Diane, 71, lives on the edge of Exmoor and is a homeopath and writer. She first started to experience menopausal symptoms in her late 30s, after a hysterectomy.
In this Q&A she shares her experience and advice – including supplements, diet changes and exercise strategies.
Can you remember the first menopausal symptom you had – and when?
I was 47 and, half way through a medical sciences exam – I was studying homeopathy – when I had my first hot flush. Hello menopause – perfect timing. I was more concerned about finishing my exam paper. On my way home, however, I remembered that my menopause had, in fact, first made an appearance a decade earlier.
What made you think that your menopause had started earlier?
I was unwell throughout my 20s and early 30s but it wasn’t until I was 35 that I was diagnosed with anaemia, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis. My consultant prescribed an oestrogen-suppressing drug, which tipped me into premature menopause, and came with unpleasant side effects. Hirsuteness anyone? So the consultant recommended a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) but my hormone-producing ovaries would be left intact.
What happened after your hysterectomy?
I no longer had to cope with painful periods but had mood swings and severe migraines every month, and was exhausted most of the time. My default emotional state was very low, with the occasional spike in anxiety. Two years later, feeling desperate, I saw an endocrinologist. He explained that removing the uterus blocks the blood supply to the ovaries and that most women who have this procedure therefore experience a premature hormonal menopause. But he was confident that he could help. Meanwhile, I had to keep a daily diary to record my symptoms . . .
What was the endocrinologist’s solution?
When I came across the diary years later – and was much better informed – I saw that he had prescribed a pharmaceutical cocktail: a heavy-duty anti-depressant (withdrawn from the market the year after I took it), a tranquiliser, a progesterone supplement, and a drug that prevents fluid build-up due to heart failure (hello?), all of which came with a long list of known side-effects. Then there was a multi-vitamin normally prescribed for couples trying to conceive, and injections to stimulate luteinising hormone production. I had been feeling so wretched at the time that I didn’t think to question the cocktail.
Did the treatment work?
There was the occasional good day but the symptoms continued, mixed with the cocktail’s side effects. At the time, I was holding down a high-powered job, my daughter was doing A-levels, and my husband was very ill. To cope, I needed to be well and strong. So, when the endocrinologist advised me to stay on the dreaded cocktail for the foreseeable future, I knew that there had to be a better way. I started to explore alternative approaches and to take more responsibility for my health.
What sort of alternative approaches did you consider?
Certain foods and drinks triggered my migraine attacks, so I looked at my diet and found a plan based on increasing my raw food intake. I was already a salad and fruit-loving vegetarian, so it was easy to make this shift. I also took mineral and vitamin supplements that had been used successfully to treat symptoms like mine.
Did the new diet and supplements make a difference?
The improvement was substantial and rapid; I started to feel better almost straight away and I lost weight. I gradually reintroduced more cooked food but continued to eat plenty of raw food. This balance has served me well for the past 30 years.
As I moved into my 40s, I felt much better, had more energy, and was much fitter. But my GP advised me to start taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I said that I didn’t have any menopausal symptoms. ‘You don’t now but you will have,’ she replied. ‘HRT will stop them happening in the first place.’ I changed doctors – and stayed symptom free for 10 years.
What about the hot flushes – did anything help?
By the time the hot flushes and some night sweats appeared, my approach to health, fitness and diet had changed completely. I consulted my homeopath, and the remedy she prescribed was a great help. I also went back to yoga and found that yoga breathing eased me through the occasional hot flush.
What advice would you give other women approaching or going through menopause?
Every woman experiences menopause in her own way, so find out what will work best for you. Learn as much as you can from some of the excellent, well-researched books that cover every aspect of menopause; ask questions; demand answers, and don’t be fobbed off with a one-size-fits-all approach. Above all, listen to your body and take care of it.
Menopause is not an illness – it’s a transition and it does pass. I can honestly say that, despite a brief run-in with breast cancer in 2010, my post-menopausal 60s and 70s have been fuller, happier and healthier than I could ever have imagined when I was younger.
Would you like help others by sharing your story and your tips for living better with a condition or coping with side effects? Passing on the things you’ve learned could make a big difference to someone else in a similar situation.
If so, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll drop you a line (and it’s fine to be anonymous if you’d prefer).