Menopause Myths vs. Facts

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We're separating fact from fiction.

Next season on Mythbusters: A whole episode on menopause! We kid, but that would be pretty great. They actually probably could use a few episodes to cover all of the crazy things we've heard. But, we don't think we'll be seeing that on our TVs anytime soon, so instead, we'll talk about some menopause myths we've heard lately here.

Myth: There's nothing you can do about it.
Fact: We know you're strong. We know you can just suffer through your symptoms. But that does not, we repeat, does NOT, mean you should.

Menopause symptoms can range from annoying to debilitating. Have you ever had a hot flash? They aren't fun. Especially when you're in a meeting. Or on your commute. Or at a party. Or at a restaurant. Or when it's a night sweat and you have to change your pajamas and sheets at 3 o'clock in the morning. Or when you have them during all of those times in the same day, because women can experience up to 35 hot flashes per day. And that's just one symptom. There's also vaginal dryness, frequent UTIs, headaches, painful joints, mood swings, sleeplessness, acne, anxiety, and depression. And that's still not all. There are 34 symptoms of menopause.

The good news is, menopause symptoms are treatable, and the answer is actually fairly simple. The reason you experience all of these awful symptoms is that your estrogen levels decline during menopause. And there are over 400 estrogen receptors in your body, all over your body. It's safe to say that it's really, really important in how your body functions and how you feel. So, as your levels fluctuate and eventually decline, supplementing your body's natural estrogen that it's missing with Menopausal Hormone Treatment (MHT) can make you feel way better.

There are lots of ways to take estrogen. Estradiol is the primary estrogen produced by your body, and is the most commonly prescribed estrogen for menopause. Alloy offers FDA-approved, bioidentical (it's molecularly identical to the estradiol your body produces naturally), plant-based estrogen in a few different forms. And they all work incredibly well. 80% of women experience symptom relief, many within just a few days.

As far as estradiol goes, you can choose to take a daily pill, use a transdermal patch that adheres to your abdomen, or use a topical cream to help with genitourinary symptoms (vaginal dryness, itching, and frequent UTIs, to name a few). For women for whom Menopausal Hormone Treatment (MHT) is not a fit, we have other options as well, including low-dose birth control pills for women in perimenopause (you're in perimenopause if it has been less than a year since your last period) and low-dose paroxetine to help with hot flashes. It's important to work with a menopause-trained practitioner to figure out what's best for you.

The point is, you don't have to suffer. Consider that myth busted.

Myth: Taking estrogen is dangerous.
Fact: No. Just, no.

When people talk about the dangers of MHT, they are talking about an increased breast cancer risk. The reason for that is that not only do lots of patients believe it, lots of doctors do, too.

20 years ago, a study from the Women's Health Initiative that had been examining the effects of MHT on menopausal women was abruptly halted. It was widely reported that what the study had found was that women taking supplemental estrogen were more likely to get breast cancer than those who weren't using it. This wasn't true, but a lot of people believed it. Women stopped treating their menopause symptoms with MHT immediately, and the myth has never been completely debunked. Until now.

Thanks to new research from the United Kingdom, we can, once again, confidently say that bioidentical MHT is safe. Women who used estrogen only did not have an increased risk of developing breast cancer over nonusers. And it didn't matter if the estrogen was taken orally or transdermally. There was no increase in breast cancer attributable to the estrogen alone. And, there's no increased risk of breast cancer to women taking bioidentical progesterone, either.

The North American Menopause Society, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Endocrine Society, and at least 10 other medical associations in the US and abroad all agree that for the vast majority of healthy women, supplementing our body's natural hormones as we age is the best way to treat menopausal symptoms, improve our quality of life, and protect against some of the more serious health conditions none of us wants to deal with as we get older.

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Myth: Menopause makes you gain weight.
Fact: Yes, you may gain weight during menopause. But, it's not exactly menopause's fault. We'll explain.

Many women gain weight during menopause. It's a common complaint, with women gaining 5-10 pounds on average. While your fluctuating and declining estrogen levels aren't responsible for that weight gain, they are responsible for where the extra pounds land. And, what do you know? Lowered estrogen levels send weight to your midsection. Fun, right? Another downside of reduced estrogen levels is that you start to lose muscle and gain fat. Since fat is less metabolically active than muscle, it's also harder to lose weight after menopause.

What can you do about it? Pretty much the same things as before. Eat a healthy diet, get in some exercise throughout the week. You know the drill. Adding supplemental estrogen can also help by helping you maintain your muscle mass, and by treating symptoms like sleeplessness and hot flashes, which do not cause weight gain directly, but are associated with it.

Myth: Once you've begun the menopausal transition, you can't get pregnant.
Fact: That is how younger siblings get made.

If you have gotten at least one period within the last year, you are not in menopause yet. Even if you're experiencing tons of symptoms. You are considered to be in perimenopause until it's been more than a year. And if you're in perimenopause, you can still get pregnant. Your chances are lower, but it does happen.

There's good news here, too. If you do not want to conceive, the treatment for menopause symptoms while you're in perimenopause is a low-dose birth control pill. It works in a very similar way to MHT, so it will make you feel way better, and also will provide reliable contraception. Once you are in menopause, you can make the switch to Estradiol Menopausal Hormone Treatment, which is, simply, lower doses of estradiol and progesterone than are in birth control pills!

Myth: Your best years are behind you.
Fact: You're just getting started.

Yes, menopause means the end of your reproductive years. But while menopause can be a frustrating time, it can also be really freeing.

This is the time to feel empowered, self-assured, and unburdened. It's the time to finally start focusing on yourself. It can be really, really wonderful, and in no way does it mean your life is over. You have plenty of living to do!

At Alloy, we believe women over 40 have earned the right to feel fantastic. Menopause is inevitable, but suffering doesn't have to be. If you're experiencing symptoms and aren't being treated, we want to help. It's what we're here for!