by Sophia Kreuz
Hot flashes, mood swings, aches and other pains in the…well, beside the butt. This is what a lot of people associate with menopause. And I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t given it much thought until recently. Every once and a while I’ll be with my mom or an older friend and hear that familiar phrase “Ugh! I’m having a hot flash.” For the most part this is what I associated with menopause, that and having wacky hormones for a year or so. (Yay, puberty all over again, as if that wasn’t fun enough the first time!) However, I’ve come to learn there is a lot more to consider pre-menopause and during the change itself.
Enter the Blood Cycle Conference.
BCC aims to re-write the significance of “period” from taboo to holistic, and menopause is part of that conversation. For the past week organizers have been hosting Twitter and Facebook Q&A sessions on the subject of menopause with Bronwyn Simons of Vivid Menopause and naturopath Lara Briden, author of “Period Repair Manual.” I was fascinated to learn that there was so much more that happens during menopause, not to mention, things that should and can be done to prepare for it.
Obviously the first question to come up during the Q&A was about hot flashes, asking what Simons’ take on it was. She responded with a link to her blog post on just that subject. Simons does not describe her hot flashes with the stereotype of sweating and feeling overheated, but actually feeling like her skin was on fire and that she was bathing in lightning, adding that “it’s electrical.” I had never heard this before. I thought along the lines of many others, that they are “the classic menopausal joke…something to make fun of, or be slightly ashamed of. A weakness. A symptom. A punchline,” as Simons writes.
But hot flashes are nothing we should be ashamed of; instead, we should think as Simons does and consider them “the fires of transformation” that can encourage us “to cultivate a new relationship with your inner fire.” Simons also thoughtfully provides a list of remedies to help mediate hot flashes when they arise, which includes staying hydrated, cutting down on things like caffeine and alcohol, healthy eating and regular cardio workouts.
Simons notes that while hot flashes are the stereotypical symptom associated with menopause, only about 30-40% of women experience them.
Lara Briden also added that while we don’t yet know the exact mechanism which causes them to occur we do know they are affected by the drop in estrogen. “But thyroid, insulin sensitivity, and HPA axis (adrenal) all play a role,” Briden said. She suggests quitting sugar can help when struggling with hot flashes as well as a combination of magnesium and taurine.
Another part of menopause I hadn’t considered was the internal struggle that happens. A commenter raised questions around the need to go within and pull away or retreat from people, activities, or work. Simons responded that this was universally common with women at some point in the transition, and encouraged women to consider it part of the journey to the underworld from which we will return wiser than before. She regards this period as a “potentially powerful time, though our culture frowns upon this kind of rest and renewal.” Simons says that this pulling away and diving within oneself could be caused by a multitude of things like health or marital challenges, fatigue, adrenal burnout, changes in or at employment, empty nest, or depression.
A similar line of inquiry with the internal struggle was the discussion of depression. It is pretty well documented that when your hormones are out of whack, your body is under stress or you’re going through a major change, that depression can arise. One commenter expressed her frustration around crying for no reason. Both Briden and Simons took the questions seriously, saying no matter what, the struggle with depression should not be discounted or minimized. Simons suggests this is a signal to slow down and assess what stresses or triggers might be affecting your mind and body.
Both Briden and Simons said if depression is persistent, seeking a remedy of hormonal supplements, such as bioidentical estradiol and progesterone, can help. Briden also suggests looking at thyroid issues as a possible cause, as menopause and thyroid disease often coincide.
I ventured in to the session at one point to ask what preparations could be made before menopause happens. Briden encouraged women to establish regular ovulations and regular periods, and promote the healthy decline of estrogen, instead of having it happen rapidly. I followed up by asking what women in their twenties could do to help on this journey later in life. She suggested not taking hormonal birth control. This would help calibrate hormone receptors to a normal level of hormones.
Other great questions included the history of women and menopause before the 20th century, to which Briden linked to this fabulous piece in HuffPo that looks at menopause across time and continents. Sleep disturbance was said to be the most distressing but one of the least mentioned symptoms. A great series of questions and answers came up around rejuvenating libido and how female sexuality and sexual desires are misunderstood during and after menopause. When will menopause happen for women? It looks to be all linked to genetics.
Interesting fact: orcas and pilot whales are the only other creatures outside of humans that go through menopause.
I most certainly haven’t been able to cover all the thoughtful questions that were asked, but you can see them and the answers for yourself on the BCC2016 Facebook group or on Twitter by searching #VividMenopause.
Both Simons and Briden left me feeling a lot more knowledgeable about the road that lies ahead of me, and the many others that joined us. From Simons, I’ve taken away a better idea of how to reconcile the changes my body will be going through as a journey, and to embrace them and understand them on a deeper level than just a symptom of this temporary transition. From Briden I understand more of the science behind menopause and how to react to these changes, and more ideas of what I can do before the transformation begins.
If you would like to join in a Q&A session with some of the great and knowledgeable speakers for the conference, be sure to check out the Blood Cycle Conference Facebook page for more details and dates. And don’t forget to support our Kickstarter! Bronwyn Simons and Lara Briden are on board as conference speakers and it can’t happen without you!