I love to watch and listen to people when I am out and about, and often make up stories about them; you know those ‘back stories’, we create about what’s going in other people’s lives. I doubt I am ever very accurate with my assumptions, until last month that is….. I heard some words being trumpeted across the departure lounge at the airport,
“I’m a nasty piece of work, I’m exhausted, insomniac, a horrible person, I’m anxious, I have fluid retention, I’m over weight, I’m angry and, a nasty piece of work”
(yes ‘that nasty piece of work’ was repeated several times). There was no mystery as to what was going on in this woman’s life. By my calculation she was mid 50’s and listening to her conversation, clearly menopausal.
To be honest, aside from a slightly thicker waistline than I would like, I have so far been spared unpleasant menopausal symptoms. I would like to credit this to healthy eating and my ‘quite’ active lifestyle, however as I look around and watch my peers suffering, I realise that the menopause story is more complex and less discriminate than I had hoped. I am also very aware that I may not have flown under the ‘menopausal radar’. There is still plenty of time for ‘mother menopause’ to serve me up among other things; some hot flushes, heart palpitations, maybe an anxiety attack or two. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a ‘recipe’ for a pain or symptom-free menopause.
This lack of understanding around mid-age health isn’t helped by the absence of a consistent or definite age indicating the onset of menopause. Menopause is defined as the absence of menstruation for 12 consecutive months. This life stage is preceded by peri-menopause, and is characterised by menstrual irregularity, commencing when the menstrual cycle length changes from an established pattern to one less consistent than in previous cycles. For those of us who have endured irregular cycles for several decades, this doesn’t really help. It appears that from the moment we reach puberty we are effectively “pre-menopausal”!
It is assumed that a decrease in oestrogen is the primary cause of unpleasant symptoms of menopause (the ones my airport friend was so publicly suffering) such as hot flushes, mood swings, anxiety and impaired sleep to name a few. This theory however doesn’t account for those of us who are by the above definition menopausal, however not suffering those symptoms.
What we do know is this; weight gain, particularly around the abdomen, increases in post-menopausal women, commencing during peri-menopause. Metabolic disorders (diabetes, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease) in peri-menopausal and menopausal women are largely determined by weight status. So while my airport friend was suffering seemingly unsurmountable physical and emotional discomfort she is also in a life stage where her metabolic health is very likely compromised, putting her at risk diabetes, CVD and obesity.
As I have already said there is no recipe for a symptom free menopause. There is however a way to improve your metabolic health, at any age. You know where this is going…..
A diet based on green leafy and non starchy vegetables, healthy fats, and low in processed and carbohydrate based foods and of course sugar, is a way of eating that will reduce those insulin spikes that are responsible for weigh gain. As we approach menopause our metabolism predisposes us to weight gain so we need to do everything we can to lose weight and/or prevent weight gain. Ladies I am not talking supermodel slim, I am just saying, eat well, in the manner we have discussed (whether or not you need to lose weight) and you give yourselves the very best chance of a healthy menopause. You owe it to yourselves.
So back to the motivation for my airport story. For a start thank you my menopausal friend where ever you are!! It’s time we discussed menopause more often; loudly, proudly, painfully. How-ever menopause is treating you let’s talk about it. If you are under 40, female and think it doesn’t matter to you; well if you are lucky you will be 50 one day, so start preparing now. If you are male (most likely you have stopped reading by now), you most likely have a mother going through menopause, or a future wife who WILL go through menopause. We will all be impacted one way or another by it so let’s not be shy, share your experiences, make menopause ‘normal’. It’s not going anywhere thats for sure!