Each day, we all receive a heady, eclectic mix of promises into our inboxes. A traditional Peruvian potion for men to get the juices flowing, top tips for making your first million in your lunch break and fail safe guide towards maintaining a memory which will never fade. Just follow these three easy steps, take just one tablet a day, drink this herbal mix and sit back and watch the new you emerge. Job done. These unsolicited missives remain in our junk boxes, their egregious claims dismissed as fanciful.
We tell ourselves we know better than to fall prey to these ‘too good to believe’ guarantees.
But do we?
Can any of us, hand on heart, say we have never submitted to taking to the internet in order to find a remedy after succumbing to an injury, infection, malaise or general feeling of ennui?
Well, this is where the health industry has women at its mercy when they experience the menopause.
Menstruation, pre menstruation, perimenopause and the menopause all remain woefully under researched when it comes to symptoms, treatments and taking women seriously.
Too often, menstruation is only considered in terms of fertility and pregnancy. Yet, women have periods for around three decades and then the fun of the menopause takes over. Some privilege us women have. Research shows that period pain can be on the same pain scale as a heart attack, yet we are expected to down a couple of over priced painkillers, hug a hot water bottle while eating a small mountain of chocolate and get on with it.
And after our bodies have said goodbye to Auntie Flo, the decorators have packed up, you are off the rag and lady business is closed for service, the menopausal journey starts. And this is when women too often feel forced to try every over the counter product that claims to alleviate, nay banish, the pesky side effects of the menopause – and there are quite a few.
Hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, anxiety, reduced sexual desire, vaginal dryness and discomfort, weak bones, weight gain, breast soreness, gum problems fatigue, memory loss, panic disorder and urinary tract infections. In fact, there are 34 widely acknowledged menopause symptoms. Did I mention night sweats…I did? It’s the brain fog.
Head into any pharmacy or health shop and there will be a dedicated aisle for the women facing the end of their menstrual journey. An array of pink and green boxes with abundant foliage on the packaging faces you. Tablets, sprays, powders, tinctures, lubricants and capsules are all there claiming to bring joy to your menopause. Indeed, brands such as Meno Joy and Happi are there waiting to be consumed. There is nothing joyous to be found in sweating, crying, bloating and forgetting your own name. Also, Femarelle, Menopace, Femileve. Like marketing for sanitary products would have us believe we should be rollerblading in white skinny jeans, the menopause is a marketing company’s dream – they are bursting with ideas to promote the feminine dream just waiting to be discovered. Deep down we know that no single over the counter remedy can address that. But, buy goddess we’ll try them. Add to that, iced pillows, magnets you pop into your pants (PSA: you may end up attached to your shopping trolley), specially designed vest tops and underwear, we are there, ready to hand over our cash and hope like hell it works. Even a little bit.
Whether it is libido or low mood, the retail outlets are there to offer their help.
Black Cohosh, Evening Primrose, Red Clover, Isoflavones, Sage, Ginseng, Kava, St John’s Wort, Agnus Castus, Sea Buckthorn Oil, Starflower Oil, Raspberry Leaf, Botanical Female Complex and Dong Quai are among the bottles and packets of remedies you can buy.
So if you choose to, or are unable to, go down the HRT route, it appears you are left with trying herbs and leaves. And they are not cheap, so trying one product out for a decent amount of time to see if there are any positive (or adverse) effects, hits the purse hard.
The British Menopause Society says few complementary and alternative treatment options have proven evidence of effectiveness though individual women will benefit. It is this empirical evidence that women too often feel compelled to accept in a bid to find something, anything which will help.
Online forums are alive with women doing what women do – supporting each other by sharing stories and offering glimmers of hope as well as admitting to the darkest feelings and despair. But the overwhelming feeling is the desperation for answers, validation for symptoms or just someone to listen.
Public information is not available on the amount that women in England spend on over the counter menopause products. However, 17% of British women aged between 40 and 65 use Hormone Replacement Treatment (HRT) and the annual cost of oral HRT is approximately £30 and transdermal HRT is approximately £100 according to a 2015 NICE report.
It’s 2018 and we are being encouraged to talk about, if not boast about, the menopause – at work, with family, with anyone who will listen quite frankly. Shout out about you lack of libido or hormonal amnesia.
But what we really we need is for the medical profession to listen. And then act with adequately funded research. It is not good enough to lament the wide range of symptoms make diagnosis and treatment tricky. Women are not a sub class. We are 51% of the population and we are human beings. And, like periods and pregnancy, women are expected to remain stoic, if not bloom throughout the duration. Indeed, the first line of the NHS website for Treatment Menopause is ‘Not all women want treatment to relieve symptoms of the menopause but treatments are available if you find the symptoms particularly troublesome’. TROUBLESOME!! Like a pesky itch.
In addition, the NICE website says: “Although many women are thought to manage their menopausal symptoms without any contact with a healthcare professional, expert clinical opinion suggests some women ask for support when they are seeing a healthcare professional for another reason. 1.4.3 The information and support offered to women during and after menopause is variable and it is currently thought that many women want more support for managing menopausal symptoms from their GP or practice nurse”
Well, of course some women won’t want treatment, but that should not be the benchmark we are all expected to attain to. There is no badge to achieve. It’s not an endurance test. It is women who are trying to live, work, enjoy and be. It is obvious that many women do not feel able to ask about their symptoms in their own right, but rather as an addendum to another issue they obviously feel is less trivial to bother a medical professional with. This is unacceptable.
So, while it’s all well and good giving women the OK to utter the word menopause in polite society, what we really need it have our voices heard. And actioned.