We debunk common menopause myths to help you embrace your changing body – and an exciting new chapter in your life.
The menopause is a natural part of every woman’s life, but each experience is different. It can be difficult to navigate the horror stories and misinformation about what is in store as you approach this important life stage, making it hard to feel strong as you go through it.
We’ve spoken to the experts to put an end to some of the most common misconceptions and to show that, far from being a time when you need to resign yourself to your symptoms, it’s a time to harness your inner strength, because the menopause can actually mark the start of a fantastic new chapter in your life.
Myth: You’ll gain weight
It’s one of the many fears surrounding the menopause, but it’s also false. “Reaching the menopause doesn’t inevitably mean you will put on weight. In fact, weight gain around this time is often connected to the decline in muscle mass that starts in our fifties, rather than the menopause. Our metabolic rate – the rate at which we burn calories – is related to the amount of muscle we have, so to counteract potential weight gain you could introduce muscle-building, resistance-based exercise into your routine, such as gentle weights,” says nutritionist Fiona Hunter.
Dr Sohère Roked, GP and hormone expert at Omniya MediClinic also recommends gentle exercise such as walking or yoga to keep stress levels in check, because these can rise during the menopause. “When our bodies feel stressed, they put themselves into fight-or-flight mode. The body thinks it is under attack and one of its natural protective mechanisms is to store fat.”
Myth: It marks the end of your sex life
Dr Roked explains that while some women do experience a drop in libido, often it’s because of all the physical and emotional changes affecting their confidence. Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani recommends tackling this by trying to accept ageing rather than fighting it.
“The menopause doesn’t mean shutting the door on enjoying sex,” she says. “Fix what you can fix – ask your GP for a good lubricant if you’re experiencing a physical difficulty having sex – but then try to accept ageing and adjust your expectations. Don’t keep comparing yourself to how you looked when you were 20. You can still look glamorous and beautiful but you’re going to look different. Talk to other female friends who are going through the same thing and share experiences.”
“You can also help improve your libido by eating foods that boost your levels of testosterone,” says Dr Roked. “Include foods rich in zinc and omega-3 fats in your diet, such as oily fish and nuts.”
Myth: Your hair will become dry and brittle
While changing hormones can affect your hair, you don’t have to resign yourself to a lifetime of bad hair days – a little knowledge and preparation can go a long way.
“Keratin, the main protein in hair, is stimulated by oestrogen,” explains Dr Roked. “While oestrogen declines at the menopause, it can be boosted by eating good-quality soy such as tofu and edamame beans. Iron is also very important for good hair because it boosts blood supply and encourages strong hair growth.
“For optimal hair growth you want to be in the top half of the normal range for iron levels. Good sources of iron include red meat and dark, leafy greens. Finally, when our hormones are changing it can cause thyroid imbalances, which can lead to weak, thin hair, so it’s worth getting your thyroid levels checked and treated, if necessary.”
The expert verdict
“Instead of fearing the menopause, we should be celebrating it,” adds Dr Bijlani. “The fertile part of your life is ending but you’ve learnt a lot on the journey to get there and gained so much on the way. You can still look good and be fashionable and glamorous if you want to be – you just have to approach it differently than you did in your thirties and forties.”
“Having a good menopause experience is all about preparation. If you’re approaching the menopause, it’s good to start looking at your diet and lifestyle early on because there is so much help out there and so many things you can do to prepare,” says Dr Roked.
The ‘me’ in menopause
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