5 Menopause Myths
By Heather Freudenthal
The word “menopause” is thrown around loosely in conversation to mean a lot of things, mostly negative things. It’s a time in every woman’s life that comes with a lot of dread and confusion, although for some women, it may be Mecca – a desired destination of relief from years of painful periods.
Menopause is a time marked by great hormone fluctuation. The two power players of female reproductive regulation – estrogen and progesterone – can become quite erratic during this time. Though these hormone levels decline, they can also spike unpredictably.
With the decline of estrogen comes a decline in ovulation, and when ovulation doesn’t occur, our ovaries don’t produce progesterone. This leads to night sweats, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, dizziness, irritability, dry or thinning skin, weight gain, stiff joints, back pain, painful intercourse, vaginal dryness, low libido, anxiety, and depression, among other symptoms.
Though these symptoms are anything but pleasant, contrary to popular belief, they are manageable. The stereotypical depiction of menopause - older women acting irrational - needs to be shattered. There is so much to understand about the physiological and emotional aspects of this transitional time, and our society has typically shied away from talking about it. This is a healthy and normal part of every woman’s life, and one that can be met with readiness and resilience, rather than dread.
With that in mind, let’s clear up a few things.
Myth # 1 – Women in their 40’s and 50’s “go through” menopause.
While this statement is not necessarily incorrect, it is incomplete. Menopause is an umbrella term for what is actually three stages:
- perimenopause (when symptoms start to develop)
- post-menopause (a woman is officially considered postmenopausal after her period has stopped for 12 consecutive months). In this sense, a woman is only in menopause for one day – everything before is perimenopausal and everything after is postmenopausal. Indeed, by the time a woman has been diagnosed as being “in menopause,” she is already postmenopausal.
Additionally, while perimenopause usually begins in our 40s, for some women it begins in their 30s. Perimenopause literally translates to “around menopause,” but this phase can last for years leading up to menopause.
Once a woman is postmenopausal her symptoms may subside (but they may not). Some doctors only consider a woman postmenopausal if her symptoms are gone completely.
Myth # 2 – Menopause is expected and natural; there’s no need to see a doctor.
The symptoms of menopause are far-ranging, and while it’s likely that your symptoms may be due to this transition, it’s never good to assume. In fact, some thyroid diseases and unrelated hormone imbalances can mimic perimenopause, so it’s advisable to get a thorough examination from a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing any symptoms that you believe to be related to perimenopause.
Now is also a good time to be checked for Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivities. Women with undiagnosed gluten intolerances are likely to experience more intense symptoms of menopause if they are still consuming gluten.
Additionally, low estrogen from menopause can put older women at risk for heart disease and osteoporosis. Seeing a doctor will ensure you don’t let an undiagnosed condition slip by. It’ll also give you an opportunity to take proactive measures to protect yourself from other health risks.
Myth # 3 – Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the best method to alleviate symptoms.
There are two types of HRT: traditional HRT and bioidentical (BHRT). Both forms provide a dose of estrogen, however, BHRT is compounded - a doctor will determine a woman’s specific hormone deficiencies then prepare tailored dosages for her. However, both forms are controversial and there is debate in the medical community about their safety.
The bottom line? Neither form is “natural,” considering the body is designed to decrease these hormones at this stage of life.
The safest and most effective way to manage symptoms is to balance hormones naturally, rather than introduce more hormones in synthetic form. Hormones can be balanced with a variety of simple dietary shifts, exercise, as well as supplements like Lady Biz!
Myth # 4 – The symptoms of menopause are inevitable; there’s nothing I can do.
This is probably the biggest myth of all!
There are certain foods that are known to disrupt hormone balance, and reducing these foods early on, even before perimenopause, will help stabilize hormones. This means better menstrual cycles, and it will be extremely beneficial once perimenopause starts.
Caffeine lowers estradiol and disrupts sleep (both of which will bite you in the tush during menopause when you’re already low on estrogen and struggling with sleep). Other foods to avoid include refined sugars and carbs, processed foods, and alcohol, which all greatly and negatively impact hormone balance.
On the flip side, there’s a lot you can add into your diet to help balance hormones.
- Calcium-rich foods (sweet potatoes, broccoli, oranges, almonds, leafy greens, sardines) along with plenty of vitamin D to ensure the calcium gets absorbed.
- Healthy fats, or omega-3s, are essential for hormonal health and can be found in wild caught salmon, tuna, sardines, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Flaxseeds in particular can help reduce the intensity and frequency of hot flashes.
- Foods containing B vitamins such as lean meats, eggs, yogurt (consume dairy in moderation), shellfish, dark leafy greens, and whole grains.
- Fruits and veggies, particularly ones with high amounts of phytonutrients, which can be found in the cruciferous family: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and kale. These phytonutrients have DIM compounds which help the liver metabolize and balance estrogen.
- Pomegranate seeds and oil can also help with hot flashes (steer clear of juice which is primarily sugar).
You can also take proactive measures to manage stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, plays a major role as the villain in menopause, throwing all other hormones off kilter. Both cortisol and progesterone are produced in the ovaries, and when we’re stressed, our ovaries will prioritize creating cortisol, leaving progesterone in the lurch. This can lead to estrogen dominance (high estrogen in relation to low progesterone). Estrogen dominance comes with a host of unpleasant symptoms as well as risks for serious disease.
Bottom line? Managing stress is essential for healthy menopause. Emotional Ease, as part of your daily vitamin routine, can go a long way in helping your body manage stress!
Myth # 5 – All soy is bad for hormones.
Phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) from soy products can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, but there is mixed evidence to suggest whether these effects are universally good or bad.
However, there is one distinction that should be noted: Processed soy foods, such as soy-based veggie burgers or soybean oil (in many processed foods) are harmful, whereas whole and fermented soy have numerous health benefits.
Whole and fermented soy foods include tofu, tempeh, miso, natto, and edamame. In fact, on average, women who eat traditional Japanese food consisting of whole and fermented soy report easier menopause transitions with less symptoms.