5 things we learnt from The Truth About Menopause

Smart, sexy, sophisticated – what’s not to love about Mariella Frostrup? She is one of my girl crushes so when I heard she was discussing HRT (hormone replacement therapy) on The Truth About Menopause, I was there (well, I was the next day. I’m a Celebrity was on the same time so…)

Ultimately, though, if you listen to the likes of Women’s Hour or, you know, read there was very little new in this and nothing in-depth, although I was delighted to share similar menopause symptoms as La Frostrup. At last, we have something in common.

Nevertheless, there were a few points that, Carrie Bradshaw style, got me wondering…

Can cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) help the menopause?

In the programme, a group of women went through CBT to try and help their hot flushes, mood swings, night sweats – the menopause, basically.

CBT is a talking therapy in which you’re encouraged to change the way you think and behave. It focuses on your belief systems – that little voice that tells you everything is going to go wrong – and teaches you to turn negative thoughts into positive ones.

I was taught CBT in the early 2000s, during a particularly difficult and stressful period in my life, and it really helped. But could that work on the menopause?

Incredibly, it seems so – there was a 64% reduction in hot flushes, an amazing 95% reduction in night sweats and a general improvement in mood and well-being.

Mainly, this was because the CBT techniques left the women realising that what they went through was perfectly normal and natural for menopausal women. They all said talking about it had helped. It was about “accepting that what you’re going through is normal”, said one, while another said it had made her realise “no one gives a stuff” about how you look during a hot flush.

Best of all was the woman who said: “Take me or leave me, I don’t care. I’m perfectly happy in my own skin.”

I remember with my own CBT course how scary it was to confront your thoughts. It felt as if I was removing a comfort blanket and leaving myself bare and exposed. But it isn’t. It makes you stronger.

And in the menopause, we need all the strength we can get.

Japanese women don’t suffer menopause symptoms

Did you know that? I had no idea.

This was very interesting. They interviewed several Japanese women who all said they didn’t have any menopausal symptoms. The theory is that this is down to their diet, which is heavy in soy.

Sadly, however, this might not be true. Google also threw up a medical study on menopausal symptoms in Japanese-American women in Hawaii and noted there was very little difference between the number of hot flushes they suffered and the number suffered by other women.

The only difference was the Japanese-American women didn’t report suffering as much, probably, said the scientists, because of cultural differences about what is appropriate to report.

But there was some good news. Eating oily fish could help delay the menopause by three years. Granted, this is only good news if you’re not menopausal, like me, but I figure that with all the health benefits oily fish like mackerel and tuna have, eating it during your menopause can only be a good thing, too.

There was also, tied in to the Japanese women, talk of the benefits of soy, with the expert saying one study had reported a 20% reduction in symptoms by taking soy.  This means bumping up our intake of tofu (yuk), miso (double yuk) and edamame beans. However, again, for every report that says soy is good for menopausal, there is another that says it has no more benefits than a placebo.

But Sainos has edamame beans in, so I’m off there. Again, eating healthily with a good mixed diet never hurts. Wonder if there’s soy in Galaxy…

Happy women running

Exercise can help bone density

Having been obese, unhappy and sedentary in my younger years, I know the benefits of exercise – both physically and mentally. So seeing exercise on the programme wasn’t a surprise but I didn’t know there was a link between exercise and strong bones.

I’m a smidgeon over 5ft and last time I went to the doctors, my height had shrunk a bit. Now when you’re only little to begin with, every last millimetre counts so bone density has become something I’m concerned about with the menopause.

Added to that, I can still remember the pain of a severely fractured pelvis after a car crash and a broken arm after horse riding (horse falling, more like) so I’m very aware that I want to keep my bones as strong as possible as I get older.

In an exercise they did on the programme, they found that running could help give you a higher bone density, which makes me very glad I’m back on the old C210K (week four, day three, thanks for asking).

It’s the impact on the skeleton that stimulates the bone cells to repair themselves. Dance is also a great way to do this – and yes, Zumba counts (Yay! I love my Zumba class.)

Weight-bearing exercises are also a plus, so get rid of those fears and get yourself in the Big Boys’ part of the gym. Free weights are better all round than the machines.

And it really bugs some of the men when you’ve got better form than them!!!!!

Menopausal women should have access to a gynaecologist

This really jumped out at me. One of the first things Mariella said (yes, we’re on first-name terms) was that she’d found a wonderful gynaecologist after years of going to the doctor.

I wish.

For the majority of us in the UK, you get ten minutes max with your local GP during which you inevitably forget one key symptom that you wanted to mention. You’re not even guaranteed you’ll get the same doctor for continuity of care.

My two (male) doctors have been great and helpful, but I still have a nagging doubt that I’m being fobbed off with a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. They don’t know the subtleties of menopausal symptoms, nor can they possibly know all the latest studies.

Seeing Marcella’s 1:1 relationship with her gynaecologist made me double down on my feeling that this service should be available for all women going through the menopause.

I doubt if many get it. Google can’t even find a well woman clinic in my area. Is there one in yours? I’d love to know…

Talking is the answer

Women “don’t like to admit they’re menopausal”, said Mariella. I disagree. It’s not that we don’t like to admit it, we’re taught not to admit it.

From birth, women are taught to be quiet and not make a fuss, to be care-givers not receivers. (And we’re our own worst enemies – how many women do you know think the house will fall down if they’re not there taking care of it? “Only women bleed” is so true in many ways.)

But the CBT section – and just the general smiles of the women in this programme as they realised their symptoms were the same as other people’s – showed how important it is that we make a fuss. Grinning and bearing it doesn’t do anything.

So next time you have a hot flush, say so. If you’re feeling moody, say you’re having a horrible time and feeling moody. If there’s a woman you’re age around, she’ll probably understand. If she’s younger, then you’ve prepared her for what might happen.

And if it’s a man – all the better. Women make up more than 50% of the population. Everyone knows one. Everyone has a mam. Knowing what they go through as part of being a woman is important for everyone.

And then we won’t have a stigma anymore and women can get the help and support they need.

Win win.

If you didn’t see the programme, you can catch it on BBC iPlayer (for UK viewers). Let me know what you think. And if you’ve enjoyed reading this, like and subscribe below, follow me on social media and share with your friends. It’s good to talk! Main image taken from the BBC’s The Truth About Menopause.