Changing the perimenopause narrative
Dr Shahzadi Harper, Perimenopause Doctor, writes for Wild Nutrition about the urgent need to reframe and redefine perimenopause.
As part of our collaboration with the boundary-pushing Perimenopause Doctor, Dr Shahzadi Harper - GP, author, perimenopause and menopause specialist and founder of The Harper Clinic - writes for The Wild Journal and makes a compelling case for redefining and reframing perimenopause.
'Perimenopause is about having the space and confidence to become ourselves. It’s time to reset and reevaluate',
says Dr Shahzadi Harper
Women need a pause. On the hamster wheel of life in the western world, we need time to pause and reflect. It’s really important. As life’s givers, mothers, sisters, wives, we’ve almost become conditioned to think that our value is based on servicing other people. That narrative needs to change.
Why education is key with perimenopause
As the eldest of six sisters, I always knew I would go into perimenopause and menopause first. But the narrative was really quite negative around it, coupled with a lack of understanding, awareness and education.
I felt strongly that I wasn’t ready to fade into the background or lose my sparkle. That’s why, in the last seven years, I’ve made it my mission to spread the word and help women get the best care, support and attention.
That’s why I’ve partnered with Wild Nutrition to help women through this utterly profound journey, supporting them with the most beautiful range of supplements for every twist and turn of the journey.
That’s also why I wrote the book The Perimenopause Solution, because I wanted women to understand that perimenopause is a time to be proactive and to take charge. It’s very much about female empowerment, a new evolution.
Perimenopause: beyond the ovaries
Perimenopause isn’t just an experience that happens to our ovaries. It’s much more rounded than that and it needs a 360° integrated approach. Sometimes it may need medical or HRT intervention, sometimes it might not. It’s about addressing all the other factors in a holistic way: embracing the psychological, emotional and spiritual.
I urge my patients to understand that there are other options that work really well, particularly in those earlier stages of perimenopause, with insomnia, anxiety or fatigue. That’s the time to look inwards. Look at your lifestyle, are you too tired to exercise? Are you resorting to alcohol in the evening? Are you running on caffeine? Now’s the time to really take stock and have a longer term vision.
“Perimenopause is a great time for a check in. There may be coexisting medical conditions to consider: a thyroid issue, iron deficiency or lack of vitamin D or vitamin B, especially if you’re eating a plant-based diet.”
How supplements can support perimenopause symptoms
Women are visiting my clinic with a huge array of symptoms: insomnia, brain fog, anxiety, loss of joy, weight gain, loss of confidence, lack of concentration - almost to the point of thinking they have ADHD. I think the psychological symptoms affect women much more than the physical symptoms which are almost easier to deal with as they’re more tangible. And it’s the psychological symptoms that are making women doubt themselves because they affect their relationships and their work.
That was one of the main reasons for collaborating with Wild Nutrition, to really help women manage some of these symptoms.
“Many of us aren’t getting our nutritional needs through dietary intake and our bodies are metabolising things differently because of the hormonal changes going on. Yes, I’m a great believer in nutritional supplements.”
Uncoupling perimenopause from menopause
It’s crucial that we view perimenopause and menopause as their own distinct life stages.
Perimenopause is the time leading up to the menopause, when oestrogen, progestogen and testosterone levels in the body rise and fall sporadically. As the ovaries prepare to stop releasing eggs entirely, the reproductive system slows down until a woman reaches the menopause – the diagnosis marking a year since her last period.
All too often perimenopause is carelessly thrown together with menopause but the reality is, these are two startlingly different life stages. Perimenopause can last from a few months to ten years whereas menopause is technically just one day.
“As we move forward in education and understanding, women will know it’s about starting early, not waiting until you’re already there, and understanding the complete journey throughout our hormonal life as women.”
The importance of community
Both Henrietta (Norton, founder and formulator of Wild Nutrition) and I firmly believe that no woman should be an island when it comes to perimenopause. Engaging with other women, sharing stories and experiences can be incredibly powerful. A shared experience is a human experience, after all. It’s what we’re designed to do.
So let’s normalise the conversation, let’s break down those taboos, let’s make peerimenopause and menopause as easy to talk about as puberty and periods.
And let‘s incorporate men too. When men are aware, they’re so much more able to support their partners, sisters, mothers and colleagues.
I feel hopeful for the future of my daughter and my daughter’s daughters. I’m confident she’ll feel empowered and knowledgeable about her perimenopause and go into it with eyes wide open, knowing what to expect and how to react.
The change of perimenopause narrative is definitely happening…