More women are coming forward to assert that menopause is a 'rite of passage.' But what actually happens to your body during this transition? Kristi Funk, MD, explains.
Historically, when most women thought of menopause, they’d imagine nothing beyond distressing hot flashes and mood swings. But in recent years, the term has been getting a facelift, thanks to some positive-minded celebs.
“The freedom that comes from no longer being fertile is huge,” Sex and the City star and one-time political candidate Cynthia Nixon told Stella magazine recently. “Peri-menopause and menopause should be treated as the rites of passage that they are,” X-Files star Gillian Anderson told Lenny Letter. “If not celebrated, then at least accepted and acknowledged and honored.”
Still, while the term may be making more of a splash in the media, the actual mechanics of the transition are less clear. So what actually happens to your body during menopause?
“Menopause is strictly defined as 12 straight months without a period,” Kristi Funk, MD, a breast cancer surgeon based in Los Angeles, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But you and I probably define it as feeling crazy — and hot.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, menopause most often happens to women between the ages of 45 and 55, and is triggered by the ovaries, which stop their routine production of two hormones needed for reproduction: estrogen and progesterone.
Funk says there are several main symptoms that signal the beginning of menopause: vasomotor (meaning hot flashes and night sweats), mood swings, insomnia, fogginess, decreased libido, and urinary urgency (having to pee immediately). There are two main causes of early menopause, according to Funk — premature ovarian failure (where your ovaries simply “give up” before age 40), and medical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.
Since many of the symptoms can be disruptive to daily life, some women choose hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as a way to lessen the effects. But Funk says there are major risks that come with HRT, including increased risk of breast cancer, stroke, heart attack, and dementia. She suggests that women stay informed about other potential options when it comes to treating it.
“Know that there are alternatives — and they come in a number of different categories. Acupuncture works really well for hot flashes,” says Funk. “My absolute go-to favorite is menopause miracle, it’s a three Asian herb blend and it works like a charm on all of it. My other favorite is CBD essential oils. It comes in little roller balls and you put it on your neck and hot flashes go away.”
If none of those make a difference, Funk suggests something simple. “Believe it or not, just get a move on. Exercise, in any form,” says Funk. “Even slow body movement like tai chi or yoga gentle stretching these all help with biofeedback and lessen menopause symptoms.”