Part I: Menopause and Aging

Menopause and Aging: Estrogen Ain’t the Whole Story!

The story goes that menopause symptoms come about because of aging ovaries and sex hormone decline. Part of that is true. But that story is not the whole story.

Shifts in sex hormone production are part and parcel of the menopause transition. But not every woman has menopause symptoms. Plenty of women have no complaints from the body. There are even women whose skin stays mostly wrinkle-free, taught, and supple way past menopause! Even when their hormone levels are on par with women who struggle mightily with menopause symptoms, these women don’t seem phased. Why? We’ll explore this question in this series.

It’s fair to say there’s more to menopause symptoms than ovaries saying, I quit.

Otherwise, every menopausal woman through all of time would have symptoms. The old story about ovaries and hormones is too simplistic. Yes, the body responds to these changes. I don’t want to mislead you into thinking it doesn’t. The trouble is that focusing on hormones alone makes a problem out of this passage. Strict emphasis on hormones also does not take into account the beautifully complex ecosystem that is a woman’s body and person.

Menopause Doesn’t Have to Be a Struggle

What can we learn from women who seem to breeze through menopause and ‘never’ age? If you ask them, they’ll tell you that, for the most part, their weight hasn’t really changed. They still want good sex and have the energy to say yes to that desire.

They may have had occasional breast tenderness, menstrual cramping every once in a while, and maybe some PMS type of mood swings, but nothing too out of the ordinary. They’ll likely say they’ve had a hot flash on occasion and perhaps woke in the night in a sweat, but those episodes have been few and far between. Maybe they don’t sleep as well as they used to. They get a little more tired at day’s end, but by and large, for these women, life goes on without a fuss.

Of course, these women are aging. You can see they’ve passed thirty-something, but you swear they look 10, 15, 20 years younger than they are. And by look, I don’t mean society’s definition of youthful beauty. I mean vibrancy, glowing wellbeing that exudes vitality.

These women may hold a secret for the rest of us.

menopause and aging

Honoring the Menopause Passage

How might women journey through midlife and beyond in ways that honor the body–self? My sense is that question might have something to do with the earlier one about what we can learn from women who seem to glide effortlessly through menopause and into the second half of life. Honoring the menopause process grants a cease-fire to the war we wage on our bodies.

If we let loose the grip of the ‘hormones on the decline’ story, we come into a new relationship with menopause. We come into our own experience and tell a story that feels true. We claim our bodies, ourselves, as whole and always changing. We glimmer at a new way of knowing and being in the world.

Celebrated Black American writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Honoring our body–self through menopause and aging brings us home to what we already know but have been searching for all of our life.

Gateway to Vibrant Wellbeing

  1. What sensations, images, words, or reflections come to you as you read about women who glide effortlessly through menopause and into the second half of life?
  2. What sensations, images, words, or reflections come to you as you imagine honoring your whole body–self through menopause and aging?

Next Up

Part II: Adapting through a Sea Tide of Change

Explore More

For further reading, please check out the studies below.

References

  1. Malutan, A, Costin, N, Duncea, I, et al. Interleukin-8 and vasomotor symptoms in natural and surgically induced menopause. Acta Endo. 2013;9(1):133-144. https://doi.org/10.4183/aeb.2013.133
  2. McCrea, FB. The politics of menopause: The “discovery” of a deficiency disease. Soc Probl. 1983;31:111-123. https://doi.org/10.2307/800413
  3. Monteleone, P, Mascagni, G, Giannini, A, et al. Symptoms of menopause –– global prevalence, physiology and implications. Nat Rev. 2018;14(4):199-215. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrendo.2017.180
  4. Thomas, AJ, Mitchell, ES, Woods, NF. The challenges of midlife women: Themes from the Seattle midlife women’s health study. J Womens Health. 2018;4(8). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40695-018-0039-9
  5. Woods, NF, Mitchell, ES. Symptoms during the perimenopause: Prevalence, severity, trajectory, and significance in women’s lives. Am J Med. 2005;118(12):14-24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2005.09.031

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