- Tania Elfersy
Calm after the storm: perimenopause, menopause, the brain, HRT, dementia and Alzheimer’s
The UK media has been busy creating a storm, this time around issues of perimenopause, menopause, HRT and brain health.
The storm had three phases.
In the build-up phase, the media told us that there’s a shortage of HRT.
In the next phase, which represented the arrival of the eye of the storm, Channel 4 broadcast a menopause documentary hosted by Davina McCall, entitled “Sex, Mind and the Menopause.”
In the third phase, we saw widespread fallout as emotionally-charged debates about the Channel 4 programme flooded social and mainstream media.
Throughout the storm, I’ve witnessed three themes, pushed out so predictably! The themes are:
1. Victim mentality
2. Fear of disease
3. A pharma (so-called) solution!
It’s been stunning to watch the far-reaching impact of some intense media programming.
So how about we have a Wizard of Oz moment: let’s pull back the curtain, gather clarity and restore calm.
Phase 1: We’re told there’s a shortage of HRT
According to the UK media, an HRT shortage had been simmering for months, but in the weeks leading up to the Channel 4 programme, which aired on 2 May 2022, it appeared to blow up. Here are just some of the headlines from two weeks prior to the programme, from the BBC alone:
Sleepless nights for women due to HRT shortage
'The thought of running out of HRT is terrifying'
Women forced to black market for HRT
'I've heard of women taking their own lives'
HRT rationed amid continuing shortage in UK
When you click on these articles, it’s interesting to note that women are making claims about supposed benefits of HRT that many doctors would not feel comfortable making. Doctors certainly used to make these claims, but as the science became clearer (because medicine actually thought it might be a good idea to carry out some large Randomized Controlled Trials on HRT), most doctors and menopause organizations felt it was time to change their tune!
I wonder how convenient it is for pharmaceutical companies that women are being interviewed by the media and claiming HRT prevents slipped discs, migraines, sleeplessness, memory loss, suicidal tendencies, aggression, skin problems and more.
But why, you might ask, would HRT manufacturers be interested in creating an increase in demand when supply is short?
Well, according to the UKs Minister for Women's Health, Maria Caulfield, "There are over 70 HRT products available in the UK, most of which remain in good supply.”
Pharmaceutical companies are looking to create long-term customers for their products. What do a few supply issues on some products matter to the industry as a whole, when a woman who might be convinced to take HRT from all the free advertising disguised as news stories, could well become a customer for around seven to ten years? And if she attains HRT when there is a nationwide shortage, won’t she feel even luckier?!
We only need to think back to the toilet paper fiasco of Spring 2020, which was created from no actual original toilet paper supply shortage, to remember some interesting things about how humans can behave when they believe a certain product might soon be out of stock.
At this point, for those who are unfamiliar with the spirit of this blog, I would like to point out the following:
1. I do not believe women should suffer with their symptoms during perimenopause and menopause and I believe they should have access to accurate information to make informed choices as to what can help them.
2. I do not wish to belittle any woman’s experience, especially if she has faced hardship from what appears to me to be a supply shortage of certain HRT products, designed for long-term profit. Quickly coming off a hormone-based product can indeed create severe symptoms – I hope the women experiencing such systems are receiving the support they need.
3. I never give advice to women on any medications, including HRT.
4. I write blog posts such as this one to promote transparency and to inform women of where there is solid science and where there isn’t. I’m also very keen on debunking myths about women’s health and sharing an understanding of peri/menopause that is nourishing to women as they journey through change.
5. I am highly aware of the conflicts of interest that exist in the media due to the unchecked reach of the pharmaceutical industry through investments, common ownership and the known interests of certain media board members. These conflicts of interest do not serve the health of populations but can indeed cause harm.
6. I believe that doctors (those who appear in the media and those who you consult with) should be required to disclose potential conflicts of interest – funding, paybacks, gifts received from certain pharmaceutical companies and other industry players – which may sway their opinions and judgement. This information should be available freely. Currently, it is not!
Phase 2: The Davina McCall TV programme
Leading up to the programme “Sex, Mind and the Menopause,” menopause groups on social media were ablaze with anticipation. Even the BBC promoted the Channel 4 programme a day ahead of it being aired! Is that normal?
McCall had already established herself as an HRT advocate, and as someone who is committed to bringing discussions around perimenopause and menopause to the fore. I’m all for the latter (I’ve been doing that since 2015), but I’m trying to think of another medication that has a certain media personality acting as if they are the pharmaceutical spokesperson.
McCall is happy to share her menopause story and I understand why a lot of women can relate. She was in a flourishing career when suddenly her perimenopause symptoms left her feeling like she was falling apart. McCall claims HRT saved her. I’m happy that it helped her turn her life around.
However, many women have negative experiences with HRT. Others are advised not to take it because of past medical and family histories. And there are women who simply do not feel comfortable taking HRT because of safety concerns.
In the Channel 4 programme, McCall admitted that [even a few years into her unofficial menopause mentor role] when women asked her what advice she would offer to those who can’t take HRT, she never knows what to say. Really???
This is even more shocking since McCall claims here that she’s an advocate of natural health and she doesn't even take Nurofen. In the programme, there were fleeting mentions of natural approaches that can offer symptom relief – stress management, exercise and nutrition – but these were given almost no consideration and were always followed with the idea that there was something that came in a packet that would be better – there’s a pill/gel/patch for that!
As the programme “Sex, Mind and the Menopause” progressed, it felt more and more like an informercial. Is this what TV has become today? (I don’t know since I don’t watch much of it at all.)
I lost count of the number of existing and future pharmaceutical products that were given a free plug. Although, was it free?
At one point, McCall held two pharmaceutical products in her hands. She showed how she would use one of them, a gel, so as to “demystify” the process (so she told the viewers). At another point, the programme gave more than seven seconds of screentime to a picture of a testosterone product that isn’t even licensed in the UK for menopause symptoms. The programme was encouraging woman to demand it for off-label use. I kept wondering who has just got paid what?
Since HRT is hit every few years with another safety scare, shouldn’t the media’s job be to give us the whole picture of HRTs possible benefits and risks? The survey that McCall kept referring to in the programme also found that 79% of women who were polled, had never used HRT. From that it might be fair to conclude that there was concern for risks around HRT and actually the audience might be more interested in natural remedies!
What exactly was going on here?
It felt to me that we were going back in time.
McCall has stated in this interview that she believes women are suffering at midlife because we never used to live beyond menopause. It’s an old myth, which is easy to debunk, as I do so here. She also appears comfortable to hear doctors describe menopause as a “long-term hormone deficiency” (you know, like a disease – find out the misogynistic origins of that expression here), and she herself describes perimenopause on the Channel 4 programme as “menopause’s evil little sister!”
That’s not a joke; it’s mind control!
When a GP is featured as the expert voice to encourage women to take the unlicensed testosterone product that the programme promoted, the GP explains how in menopause, we lose 3 hormones and currently, we only replace 2! “Who thought of that?” she asks, aghast.
How about we ask instead: who thought it was a good idea that we drop our levels of three hormones come midlife?
Perhaps the answer points to something with infinitely more intelligence!
A few years ago, it certainly felt like we were moving away from the idea that a woman’s body was innately stupid and designed to malfunction come perimenopause and menopause. McCall and her medical friends seem determined to drag us back there.
And I haven’t even reached the main message of the programme!
McCall was most excited by research published in 2021 in the US, which claims that the long-term use of HRT protects your brain and reduces the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases by up to 80%.
Interestingly, since the research was published, neither the North American Menopause Society nor the British Menopause Society (BMS) have embraced the research’s conclusions. In fact, following the hysteria generated by the claims in the Channel 4 programme, BMS issued a statement which said:
“Women should be reassured that HRT is UNLIKELY to increase the risk of dementia or to have a detrimental effect on cognitive function in women initiating HRT before the age of 65. However, HRT SHOULD NOT BE INITIATED FOR THE PURPOSE OF REDUCING THE RISK OF DEMENTIA in postmenopausal women and at this time, there is not enough evidence to support prescribing HRT for prevention of dementia.”
(I changed certain words to CAPS for emphasis.)
BMS is not an organization that is shy of recommending HRT for chronic disease prevention, even when most of the other national menopause societies in the world (including NAMS) are far more cautious. Given that fact, the above statement should be enough to allow us be a little less excited (or less fearful) about this so-called ground-breaking research from 2021!
If you want more evidence, however, you can read the research paper itself and then wonder why, for example, would an observational study of the effects of HRT on dementia and Alzheimer’s only have an average follow-up time of 5.1 years, when women generally take HRT at midlife and are at risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s much further on down the line?
You might also ask why there is a media buzz over research that claims benefits for women if they are still taking HRT at 65, when most women are off HRT well before they reach that age because the Women’s Health Initiative (a large randomized controlled trial which was abruptly halted in 2002) found that post-menopausal women taking oestrogen and progesterone combined hormone therapy had an increased risk of heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, blood clots, and urinary incontinence. Following the WHI findings, HRT manufacturers and their advocates criticized the study for including women well beyond the menopause age. Now it seems, they want us to believe that HRT taken 14 years after the average age of menopause is back in vogue.
You might also like to take a look at this large research, conducted in the UK and published in April 2022, which had a longer average follow up time and found NO connection between taking HRT and reducing a woman’s risk of dementia.
I also encourage you to research an additional claim made in the programme: that the leading cause of death among women in the UK is dementia and Alzheimer's. Does that sound right to you? Let's pull back the curtain some more!
In 2011 and 2014, the UK government made changes to the codes used in registering cause of death with regards to dementia and Alzheimer’s. This hugely increased the numbers of deaths attributed to these two conditions, but only in the UK, where the codes used on death certificates had been changed. So, for example, in 2001 in the UK, 21,686 causes of death were attributed to dementia and Alzheimer’s, while by 2018, this number had risen to 51,4017 cases.
So yes, while it is technically correct that dementia and Alzheimer’s are the leading cause of death among women in the UK according to government statistics, there’s something peculiar about the UK’s government statistics, especially when compared to neighbouring European nations!
Nonetheless, if dementia and Alzheimer’s concern you, McCall did briefly disclose two natural ways to significantly reduce your risk of both diseases, according to the same doctors who want you to take HRT until you reach 65! Exercise and a Mediterranean diet were both found to generate a significant risk reduction. So why not discuss them at more length on the programme? Perhaps because olive oil producers don’t tend to have overlapping interests with media companies and women can exercise for free!
Phase 3: The fallout
As mentioned above, according to the programme’s own survey, around 80% of menopausal women have never taken HRT. If we assume the viewers of “Sex, Mind and the Menopause” are divided in a similar way regarding HRT use, given that the programme’s main message was that if women don’t take HRT over a long period of time, then they’ll significantly increase their risk for the leading cause of death among women in the UK, what do you think happened?
I’m reminded of a tweet that caught my attention recently: "When the media controls your emotions, they control every cell in your body."
Unfortunately, many women innocently let a TV programme (that was promoting questionable research) drive them into fear-based thinking about their health…which of course, is not particularly healthy.
Women expressed their worries about how bad it must be that they aren’t on HRT, or weren’t on it for long enough. They felt they were putting themselves in harm’s way. Others stated that even though their doctors had advised them against HRT due to existing health conditions and family histories, they would return to beg for it regardless. Women were in tears and frightened.
Do you really want us to believe that the team behind “Sex, Mind and the Menopause” couldn’t have predicted this outcome?
I’m not buying it!
FLIPPING THE NARRATIVE
THEME 1: Victim mentality AND how we can move away
Within one hour, “Sex, Mind and the Menopause” rolled back the clock in what they declared was an HRT revolution, to reinforce the OLD idea that menopausal women are essentially victims – victims of their raging hormones, of their bodies that are somehow designed to malfunction, of a medical system that hadn’t told them about the supposed increased risks of chronic disease from a completely natural part of our life-cycles.
Even though the programme also tried to shine a light on the challenges of menopausal women at work, and gave examples of how women are helping each other with mental health struggles, the main take home message that was all over social media by the next day was you’re a victim unless you save yourself via the pharma route.
But women do not have to internalize this story of victimhood!
Nature is run by an infinite intelligence. Women’s hormones and bodies cannot operate disconnected from this intelligence, even if the fantastical stories medicine feels compelled to market us about female biology state otherwise.
Low human consciousness can disrupt nature. Just as we can pollute mother earth, so we can pollute our bodies, mentally, spiritually and physically. When this happens, it’s possible to knock nature off its path of wellbeing. Luckily, nature always tries to return – it’s always looking for a way to restore balance.
When women enter midlife carrying mental and/or physical chaos, it is not our hormones that start running wild! Our hormones are not out to get us and we are not victims of their fluctuations. The ancient dance of midlife change was always on the cards and our bodies know exactly how to navigate it, but if the conditions that we have created through our lifestyle choices are in conflict with our innate health, symptoms can start to develop to make us aware that we are off balance.
It could just be that stressful, fast-paced lives, for example, are not suitable in the years of change. It could be that our bodies are guiding us elsewhere to preserve our own health as we grow older. Are we prepared to listen and take responsibility for the ways we live?
THEME 2: Fear of disease AND what if fear isn’t needed?
Usually, chronic disease does not spring up on a person; there are warning signs along the way. In addition, while cases of chronic disease increase among the population from midlife on, it does not mean that a life with disease is inevitable.
When we hold on to a fear of disease, we buy into a story that the body is designed to move towards decay. That story is made up. Yes, the body changes, and no-one gets out of this life alive, but the body’s default is always good health and retaining good health is far more dependent on our lifestyle choices than we are often comfortable admitting.
Fearing disease serves the huge pharmaceutical industry. When we fear our own bodies, we look for something outside of us to fix us. But what if our own body was the best health guide and healer we could ever wish for?
We have become so detached from listening to our bodies that we negate the messages that can be learned from any kind of symptom. If we go through midlife medicating away signs of our body’s distress rather than wondering what our bodies want us to know, we miss the chance to learn and change.
Embracing change at midlife and understanding how we create health from within, bring us back to the path of innate wellbeing. We are supposed to be on this path to protect our health in later years.
If you are worried about brain health for whatever reason, why not check out this discussion about the lifestyle choices made by people in Blue Zones? Blue Zones are areas in the world where life expectancy and health are exceptional. When research was carried out in Blue Zones to discover the nine common factors that promoted good health and long life, guess what wasn’t listed? Long term use of pharma products and media-promoted fear of disease!
Ask yourself, what feels nourishing and what gives you hope and a better feeling? There’s truth right there! Wouldn’t you rather follow the proven path of people living healthy lives in Blue Zones, for example, than worrying about disease, possible side-effects of medication and supply chain issues?
THEME 3: The so-called pharma solution AND why it’s possible to go a risk-free natural route!
From years of research into the history of hormone-based treatments for women, here is what I discovered: all treatments started with high hopes and grand promises. When the dust settled and more serious research was carried out over a longer period of time, a very different picture emerged, with far more risks than were originally disclosed.
Of course, the pharmaceutical industry would rather we don’t learn from history. They want us to believe that the science is more solid these days, and bioidentical HRT is not the same as HRT. Well, it’s true that there is difference in oestrogen derived from horse piss and a product derived from wild yams. However, bioidentical HRT products are not suitable for everyone either – some women do have negative reactions to them just as some women have negative reactions to HRT. Using bioidentical HRT is not necessarily as benign as perhaps eating a wild yam, which is packaged by nature.
In addition, bioidentical HRT products vary hugely, and there is scant research on their possible long-term effects on a woman’s body.
As I mentioned above, I don’t give advice on medications. I also work with lots of women who take a variety of medicines and supplements and that is their choice and their journey. Short-term, there can be a place for symptom suppression when it allows us to see something new about our own health. Long-term, it appears to hinder the need for change when change is due, and as many women discover when they complete their course of HRT, symptoms can come flooding back, leaving them where they started, just further on in life.
I encourage women to get curious about why we think we need to replace the hormones our bodies are naturally depleting at midlife? Also, is it possible that while our fluctuating hormones can create a sensitive time in a woman’s life (as they do in our teenage years, during pregnancy and postpartum and during perimenopause and menopause), could it be that our symptoms are created by a life out of balance rather than the hormones themselves?
I’m delighted to share that since 2015, I’ve been working with women who have achieved perimenopause and menopause symptom relief naturally and simply, without tampering with their hormones! I started this work after I healed my symptoms from within, and realized what actually creates symptoms and what can bring symptom relief.
Once we relax into the comforting truth that our bodies know how to keep us in good health, even as our hormones are fluctuating and post menopause, transformation is possible.
Healing takes presence, it takes listening, it takes trust and yes, with all the noise out there that is selling a different message, it might take a bit of resilience.