Menopause expert Ellen Dolgen made a video featuring dancing ovaries that got me thinking. What even IS menopause? And why do we think it's so weird? Here's what's up. It's not weird. Its just your body (and biology!) functioning correctly.
Did you know that the symptoms of menopause are essentially the symptoms of withdrawal?
Yep, withdrawal. That crazy intense process that you think about as only happening to people who are rehabbing cold turkey from heavy drug or alcohol abuse. But for women, it's a different kind of withdrawal.
It's estrogen withdrawal.
Menopause (and perimenopause!) is what the female body goes through when the level of estrogen the female body produces gradually (or sometimes dramatically) drops. The estrogen factory doesn't close up completely, but it does produce less. This creates an imbalance in the hormones and, thus, the withdrawal symptoms.
To put that into perspective, puberty is when the estrogen factory opens. Until the hormones balance out, the young female body gets essentially "drunk" on estrogen!
Every woman goes through estrogen withdrawal. And it can be intense.
This was my reaction as well when I learned this body hormone science stuff. I'm not even kidding when I tell you that I had no idea that's what menopause actually is. And I thought I knew things about things!
Estrogen withdrawal has some seriously hefty physical AND mental side effects.
Estrogen regulates body temps, so hot flashes are a major side effect. Estrogen also helps a body's intake of serotonin (which regulates mood), so when that's going bye-bye — hello mood swings! As if those aren't enough, there's also memory loss, weight gain, headaches, itching, dryness, pain during sex ... just to name a few possible symptoms!
"Half of women aged 45 to 60 years report experiencing menopausal symptoms. Of those, 69% reported that their symptoms have a negative effect on their lives."
— Endocrine.org, 2012
That's nearly 7 out of 10 women legit suffering from estrogen withdrawal.
It's not weird. It's a woman's body doing its thing.
And when you're not quite at menopause, you'll wind up in PERImenopause. Which is like exponential PMS.
Despite this being a real thing with real(ly negative) symptoms, only a fraction of women reported speaking to their healthcare providers about getting help.
Sounds like it's time to get the word out: When estrogen ain't there, the body needs to get used to it. Plain and simple. Estrogen withdrawal and menopause are real things with real symptoms, and real help is available!
Women don't have to suffer through this alone.
Just like there are people — entire facilities! — to help with withdrawal from other substances, women are in luck. Actual satisfactual specialists exist to help anyone suffering from estrogen withdrawal. There are specific doctors for menopause who can figure out what can help ya through this.
There are even movements around "conscious menopause" where instead of the old-fashioned view of postmenopausal women like, "Your ovaries are so OLD the key on Ben Franklin's kite was to their apartment"* to "You're going from a mother to a queen" vibes.
So, congratulations, organs doin' your menopause and perimenopause science dance!
The science in you is working. Cool.
Take it away — and bring on the details — singing uterus!