“Menopause is a consequence of reproductive ageing and follicular depletion (ovarian failure), yielding very low circulating oestrogen concentrations and biologically disadvantageous metabolic alterations.” [The Evolutionary origin and significance of Menopause www.ncti.gov/articles]

Efforts to understand the evolutionary origin and significance of human menopause have engaged anthropologists and evolutionary biologists for decades. The adaptive hypothesis, views programmed ovarian failure among humans as offering fitness by favouring females who become infertile years before death. Other explanations point to the emergence of significant post-reproductive life expectancy in humans occurring during an evolutionary time when overall life expectancy was short, with death from acute, not chronic conditions. Data gathered from populations going back to Neanderthals and hunter-gatherers give evidence of the likelihood that the menopause evolved with life expectancy of said females to be minimal. As we progressed the life of the post-menopausal woman became longer, some view this as possibly the need of “the family”. We do and seem to have relied on female family members to help with children, then grandchildren and running of the family and home since time immemorial. Hence, even though post-menopausal women are no longer useful for procreation, they are needed in other very important ways. . [Information from The Evolutionary origin and significance of Menopause www.ncti.gov/articles]
“The perception and experiences of menopause vary cross-culturally. However the lack of physiological symptoms such as hot flushes, in some cultures, calls for more explanations beyond social and cultural factors alone. Like other developmental events, menopause is a biocultural experience. Therefore, research on menopause should consider biocultural factors such as environment, diet, fertility patterns and genetic differences that may be involved in the variations of menopausal experience.” [Extract from Springer Link http://link.springer.com/article]

The number of peri-menopausal or menopausal women who have spoken about their feelings and problems with the menopause during their visits to my practice has encouraged me to write this article.

Although there seems to be much more information and help regarding the symptoms of the menopause available, I do feel that it is still a fairly “taboo” subject. Many women are suffering in silence with the symptoms. Not understanding why they suddenly feel “out of sorts”, exhausted, have a feeling of not being able to cope, swinging from feeling euphoric about life to suddenly feeling in the blackest place, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, lack of self-worth and self-esteem and low libido, and many other physical symptoms including those dreaded hot flushes, and heavy, clotty periods, so heavy in some that they dare not leave the house, and which can, at times, leave a woman feeling as though the whole of her insides are being drawn out of her body.

Society these days can find many women reaching this period of their life (no pun intended) often sandwiched between elderly parents, possibly becoming more dependent upon them due to age related ill health, and children in their twenties either still at home or coming home from university perhaps with no settled future of their own. The women are more often than not working themselves, some in very high powered positions. These women are facing many challenges trying to juggle all these separate areas of their lives. They are then faced with this purely natural “change in life” which as we have seen above can be very debilitating.

“The nervousness and uncertainty one discovers just beneath the surface among even the most attractive and successful women edging toward fifty are a testament to the power of the taboo that still surrounds this mysterious ‘change of life’” [www.vanityfair.com/news]

Our brilliant human bodies are balanced very finely by the endocrine system working in harmony. The menopause obviously puts this system into disarray. Imbalances in the endocrine system can cause feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, tiredness and many more symptoms, as the various hormones and their secretory glands fight to balance this confusion. Of course, there are hormone balancing medications both topical and oral which can be used to help balance the lack of oestrogen and confusion of all the other hormones in the endocrine system.

In my practice, as a Holistic Therapist, I try to encourage clients to look at their health from all angles. Looking at their diet, exercise regime, work/life balance, mental health, sleep patterns, social life and the people they surround themselves with.

I encourage clients to talk through their worries and fears about the Reikimenopause, how it is affecting their life and relationships with all the people in their life. I encourage them to use mindfulness meditation practices, which are scientifically proven to help with mind and body related issues. I encourage them to talk to friends of a similar age (who are probably suffering in silence with the same sort of problems themselves and may be relieved that they are not alone in their particular worries too).

I encourage relaxation through massage and also use reiki to help balance mind and body. I have found using reiki to balance the chakra energy system of the body very successful (chakra energy is an ancient concept where it is believed we have seven major energy centres throughout the body. Each of these energy centres relates to our physiological, psychological and physical health including the endocrine (hormonal) system).

If any of the above rings true with you, why not take a few steps to help yourself:

Start to become more aware of yourself – perhaps mark in your diary how you are feeling each day, or throughout the day, by using a smiley face or sad face or a not feeling too bad face illustration (emoticon!!). Over the months you will learn awareness and hopefully be able to understand and even anticipate how you may be feeling in the hormonal cycle. There is no ‘one size fits all’ here. We are all unique individuals and we may feel different every day or throughout the day.

Learn to be kinder to yourself too. E.g. If you are feeling really exhausted, don’t feel you have to go out for that drink with friends or colleagues – they will be going out again some other time when you might feel like it.

Learn to be accepting of yourself and of this time in your life. It will get better.

Remember you are not alone millions of women are going through the same, so perhaps strike up a conversation with a friend.

Take a look at your diet. Are you eating too much processed food? As we get older we often cannot tolerate all the different types of food we used to eat. The fresher and less processed the better. Heavily sugared and processed foods can spike your insulin levels putting your endocrine system under stress and this can cause hot flushes, and put your system into the “fight or flight” syndrome.

The same relates to drinking alcohol. It may be tempting to use alcohol as a stress reliever, but wine for example is full of sugar and again can spike insulin levels as above.

Exercise helps to balance mind and body – but you don’t have to go out running (especially if you have not been running before or for several years) perhaps find a yoga or Pilates class to start off with and try and walk more.

MeditationPractice meditation. Especially useful in the fast pace lifestyles we tend to lead these days. Meditation slows the speed of your brainwaves, allowing the left (thinking [often over-thinking]) side of your brain to relax and the more creative right side of your brain to gently come into play. You can join a meditation class or use one of the many CDs available on the subject of mindfulness or have a look on YouTube and search mindfulness meditation. Or even just play some soothing music in the background as you work (if that is an option) or at home.

There are many ways you can help yourself, but obviously there is always the expert knowledge of your GP. There is constant investigation and progression to the types of medication that can be used to help you through the menopause.

The choice is personal of course. Don’t forget the menopause is a natural progression in life which has been happening to women for millions of years, so it is not an illness, and it may just take a few lifestyle changes to help get you through this part of your life. There is always light at the end of every tunnel as apparently, so I have been told by some older female acquaintances, that life begins again once you get through the menopausal stage of life!!!!

Don’t forget your man! Men are, it is said in jest, also suffer from the Manopause. All joking aside, men do suffer from depleted testosterone levels as they reach middle age. The testosterone hormone does gradually reduce over several years (unlike in women where oestrogen levels can suddenly change). Men can develop an over large belly (beer belly as we call it), man boobs can appear and mental health problems, depression, lack of self-esteem, anxiety and stress can suddenly kick in. So, as well as looking after yourself, try to notice if you man is moody, putting on excess weight or becoming stressed and anxious. All the suggestions above relate to men too i.e. checking diet, exercise, trying meditation, having some ME time.

Be kind to yourself and be kind to your partner perhaps.