- Tania Elfersy
Perimenopause and menopause: you’re not broken and you don’t need fixing
In a webinar hosted by Dr Zach Bush on the topic of nutrition, Dr Mindy Pelz, author of the book The Menopause Reset stated:
“At 40, our hormones are doing a crazy decline . . . so for women who are in menopause . . . boy, do we miss progesterone! I wish I had honored progesterone more when I was 30, but at 51, I’m like, I miss progesterone!”
Dr Pelz is a well-known figure in the alternative health world and the bio-hacking movement.
Her statement immediately reminded me of what Dr Allmen, a mainstream board-certified gynecologist, wrote in her book Menopause Confidential, where she explained how we fail to appreciate estrogen until it’s GONE! In her book, Allman recommends a low-dose birth control pill during perimenopause and then, by the age of 55, she suggests women can graduate to “the wonderful world of hormone therapy.”
Doctors such as Allman, have encouraged women to take synthetically produced estrogen-based medication to overcome their perimenopause and menopause symptoms, while Pelz encourages women to eat progesterone-rich foods if they want to feel better while their hormones are going “crazy.”
I assume that Pelz is focusing on progesterone because the science these days suggests that it’s the levels of progesterone that balance the levels of estrogen.
However, while I’d choose food over medication as an intervention, both approaches rely on longstanding myths that have influenced medical and alternative practices regarding women’s health, to our detriment (as I discuss below), and both approaches arise from the notion that if we can just supplement what is perceived to be lacking in the body, we can bring it back to health.
Believing that “when I just find the right pill or food, I’ll be fixed” is seductive, and a distraction. When we search outside of us for healing, it becomes easy to forget that every symptom that we experience is part of our body’s intelligence, not separate from it. Symptoms arise when our bodies want to communicate with us; this doesn’t change in perimenopause and menopause.
For millennia, women’s bodies have been seen through the eyes of medicine, religion and the state as “not normal” (when compared to the “normal” male). Women’s biology has been considered unstable, prone to malfunction, messy and worthy of suspicion.
Before the twentieth century, most women moved through the events of their life-cycles outside the medical realm. Such events weren’t considered important enough to require much scientific investigation.
However, at the turn of the last century, things began to change. At the same time that doctors began meddling with menopause, by feeding or injecting women with animal ovaries (to compensate for their own “malfunctioning” ones), birth was also becoming medicalized.
The field of gynecology expanded and moved more into the spotlight; there was money to be made and prestige to be garnered.
In hospitals across America, birthing wards opened up and pregnant women were welcomed. After a bumpy (killer) start with “twilight sleep” – the practice of drugging a woman into an unconscious state so that doctors could birth her baby – the drugs used were tweaked for so-called safer options, and neutralizing women in the birth of their own babies became standard practice, continuing even until the 1970s.
Often women entered hospitals to give birth without knowing they would be knocked out and strapped to the sides of the bed in labor. Once these women were untied and roused from their sleeping state, they were introduced to their babies, who they couldn’t remember birthing, and whose heads were often misshaped from the forceps used in delivery – after all, the women birthed those babies while lying down and not involved.
During the ten days of hospital stay that ensued, medical staff would encourage women to feed their babies the more “nutritious and sterile” formula milk instead of breast milk, all approved by science.
In the realm of menopause, by the time that ovarian therapy had evolved into the increasingly popular estrogen therapy (which then became HRT), the pill had also arrived to manage women’s menstrual cycles. Today, a woman can cancel menstruation altogether (if she feels it’s a bother), elect a c-section (if she doesn’t want to push), dry up her milk postpartum (if breastfeeding appears too messy), freeze parts of her ovaries only to have them reinserted come perimenopause, to trick her body into thinking that she is 30, so that, as the theory goes, she’ll avoid the dreaded menopause symptoms.
The new hospital birthing practices, postpartum guidance, management of menstruation, and medicalization of menopause, which emerged from the twentieth century, were all connected and founded on three fundamentally flawed and ultimately destructive ideas that continue until this day to characterize society’s approach to women’s health.
The first idea is that women’s bodies don’t know — we don’t know how balance menstruation, to give birth, how to produce optimum nutrition for our babies, or how to move beyond menopause without “crazy” hormonal fluctuations and decay.
The second idea is that “science” knows best — even when the science is fluid and constantly changing, moulded by dominant beliefs and at any given time what is considered the "latest science" has often replaced a theory that was considered true, until it wasn’t.
The third idea, also held dear by some feminists, is that female biology restricts our power and thus is a barrier that needs to be overcome and manipulated for women to be happy and free.
Together, these ideas have meant that instead of standing in awe at the eternal wonders of the female body and asking how society can support women through their life-cycles, and how modern medicine can perform wonders in exceptional cases that we can all be grateful for, medicine and now many streams of alternative health practices have sought to intervene, fix, and manipulate our life-cycle events. As a result, the power that we can gain at these times is reduced or even taken away from us.
There is knowledge and sovereignty to be gained from tuning into our menstrual cycles, being present at the birth of our children (if motherhood is our path), and embracing midlife change as part of our brilliant design.
We can experience symptoms and challenges during any event in our life-cycle, and when we’re out of balance, nutrition can play a part, so can exercise, sleep and sunlight. Yet, as I’ve argued many times in this blog, so often our symptoms arise from an imbalance in our emotional and spiritual lives. Rather than becoming obsessed with fixing our hormones (synthetically or naturally), returning to our true selves and embracing our innate well-being is all that is needed. It makes much more sense that we can relax into the intelligence of our design and trust that our endocrine system knows exactly what hormones are needed at different times in our lives.
Happily, in the webinar that I referred to at the beginning of this post, Dr Zach Bush concurred:
“Menopause is very specifically designed to increase the longevity of women. It is a very important transition in life. It is not a pathology. It is not a disease process but it can feel like one if you don’t know how to support the body . . . and where we are going wrong is largely around stress management . . . [by the time you reach menopause, you should know] you are the queen!”
As I have seen in my work, once we understand how stress is created and how, regardless of what is going on around us, we can live with far less of it, we can expect miracles from our bodies.
If you’re ready to stop blaming your hormones and wishing to fix them, if you’re ready to fully embrace the power and intelligence in your body, if you’re ready to let your body guide you through this fascinating time in your life-cycle and learn the incredible lessons that will allow you to become the queen, who sits on her throne, or wherever she wants, in good health and joy, I'd be delighted to support you on your journey.
Symptom relief can be achieved without pills, patches, potions, major dietary changes and treatments because your body already knows how to bring you back into balance. The Wiser Woman Course helps you discover your body’s innate intelligence so that you can tap into it to return to wellbeing.
"Since completing The Wiser Women course, I have been able to stop taking bio identical hormones, my hot flushes are gone and my anxiety and my sleep have greatly improved. Before I started the course, I was very unwell and was finding it hard to get through each day. Thank you Tania for letting me know that my body is not broken; it’s guiding me through this stage of my life. I appreciate your advice and wisdom and am so happy to be feeling better!" – Celia, mother of 3 and business owner
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