What Is Menopause, Exactly?
“Is it hot in here?”
You say this with a chuckle the first time, because, ha ha, you almost sound like someone in menopause. Which wouldn’t be happening yet, right? You’re strong and healthy. Your big, nonstop life is as vibrant as ever. Tampons fall out of your purse while you’re looking for a pen. If you’re the only one who thinks it’s hot in here, well, that’s just a fluke.
And then it happens again. And again. And a few more times, in rooms where people with sweaters on seem perfectly comfortable. So maybe it’s time to wipe off your upper lip, grab yourself a fan, and figure out what’s happening inside this body you thought you knew.
Unscrambling the mysteries at the end of your egg supply
Nature sent you out of the womb with a big cache of eggs in your little baby ovaries—eggs that produce lots of the hormones estrogen and progesterone for you later on. Every month or so of your adult life, an egg uses its hormone-making magic to drop down and set up comfy accommodations in your uterus for a potential 9+ month stay. If it turns out there’s no pregnancy to hang around for, your egg’s hormones signal your period to come in and strike camp.
At some point, maybe in your 40s, maybe in your 50s, or somewhere slightly earlier or later, you outlive your egg inventory, or eliminate it with a hysterectomy or chemotherapy. No eggs = none of those juicy hormones they used to deliver.
Life without your period is easier, right? Mmmm…maybe not.
Hormones are more than just bringers of zits, cramps, mood swings, migraines, monthly situations, and a desperate desire for chocolate. They actually have your best interests at heart.
They’ve been keeping your cholesterol in check. Protecting your bones. Keeping your heart healthy. Helping you sleep. Boosting your metabolism. Keeping your skin smooth and your hair growing. Supporting your sex drive and keeping you lubed up. Without them, your body goes on a whole new adventure.
Perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause: your new vocabulary words
As if this time of life wasn’t confusing enough, why are there all these different terms for it? Let’s break it down.
The transition to menopause starts with perimenopause. Peri means “near” or “around.” Meno comes from the Greek word for month (now you can see where the words “menses” and “menstruation” come from.) And pause is, you know, like the button.
So perimenopause means you’re near the time when menstruation is going to stop. You can tell you’re in it when your cycles start to veer from their usual pattern. Maybe they slow down. Maybe you skip a few in a row. Maybe you get a big one when you least expect it (and are probably wearing white pants.) Maybe you begin to feel the effects of the hormone slowdown—hot flashes, skin and hair changes, mood shifts, body aches, brain fog, etc.
Technically speaking, it’s perimenopause until you go a full 12 months without having your period. Once you hit that milestone, BAM. That’s your actual menopause. Enjoy the moment, because as soon as you get there, you enter post-menopause.
Whatever you want to call the point you’re at, this change of life is probably going to take a few years, so you might as well get comfortable.
From hot flashes to flatulence, night sweats to nausea, anxiety to insomnia and…wait, is that a hair growing out of your chin?
If you’re seeing noticeable signs of menopause, guess what: you’ve got changes you don’t even know about on the inside, too. Maybe your doctor is even calling you about scary lab reports that point to some of those shifts. It’s time to pay extra attention to your body, understand its new hormone-depleted reality, and find a new balance.
Every woman’s menopause experience is different. How you get through yours will depend on how you feel, how much you miss your hormones, and whether or not you want to do something about it.
Fortunately, you don’t have to tough it out it without help. Your doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy to minimize symptoms. Or you may choose a plant-based, non-prescription supplement like Equelle, which contains an ingredient that has a similar structure to estrogen. It binds to select estrogen receptors in the body and helps keep hot flashes and muscle pain from defining you. *