October is Menopause Awareness Month, a time devoted to not only discussing the symptoms and side effects of this period of life but also to celebrate this moment of change. We chatted with Jessica Stefanski N.M.D, L.ac, a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist, about the topic. Jessica has helped thousands of women discover their unique path to hormone balance and radiant health and specializes in women’s medicine and endocrinology. She shared her insight into why menopause is one of the remaining taboo topics in women’s health, and how to keep it real while also seeing it as a positive opportunity.
How would you describe menopause in your own words?
Menopause is a moment in time—exactly twelve months after a woman’s last period. But more broadly, it represents one of the most important phases in a woman’s life. It is a profound shift of hormones, of course, but it also impacts many parts of the body including the brain, heart, and metabolism. Beyond the physical impacts, this phase of life can have a significant impact on mental and emotional health.
Why do you think menopause is such a taboo subject still, in an era where transparency and visibility into health is so important?
I think we’re getting better at discussing menopause and women’s health issues but we still have a long way to go. I often ask my patients when their mother went through menopause, because genetics can play a role in determining age at menopause. I’m always surprised at how few people know the answer to this question! Menopause has long been a hidden part of women’s lives and something that was not discussed even with family and close friends. Part of this is no doubt related to our general discomfort with discussing topics related to menstruation, aging, and sexuality.
What do you see as being someone’s emotional connection to this period of their life?
The menopausal transition can be a time of looking back over one’s life and looking forward at what’s to come. Understandably, this can bring up a variety of emotions. There may be fear and sadness related to perceptions about the aging process and physical changes that accompany menopause. There may also be joy and a sense of relief especially for women who have had years or even decades of difficult or unpredictable periods.
What are the most common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause?
Perimenopause encompasses the years before menopause and may include irregular or heavy periods, mood changes, hot flashes and night sweats, sleep issues, and brain fog. After menopause, hot flashes are common and can continue for many years if not addressed. Many women experience poor sleep, memory and mood changes and can get frustrated by weight gain around the middle. There are often issues with vaginal dryness and atrophy which can make sex painful and contribute to urinary tract issues.
What are some benefits of this time in a persons’ life?
Menopause can provide an opening to new ways of thinking about the meaning and purpose of our lives. We may start prioritizing things differently. A woman may recognize that certain dynamics with family, friends and jobs have become imbalanced and seek to change those for the better. Menopause is also a great time to implement self-care strategies to support the decades of healthy living ahead!
What are some ways or products people can use when they start to see these symptoms?
The menopausal transition is the perfect time to optimize nutrition and add a sustainable exercise plan. Depending on a person’s individual situation, certain nutrients and herbs can be very supportive. I often prescribe bioidentical hormone therapy for my menopausal patients; this is a great way to restore function naturally.
What is your top piece of advice when speaking to someone about menopause?
My biggest piece of advice is to look at menopause as an opportunity for personal growth and improved health. It can be the start of a beautiful new relationship with your life!