Menopause is defined as the end of menstruation and its onset is determined after a woman has not had a period in twelve months. Once a woman reaches menopause, she no longer ovulates, her ovaries produce less oestrogen, and she is unable to become pregnant. Menopause can occur naturally or be induced by the surgical removal of a woman’s ovaries and/or uterus (hysterectomy). Despite an increasingly popular tendency to view menopause as a disease that needs to be fixed or cured, it is not.
Menopause is a naturally occurring sign of healthy aging. Menopause marks a time of tremendous change in women’s hormonal balance. During childbearing years, in addition to their role in producing ova (egg cells), the ovaries also have the distinction of being an endocrine gland because they secrete hormones—primarily oestrogen and progesterone (as well as testosterone) —that are vital to normal reproductive development and fertility.
With the onset of the menopause there is a marked drop in all these hormones. Menopause occurs through the natural or surgical cessation of estradiol (an oestrogen-class hormone responsible for many female characteristics and women’s bone health) and progesterone production by the ovaries. After menopause oestrogen continues to be produced in lesser amounts in the ovaries and in some other soft tissues throughout the body, including the brain. Testosterone continues to be produced at lower levels, primarily via the adrenal glands, which are also part of the endocrine system.
The onset age and symptoms of the menopause vary greatly and are affected by many things including lifestyle, genetics and environmental pollutants. The average age for menopause is 52, with anything between the ages of 48 and 54 constituting a normal range. Apart from that, there is little general agreement on what the normal ‘symptoms’ of menopause are. Depending on the research you read, the symptoms can range to as many as 40 reactions encompassing your physical, mental and sexual expression, including hot flushes, depression, and a decrease in libido.
In one study, 21 per cent of post-menopausal women said they never suffered any effects during “the change,” and another 20 per cent of women in the same study said they experienced menopausal symptoms that were severe enough to drive them to seek medical help. Over 47 per cent of the women studied had no symptoms in the years immediately preceding the onset of the menopause, a time frame called perimenopause, and the other half did.
Very little research has been done on the perimenopausal period—the time immediately before the menopause actually begins—but it’s clear that many of its symptoms are associated with ageing and not necessarily linked to the menopause itself. In one study, some perimenopause symptoms, such as hot flushes and irritability, actually disappeared as women aged and moved into menopause itself.
With such a confusion of overlapping symptoms, experiences and multiple causes—some causes as precise as the cessation of estradiol production and some as vague as the term “aging”—it comes as no surprise that there is a tendency to blame the menopause for an enormous spectrum of health problems women may experience as they move into their 40s and 50s. This despite the fact that men also go through changes in their early 50s, often complaining of similar symptoms, such as a decrease in libido, bladder problems, dry hair and skin, panic attacks, depression, and aching muscles and joints.
If you would like a deep-dive into the real pros and cons of HRT and other conventional therapies, the extraordinary changes that can be achieved with supplements and dietary changes, and other lifestyle changes you can make—all adding up to an easy and comfortable menopause, then check out our Menopause report here.