Finally… The Changing Conversation on Menopause

By Brenna Kehew Sculley

by ELYSIAN Magazine

The conversation around menopause has been evolving in recent years, with a rapidly increased awareness and recognition of the challenges and experiences faced by women during this transitional phase of life.

As a recent New York Times headline purported, Women Have Been Mislead About Menopause. Rebecca Thurston, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh who studies menopause, contends in the article, “We have a high cultural tolerance for women’s suffering. It’s not regarded as important.” As a result, many women and even some healthcare providers may not have sufficient knowledge about menopause and its potential impact on a woman’s health, leading to symptoms and concerns related to menopause being overlooked or just outright dismissed.

The menopausal transition affects each woman uniquely and in various ways. According to the National Institute of Health, a woman’s body begins to use energy differently, fat cells change, and women may gain weight more easily. She may experience changes in her bone or heart health, her body shape and composition, or her physical functions. While only two “symptoms” of menopause are currently recognized as medical — hot flashes and vaginal dryness — there are at least 32 other common ones that are only now starting to be talked about.

Stacy London, who you may remember from What Not to Wear, notes that menopause is greater than the sum of its parts: “Mood swings, night sweats, anxiety, rage, brain fog, insomnia, food allergies, bloating, burning mouth, muscle fatigue, and joint pain, to name a few. It’s tough to be confident when you sweat through your clothing, can’t sleep, gain weight, cry constantly, rage endlessly, and no longer remember nouns,” she detailed for Oprah Daily.

Menopause is a natural phase in a woman’s life when her reproductive hormones decline, leading to the end of menstrual cycles. While menopause is a universal experience for women, the degree to which it is treated can vary widely.

Menopause has historically been a taboo topic in some cultures and societies. The natural aging process associated with menopause can be seen instead as a sign of lost femininity or youthfulness, leading to societal pressure to downplay or ignore menopausal symptoms. Women experiencing menopausal symptoms may hesitate to discuss them openly due to embarrassment or the belief that these symptoms are a normal part of aging, and that their symptoms aren’t worth trying to mitigate. 

Historically, research focused on menopause has been limited, compared to other health conditions. A dearth of comprehensive research has contributed to a scarcity of evidence-based clinical guidelines for managing menopausal symptoms, leading to variability in treatment approaches. 

This lack of research is perhaps changing now, and the tides are starting to shift. This shift comes as companies are realizing, women of a certain age have a lot of purchasing power.

As Forbes reports, the Coca-Cola Co. and Mass Mutual determined that the group of 40 million American women over the age of 50 represent over $15 trillion dollars in purchasing power and are the healthiest, wealthiest, and most active generation in history. 

According to data from the U.S. Government Consumer Expenditure Survey and Neilson, “Women 50-plus comprise the largest demographic of incomes over a $100,000, controlling 95% of household purchasing decisions, 80% of luxury travel purchases, 82% of them open to new brands, the fastest growing consumer cosmetics segment, 75% willing to pay a little extra for both quality and convenience, 33% willing to upgrade to the latest car model — even if their current one works fine — and 44% wanting to improve their looks more than ever. They are the ultimate super consumer.”

Women are no longer content falling by the wayside as they age. Women are thriving, traveling, dressing in the highest fashion, and not willing to be ignored. 

One result of the newfound investment into this type of research is Astellas Pharma’s new drug, Veozah, which has recently been approved by the FDA, and may signal a new era in the menopause treatment space. 

With new research, old ideas are changing about hormone therapy, a common treatment option for menopause-related symptoms, after its use was deemed controversial at first. As detailed in the New York Times, some research findings and media reports led to confusion and concerns about the risks and benefits of hormone therapy — complicated, of course, by many women underreporting their symptoms and by many healthcare professionals not always taking their reports seriously. 

There is also a boom in companies focused on dealing with aging issues with grace and sophistication. Brands like Hazel sell, among other things, chic disposable underwear (don’t say adult diaper). Evernow, with seed funding from Gwyneth Paltrow, has emerged to provide hormone therapy online, with prescriptions covered by most insurance plans, plus ongoing care from Evernow menopause specialists. Stripes was founded by actress Naomi Watts, because in going through menopause herself, she felt that all women deserve support, solutions, and the space to figure it all out. Offering skincare, vaginal wellness, supplements and more, Stripes understands that while menopause may be part of midlife, midlife is a lot more than just menopause. The list of new brands catering to older women goes on and on. 

Dealing with menopause is no joke. The impact it can have on your mental health is important to be aware of, and ensuring fair treatment and an awareness in the workplace is crucial, as with any medical condition, of course. 

It has been well established that doctors frequently dismiss women’s pain, but to that we say, “No longer.” Women’s conditions deserve treatment, and menopause is no different.

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