In this article I want to make you think about menopause from an ancestral perspective. By shifting your perspective in this way, my aim is to make you feel optimistic that your menopause health is in your hands. You have control and you do not need to stand by and watch your life fall apart! I also want to point out how negative and wrong ‘traditional’ thinking is around menopause.
I have read a few things recently that have really made me appreciate how little we invest in diet and lifestyle as the key to our holistic health and how we blindly accept that allopathic (conventional) medicine has the answer.
By looking at menopause from an ancestral perspective and reviewing some reports and media that have been extensively shared I hope you will shift your perspective. I will of course provide some of my Primal Health Coach tips for going through menopause as healthily as possible!
As a health and nutrition coach specialising in guiding women in their 40’s and 50’s to find optimum health, this is an area I am very experienced in, and passionate about.
From an ancestral perspective, it is vital to understand how our hunter gatherer older female ancestors lived in a tribe. Each person had a role that was intrinsically linked to the tribes survival.
‘post-reproductive women invest considerable time and energy in subsidizing their daughters’ reproductive and productive efforts.’ (1)
For me, this would appear to be a no-brainer, women of reproductive age were and are biologically ‘busy’. The role of the post menopause women to assist younger women with their mothering, the hearth and gathering duties is and was vital to the tribes’ success.
The researcher Kristen Hawkes has spent much of her career with the Hadza in Tanzania and written extensively on this issue, one such paper entitled, ‘Hadza Women’s Time Allocation, Offspring, Provisioning, and the Evolution of long Post Menopausal Life Spans.’ (2) offers much insight into this and is well worth a read if you want to go into the weeds!
Post menopausal women are vital to the success of the community in which they live, by taking on roles from care of children to cooking the hunted/gathered food, they are the lifeblood of the hearth.
So when I see the following two pieces of ‘research’ being offered up as examples of why we should be on synthetic hormones, I am genuinely frustrated.
This first piece of research is upsetting because many of the women I am in touch with, whether socially, or as clients, are being made to feel worthless by this type of slanted information.
In fact someone close to me actually told me that she considered herself of no value because women were never meant to survive beyond menopause. What a psychological burden to carry.
Entitled ‘Understanding Menopause’ the infographic on the right has been put together to show that women living with menopause is a ‘new thing’. Alarmingly suggesting that we died before we reached menopause and are only just learning how to deal with it! (3)
I have included the original data to show how statistics and data can be used to misinterpret and lead you in the wrong direction. The original ONS data is on the left, see how easy it is manipulate the figures here, by simply removing half of the population studied you are given a totally skewed perspective. It’s very obvious from the original date that on average men and women were actually within the same age range at the time of death.(4)
I find the lack of understanding around this graph depressing and disingenuous. Taking the average life expectancy from the 1840’s is appalling because of the high levels of infant mortality massively reducing the average life expectancy. If you lived past childhood you would still be headed for a relatively old age.
This time in history is possibly the worst known for infectious disease, appalling hygiene and the move from pre to post industrial society.
The second piece of research that came across my desk is a study that examined women’s brains during menopause. What I took away from the study seemed to be completely at odds with those promoting HRT.
Firstly the study uses male brains for the control group! Since when have male and female hormone production been the same? Since when did men have a mensural cycle and one that comes to an end? Since when did men have the same homeostasis when it comes to hormones levels?
Secondly, the study consisted of 161 women, hardly clinically significant.
Thirdly and most importantly the result was that by the end of the menopause process the disruption caused by the menopause transition was negated and post menopausal brains were ‘back to normal’! Something that HRT campaigners failed to mention.(6)
Let’s take a step back here. At the route of menopausal symptoms are of course the hormones. Here’s a very quick biology lesson:
Hormones do not exist in a vacuum. You have a whole system dedicated to balancing your hormones (your endocrine system), it works with the other systems in your body, giving and receiving signals that keep your body functioning in optimal condition (homeostasis). In the context of your gonadotrophin (sex) hormones, the hypothalamus starts this process by sending signalling hormones to the anterior pituitary to produce Luteinising Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FHS) in a negative feed back loop. This is important because it is all about balance, think of a negative feedback loop a bit like a thermostat that is constantly up, or down regulating, in order to keep a constant balance – with your ovaries. The presence of these hormones in the blood stream then produces oestrogen and progesterone when needed during your menstrual cycle. If your endocrine system is not working correctly, the amount of hormones produced will also be out of alignment with what is needed. These gonadotrophin’s are present throughout our lives once we reach puberty. They wax and wain. Entering the menopause is different for every woman and can be a process of years. In these years your endocrine system is trying its hardest to keep you fertile, sometimes throwing oestrogen, progesterone and even testosterone out of balance. HRT is designed to ‘replace’ hormones that are waining, but it is not that simple, because it’s all about balance and using a ‘broad brush’ like HRT can add hormones that aren’t required and send the wrong signals to your brain in the negative feed back loop.
I’m not a zealot – I have taken bio identical progesterone cream. It certainly helped for a while and I’m not going to say never again.
I believe that putting synthetic hormones in your body is short term gain for long term ‘pain’ because the underlying causes of the issues arising from menopause are being masked and in some cases made worse and causing other mortality issues. (7)
What is the solution?
Well, here’s the real problem:
88% of Americans are metabolically damaged.(8)
Put that another way 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy.
I’m very sure it’s safe to say that here in the UK we are not far behind.
Metabolic damage goes hand in hand with insulin resistance, let’s look at the symptoms of insulin resistance:
- mood swings
- weight gain
- Brain fog
That’s because these are the same issues that menopausal women face. Reversing Insulin resistance is the key to helping women through menopause, naturally.
Are we then expecting, by some miracle, that our metabolism and endocrine systems will be functioning perfectly when exposed to highly processed foods, industrial seed oils and vast amounts of sugar?
We shouldn’t be. If I had eaten a diet based around meat and veg in my 30’s I firmly believe I would have been even more able to deal with the challenges that menopause brings!
We should focus on diet and lifestyle.
Here are 3 sure fire ways to ensure you are as healthy as possible through peri menopause and menopause:
- 1 – Just as we can combat metabolic disease and insulin resistance through a diet that avoids processed foods, seed oils and sugars, so too will our menopausal symptoms get better.
I have seen it in enough clients and on an individual (n=1) level.
I’m not fussed if you’re a vegetarian or a carnivore, you just need to make sure that you are eating ‘clean’. When you do this, you will notice in as little as 60 days, a huge improvement in all your menopausal symptoms. Your hormones will start to balance out and equilibrium will return.
2 – Exercise. The benefits of strength training have been known about in biohacking and paleo circles for a few years now. It increases bone and muscle density and if done correctly can create hormetic stress without chronic stress. There is research to back up the conclusion that it is especially good for menopausal women. Because it creates a hormetic (good) stress, it optimises hormone production and can actually reset hormones.
It helps with a good nights sleep
The research also shows it helps with hot flushes (8)
It helps maintain a healthy body weight, which in turn reduces insulin resistance.
- 3 -Improve your sleep. Often menopause is associated with a bad nights sleep, but if you have a good diet and put in place proper sleep hygiene these effects can be minimised A good nights sleep is vital to the regulation of the hormones cortisol and melanin and this in turn will improve menopausal symptoms.
I’m not saying don’t reach for the pills. I’m asking you to think about other, natural strategies first. Give them a proper try and see what happens. Menopausal symptoms you assume are inevitable are not. They are a symptom of a much larger metabolic problem that the whole of society is facing.
Menopausal and post-menopausal women, look to your hunter gatherer ancestors and present day hunter gatherers, look at the critical role they play in maintaining their society. This applies to you too in our western society.
(1) Marlize Lombard and Katharine Kyriacou (2020 Hunter-Gatherer Women: Oxford University Encyclopaedia of Anthropology
(2) K. Hawkes, J. F. O’Connell and N. G. Blurton Jones (1997) Hadza Women’s Time Allocation, Offspring Provisioning, and the Evolution of Long Postmenopausal Life Spans Current Anthropology Vol. 38, No. 4 University of Chicago Press
(3) Fraser D. Horizons. July 1989 paper: Menopause and HRT
(4) How has life expectancy changed over time? 9 September 2015 www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/lifeexpectancies/articles/howhaslifeexpectancychangedovertime/2015-09-09
(6). https://rdcu.be/cmMNv Menopause impacts human brain structure, connectivity, energy metabolism, and amyloid-beta deposition (2021) Lisa Mosconi, Valentina Berti, Jonathan Dyke, Eva Schelbaum, Steven Jett, Lacey Loughlin, Grace Jang, Aneela Rahman, Hollie Hristov, Silky Pahlajani, Randolph Andrews, Dawn Matthews, Orli Etingin, Christine Ganzer, Mony de Leon,
Richard Isaacson & Roberta Diaz Brinton
(7) See https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12354487/ for several research papers on the long term use of HRT on cancer and dementia
(8) Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2016 (2019) Joana Araújo, Jianwen Cai, and June Stevens
(9) Resistance training for hot flushes in postmenopausal women: A randomised controlled trial (2019)
Emilia Berin, Mats Hammar, Hanna Lindblom, Lotta Lindh-Åstrand, Marie Rubér, Anna-Clara Spetz Holm