Menopause Mythbusters: 8 Myths About Menopause and Aging
For most women, menopause is more like a marathon than a sprint. It won’t suddenly hit you one day when you’re sitting at your desk at work, nor will it disappear after you’ve had your first hot flash (sorry).
Menopause is a process. It begins with the slow decline of estrogen about 8-10 years before menopause during a time called perimenopause. Usually, this happens in your 40s, but some women experience perimenopause as early as their 30s. You can still get pregnant during this time. We often use the term menopause to describe this entire process, but in reality, menopause doesn’t happen until you haven’t had a period for one year. Postmenopause is when menopause symptoms like hot flashes tend to slow down.
Why is this significant? Well, there are a lot of myths out there about what happens to our bodies during the process of menopause and aging. While menopause is different for every woman, there are enough facts backed by science to help guide you through this time. Let’s take a look at some of the most common myths and questions about menopause and aging.
1. Does menopause cause aging?
Yes, we do have evidence that menopause can accelerate aging. One study found that the cells of women who experienced menopause speed up the aging process by about 6%. The same is true for women who experienced early menopause or had their ovaries removed. However, women who used hormone replacement therapy after surgical menopause showed signs of younger cells as opposed to women who didn’t use HRT.
Another study by UCLA found that sleep disorders – which can be caused by menopause – can also accelerate aging, with the possibility of leading to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
2. Will I stop having a period right away when I reach menopause?
No. Menopause happens gradually, over time. You might be thinking, “Ok, so how do I know when I’m in menopause?” Perimenopause can start years before your last period. The first signs of perimenopause are irregular periods, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and sleep issues. The average length of perimenopause is 4 years, but for some women, it lasts up to 10 years. Once your period has completely stopped for a full year, that means you’re officially in menopause.
3. Can I get pregnant during perimenopause?
Yes. It’s often assumed that if you’re in the stages of perimenopause, you can no longer get pregnant. But because perimenopause can happen over the course of a few years, you can still get pregnant – especially in the very early stages of perimenopause. Some women have more difficulty getting pregnant in their late 30s to early 40s since that’s when fertility drops the most.
4. Can I get tested for menopause?
Yes, but they’re not always the most reliable way to know you’re in menopause. There are two popular tests for measuring hormones – saliva testing and follicle-stimulating hormone testing. Saliva testing is often overpriced and not always accurate. Getting tested for follicle-stimulating hormones can be more accurate, but you have to get several tests over time since our estrogen levels can fluctuate a lot over a day-to-day basis. If you’re beginning to experience menopause symptoms, it’s not a bad idea to see your doctor for a full examination.
5. If I enter early menopause, is my health at risk?
There are some health risks associated with early menopause. If you have menopause symptoms and you think you’re experiencing early menopause – or menopause before 40 – the first thing you should do is see your doctor to rule out other causes, like a thyroid issue. The health risks for early menopause are similar to regular menopause, including increased risks for osteoporosis, ovarian and colon cancer, gum disease, tooth loss, and cataracts.
6. Can menopause be reversed?
Nope. Once menopause begins, it can’t be reversed. What you can do to lessen your menopause symptoms is to adopt a healthy diet, exercise, limit your alcohol intake, and stop smoking.
7. Is gaining weight part of getting older?
Unfortunately, yes. We all experience natural muscle loss that begins around age 30 and then accelerates at age 40. That’s why many women experience weight gain right around the same time they first start experiencing other menopause symptoms. The sleeplessness and lack of energy that often comes with menopause can make it more difficult to exercise and get rid of those extra pounds. A healthy diet full of lean proteins and vegetables is your best friend for losing weight during menopause.
8. Does menopause cause wrinkles?
It’s true; menopause can wreak havoc on your skin. The decline of B-Estradiol during menopause can cause the skin to age faster. And when estrogen drops, our fat deposits get redistributed. As a result, the supportive fat under the skin on the face is reduced leading to sagging and wrinkles. The decline of estrogen also leads to a decline in melanocytes, which can make you more prone to sun damage. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for wrinkles during menopause, including Botox, wrinkle fillers, laser resurfacing, dermabrasion, and more.
Don’t believe the myths about menopause and aging
There are a lot of assumptions around menopause and aging, and we get it: it’s new territory. You only experience menopause once and there’s really no way to know what it’s like until it hits you. If you think you’re experiencing the first signs of menopause, check in with your doctor. They’ll help you come up with a plan that’s right for you and your body. To learn more about the truth about menopause, read the FemmePharma blog.