How to Approach Menopause Holistically
“It is a time of opportunity to live our best lives,” says Dr. Suzanne Fenske.
In today’s society, menopause feels like an unspoken topic. Many conversations surrounding menopause are often left unsaid or shared in whispers within the confines of private friend groups. Outside of individuals who experience symptoms firsthand, menopause is treated as a taboo topic, a mystery. Sometimes, even the butt of cruel, misguided jokes. Menopause is unavoidable, yet it gets swept under the rug. It doesn’t receive the necessary attention it deserves in the realm of women’s health.
Understanding menopausal health
For women, the transition into menopause is marked by changes in their emotional, physical, and metabolic health, gynecologist Dr. Suzanne Fenske tells rē•spin. These changes tend to bring on a shift in mood, including anxiety, depression, and irritability. On the physical health front, there can be an increased risk for body composition variations, heart disease, and osteoporosis. As far as metabolic factors go, changes can range from elevated cholesterol and insulin resistance to thyroid dysfunction and weight gain.
“Just like with puberty and pregnancy, our bodies need different things during this time,” Dr. Fenske explains. “Understanding the changes that take place allows us to prevent health and wellness complications.”
For Dr. Fenske, education and open communication have become key aspects in how she is rē•spinning conversations around menopause, hormonal health, and women’s health in general. During this period of their lives, Dr. Fenske says many women don’t take proper care of — or prioritize — themselves, which may result from the misconceptions surrounding this often-overlooked topic. A lack of education, Dr. Fenske says, is how myths around menopause thrive.
Menopause is hardly a new experience that has come up in the last few decades for women. However, Dr. Fenske says it’s likely that women don’t always make the connection between their symptoms and menopause — even though approximately 75% of women experience them. Even worse, women have been “gaslit to believe that the symptoms they were experiencing were not related to the menopausal transition,” says Dr. Fenske.
What is perimenopause?
When we think about menopausal health, perimenopause is often left out of the conversation. Perimenopause — also called the “menopausal transition” — means “around menopause.” It marks the transition period a woman’s body goes through before hitting menopause. Being aware of this phase can help women proactively approach menopause and take the reins of their health and well-being. This way, they can prevent some of the health complications that come along with this stage of life.
This proactive approach can include getting regular blood work to help prevent medical issues. This can help identify early insulin resistance to prevent a future diabetes diagnosis. Dr. Fenske also suggests controlling elevated cholesterol levels to prevent heart disease and plaque buildup in the arteries. When looking out for one’s mental and emotional well-being, she also suggests better understanding the psychiatric effects of the decline in hormones to help curb the need for potentially unnecessary medications.
“Perimenopause and menopause are the wake-up call,” she says. “It is a time of fresh starts, changes, and trying new things. It is a time of opportunity to live our best lives.”
A holistic approach to menopause health
Women often go through menopause while they are in the middle of, well, life. They still have careers, are caring for their children, or even looking after their parents. Dr. Fenske acknowledges it is difficult to prioritize your health when there are several other factors and responsibilities to worry about. But the focus on one’s holistic health can’t be put on the backburner.
Dr. Fenske emphasizes the power of exercise, specifically strength conditioning, good nutrition, sleep, and stress management, and the positive effect these factors can have in both facilitating a smooth transition into menopause and preventing future complications.
“Sleep is often affected by fluctuating hormones causing night sweats and cortisol spikes,” she explains. “These symptoms can be managed with medications, supplements, and lifestyle modifications. Declining estrogen and progesterone can have an impact on our mental health with new onsets of anxiety, depression, irritability, or moodiness. It is also a time in our lives where our confidence and self-worth are impacted.”
Society undoubtedly prioritizes and celebrates youth to a fault. This adds another layer of complication, making this period of a woman’s life difficult to navigate. At a time when it’s easy to turn away from others, it’s important for women to lean on community as well as friends and family to help combat the ageism rampant in society. It’s an opportunity to embrace the beauty of this change.