The transition through perimenopause, menopause and beyond is a natural part of life for women. However, much like menstruation, there’s still stigma surrounding it.
There are many things systemically that might change in order to better support women as they move through these years, but this message is more about misconceptions and myths surrounding this period of time in a woman’s life.
Myth #1: Menopause starts late in life
It’s normal for the transition to start in midlife, but it can happen earlier or later.
The formal definition of menopause means you haven’t had a period in 12 months. However, the changes leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause, start much earlier. This stage usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55, although it can start even earlier.
A 2014 analysis of 46 studies across 24 countries found that the average age of natural menopause is 48.8 years. The age of menopause varies among different regions, countries, and ethnic groups. Factors that may play a role in these differences are: genetic variations, socioeconomic position, environment, reproductive and early childhood factors.
Additional lifestyle factors may affect the timing of menopause as well, including: smoking, education, occupation, and income as well as level of physical activity and body mass index (BMI).
Myth #2: Menopause is the same for everyone
Very few women experience menopause the same way. Which also means that some of the ‘solutions’ are not a one-size-fits-all.
In fact, perimenopause may start earlier and last longer for women of color than for non-latina white women. Some research suggests that latina women and non-latina black women had more frequent hot flashes, sleep disturbances, and depression, while non-latina asian womenare more likely to report decreased sex drive.
Factors that may influence how you experience menopause include: personal beliefs and mindset, cultural norms, income level, discrimination and general environment.
Myth #3: Menopause lasts just a short time
For most women, the menopause transition goes on for years – perhaps as long 10 to 15 years! Perimenopause is traditionally “diagnosed” when the ovaries lower production of estrogen and progesterone. The rate at which this happens varies a lot from person to person.
The good news is that some of the worst symptoms, like hot flashes, night sweats, and sleep disruption, tend to get better over time. For most women, these go away as the body adjusts to lower levels of estrogen and progesterone
Myth #4: Menopause kills your sex life
Menopause doesn’t end your sex life.in fact, freedom from periods and birth control is liberating and sexy.
While it is true that lower hormone levels in perimenopause and menopause can impact your sex drive, that is not the case for everyone.
Certain menopausal symptoms, like vaginal dryness, can also make sex uncomfortable or even painful. but, you don’t have to give up sex if you don’t want to.
Here are a few things that can help:
- Use moisturizers and/or lubricants to ease dryness.
- Have more sex, which helps increase blood flow, which in turn keeps vaginal tissues healthy.
- Highlight foreplay, as getting fully aroused increases natural moisture.
- Try new positions to find your comfort zone.
- Do pelvic floor exercises to strengthen muscles.
- Talk with your doctor about medications or hormone replacement therapies to make sex more comfortable.
- Communicate your needs with your partner and get creative
Myth #5: Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is dangerous
For healthy women under age 60 and less than 10 years from menopause, the risks of HRT are low, and it can safely provide relief from menopause symptoms like hot flashes, sleep disruption, and vaginal/bladder issues,
A follow-up to the study that sparked widespread fear of HRT dangers found no increased risk of death from any cause for women who took HRT for five to seven years compared with those who took a placebo.
The original 2002 study got a lot of attention because it found elevated heart disease and breast cancer risks, but these findings applied only to older (60+) women on HRT. Keep in mind that HRT is not recommended for women with a history of blood clots, heart disease, liver disease, or certain cancers.
Bioidentical Hormones may not be safer than traditional medications. The term “bioidentical” appeals to many women because they think they’re more natural, which must make them safer.
Compounded bioidentical formulations do not undergo the same scrutiny as traditional FDA-approved HRT. This means that the dosage and efficacy may be inaccurate.
Myth #6: You have to endure hot flashes and night sweats
A hot flash sends a rush of heat to your face and upper body, lasting seconds to minutes. It can be unsettling in addition to uncomfortable and you may also have night sweats during sleep.
Adopting habits such as proper sleep, nutrition, exercise, and stress management can help minimize menopausal symptoms. Following an anti-inflammatory approach to nutrition can help reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
Here are a few strategies that may help:
- Avoid excess fats, sugars and processed foods, in addition to triggers such as spicy foods and alcohol.
- Dress in layers so that it’s easier to cool off when you feel a flash coming on.
- Drink cold water at the start of a hot flash. Keep ice water next to your bed during the night and ice packs ready to go in the freezer. The fastest way to cool off is by using the ice on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet or the skin right under the eyes at the upper cheekbones.
- Choose breathable fabrics for bedding and sleep wear.
- Hormone therapy, either estrogen alone or with progesterone might help. These are available as pills, skin patches, and vaginal creams.
- Non-hormonal medications may also be useful to address hot flashes, night sweats, and sleep.
Myth #7: Menopause means you’re old
Menopause is a major life transition, but it doesn’t make you old. Menopause can start as early as your 30s. It’s way past time to look at this stage as simply a new phase. Like every other phase, it can be unpredictable, but rewarding. Instead of feeling dread, see it as a place to exhibit compassionate curiosity.
The short story
The transition to menopause can take many years and while there are many physical habits you can instill, one of the most important thing to keep in mind is your mindset around this transition.
This is why, we have created a 6-week program launching January 24, 2024 – Managing Menopause. It is designed to give you agency over this change of life. Read on for details and send email if you’d like to get on the mailing list when registration goes live!
With the right tools, knowledge and mindset, this period of time doesn’t have to be dreaded. It’s time to put these misconceptions away for you and for those around you.
Feel your youngest – before, during and after menopause! No one taught you how to live well through mid-life. No one taught you that menopause was manageable. That’s why we created this 6-week on-line program.
This facilitated program was designed to assess where you are, how you feel, and uncover key habits to live well.
We will cover a variety of topics including Movement, Meals, Moderation, Mindfulness, Lifestyle Choices for Healthier Habits, Building and Maintaining Muscle, Managing Mood Swings, and more!
During the program, you will learn techniques to improve focus, enhance sleep, build self-awareness and self-compassion, foster community and stronger connections.
What to expect? Expect group lessons, discussions and homework for you to build enhanced awareness and agency over your own life and health.
What will I gain? Access to a like-minded community, Useful tools, myths debunked, a safe space for discussion, and full access to the presenters.