It’s a hot topic for women and the people around them: What’s happening in midlife? Menopause! Women are usually so busy with careers, kids and care-taking that they don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the health changes inevitably coming their way as they enter their forties and fifties.
Some people also find it weird or shameful to talk about menopause, so let’s put a stop to that right here and now! Menopause is completely normal. Women and men go through life experiencing a never-ending series of changes. That’s just the nature of it. But for women it can feel like these changes are accelerating during midlife.
This can have many reasons. We’ve often been too busy in our twenties, thirties and forties to pay much attention to how our bodies and minds are changing because we were able to coast along. No longer! At this age now we often feel more tired, less fit and peppy, are slower to recover, or are overall (but not always) less joyful and satisfied. Some of these experiences may be individual, some are manifestations of natural aging, but some may be connected to the hormonal changes that come with menopause.
What is menopause, actually?
So, what exactly is menopause? Most women begin to menstruate in their early teens and are able to conceive children for over three decades. Eventually, though, a woman’s fertility naturally comes to an end. Our hormonal glands gradually shift and reduce the production of their messengers, and our ovaries cease to produce eggs. This process usually occurs slowly and over the course of several years in your mid- to late forties and is called perimenopause. It can also happen almost overnight if you had to have your ovaries removed surgically or received chemotherapy or certain other medical treatments.
Hormones relevant to reproductive health are mainly produced in the hypothalamus and pituitary in the brain, the thyroid, adrenals and, of course, the ovaries; other tissues in the body also produce hormones that can affect reproductive health. Some of these hormones not only support your fertility but also help regulate a variety of tissues and functions in the body. A good example is estrogen, which promotes health and regeneration in many parts of the body, not just in your reproductive organs.
What does menopause feel like?
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms women experience as they approach and go through menopause: hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, weight gain, vaginal dryness, breast tenderness, bladder issues, headaches, mood changes, forgetfulness, slow thinking, joint pain, hair thinning, skin changes, dry eyes and mouth, vision and hearing problems, thinning bones, changes in cardiovascular and metabolic function (think blood pressure, cholesterol levels, diabetes, etc.). You may also develop anxiety or depression.
Some of these changes come on gradually, others draw your attention rather suddenly. Most of them can be due to natural aging, menopause, or both. In rare instances, they can be harbingers of illness. Not every women experiences all of these symptoms.
What’s important is that we pay attention to ourselves, learn as much as we can about the natural changes in our bodies, talk with each other about them, and ask our health care providers for more information. Many of the symptoms we experience before, during and after menopause become more tolerable when we know that they’re a natural part of the transition and may eventually subside—especially the hot flashes. Conventional medicine offers hormone therapy and other pharmaceutical treatments, if needed. But a smarter way to go about it is to support the body and mind with natural strategies that promote health and well-being. And that’s what the next two segments are all about.
© 2023 Christiane Siebert