That’s the best you can do because something is better than nothing.
Eating organic or something non organic but like broccoli is better than going and buying a McDonald’s. Even if it does have some pesticides on it, it’s still better than eating McDonald’s. Do the best you can and as you can do more, do more.
Stress is a major part of all of it. As I said before, as we raise our stress levels, we’re lowering our immune system. When we’re looking at the situation that we’re in right now around the world, many people are living in fear.
They’re afraid of what’s going on. Mainstream media I’m sure is the same over there as what it is here. It’s very much about the fear of what’s going on and there’s so much guesswork of what’s going to happen in the future and what’s the world gonna look like?
People are really afraid. A few months ago, they were totally afraid. The toilet paper issue is people not feeling safe and they’re afraid because they felt they are about to lose their base needs.
This is a very primitive response. We responded with toilet paper, which may not be quite so primitive. It’s more of a first world response, but that was the common denominator.
All of a sudden, all these people are thinking there’s not going to be enough toilet paper. They’re not going to have any money or not going to be able to go out.
There was all this fear going on and all that fear creates stress. The more stress we have, the more we’re impacting our immune system.
When we’re stressed, many people tend to emotionally eat and eat foods that aren’t the best for them. At the moment over here, they had to put limits on the amount of alcohol you could buy. Even then, the limits were just unbalanced. Who could drink that much alcohol in a day really?
I don’t drink. I used to but I haven’t drunk in 18 months because I found it was making my menopause symptoms worse. I stopped drinking and all my symptoms went away.
People are drinking more because they’re bored and stressed. They’re drinking more and they’re eating foods that aren’t good for them. It just keeps cycling and that gives them higher levels of stress, which is lowering their immune system.
When people do go back out again, they get exposed to the virus. They are more likely to get sick than when they’re at home and they are looking after themselves, eating well and exercising.
Not everybody who gets exposed to the virus is going to get sick. In fact, there are many people who have tested positive, who don’t get sick. They’re asymptomatic. Ideally that would be the way to be, exposed, but asymptomatic.
Then you’ve built an immunity. But We’re not a hundred percent sure on this virus, whether or not people are building immunity. We won’t know, but we believe that, if it’s like any virus, you would build that immunity.
Unfortunately, we don’t know a lot about this virus. It’s not acting the way they expect it to. It’s not even acting like a virus. Once it’s in the body, it’s acting more like a bacteria.
They’re stumbling on trying to find a treatment because of the way it’s acting. They’ve been looking at some of the malaria treatments and they’ve been getting some success with malaria treatments, but then that doesn’t work with everyone.
There’s no consistent treatment at the moment and that’s a bit of a problem because the medical system hasn’t come up with a treatment. This is where we have to take control of our own health.
We’re in a lucky situation here in Australia, because we’re away from the rest of the world. We’ve actually only experienced a total of just over a hundred deaths, which is way lower than anywhere else in the world. New Zealand is lower than us.
We’re so far away and most of our deaths are because of old age or from cruise ship passengers that had the virus. We are a pretty much completely contained so it does mean we can relax a little bit.
We only have 20 million in the whole of Australia and the middle of it is empty. We’re all round the coast. We’ve probably got a younger population as well. I know in Italy where it got hit hard there, they’ve got an older and a bigger population.
The other thing too, which they believe is playing a really big role is Vitamin D levels. We‘re just coming off summer, so our Vitamin D levels are quite high. Whereas you‘re (Northern Hemisphere) just coming off winter and your Vitamin D levels are quite low.
In general, Australia has higher Vitamin D levels in most of the country and that boosts our immune system just naturally. There are a few things that make us lucky and it hasn’t hit us as hard as it has the rest of the world.
We’ve all gotta go back out in the world. We’re starting to do that now but what happens when the second wave hits? We can’t stay locked up forever. It’s impacting people’s health. It’s a big hit on the economy. It’s a big hit on people.
We do need to get back out in the world and it’s gonna be interesting to see what happens. But that’s why it’s so important that all of us take responsibility so that we can stay healthy and if we do get the virus, we can move through it quite quickly.
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