The menopause is not an illness. If you subscribe to the standpoint currently held by the conventional medical profession, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. Women in many other cultures do not experience the menopause as a crisis demanding medical intervention. Many of them simply do not suffer the physical and emotional symptoms that women in the West are programmed to accept as inevitable. In our society the focus of the menopause is one of loss.

Women are programmed to dwell on loss – the loss of periods, the loss of the ability to create life, the loss of hormones, the problems of the ’empty-nest’ syndrome. In other societies, this time in a woman’s life is seen as one of gain, a time of great wisdom. A time when the emphasis shifts away from doing the chores, working in the fields, to the role of lawmaker and counsellor to younger couples, where maturity and experience make a significant and valuable contribution to the family and society.

What happens at the menopause?

At the menopause women literally run out of eggs. Each woman has a supply of eggs (approximately 2 million) from the moment she is born and over the years they are used up and die off. She finally reaches a certain age when there simply aren’t any more. What the body does then to try to get that woman to ovulate is to release the hormone FSH. This hormone is released every month in a normal cycle but during the menopause, a woman’s body registered that ovulation is not taking place, so even more FSH is pumped out.

The interesting thing is that as the ovaries decline their production of oestrogen, nature has something else up her sleeve. We are also able to produce a form of oestrogen (called oestrone) from our adrenal glands in order to compensate for the decline from the ovaries.

We also produce oestrogen from fat cells, so being ultra-slim will not have health benefits in the long run, particularly if you are going through menopause. Overweight isn’t the answer, either, but from an oestrogen-production point of view, you are better off being slightly overweight than slim.

What are the symptoms?

These vary from woman to woman. Some women sail though the menopause without any symptoms and the only thing they notice is that their periods have stopped. Some of the women I have seen in my clinic report being completely drenched in sweat day and night, and getting up to change their night clothes two or three times a night, or even taking a shower in the middle of the night.

Symptoms of the menopause can include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, declining libido, osteoporosis, ageing skin, lack of energy, joint pains, weight gain, headaches and changes in hair quality. Interestingly, men also experience a lot of these symptoms, with irritability, a declining libido, changes in weight, ageing skin and hair, depression and anxiety. These symptoms are apparently part of the Western ageing process for both men and women, so it’s important not to blame every symptom that you experience on the menopause.