the welllness edit podcast with holland and barrett

S03 E05 | 42m | Understanding menopause

27 Jan 2023 • 3 min read


What we're talking about in this episode

Mariella and Alice to break the stigma around menopause. In this episode the conversation gets feisty as Mariella and Alice express their frustration at the general lack of knowledge about the menopause. Their discussion with Dr Gemma Newman includes:

  • The general lack of knowledge about menopause.
  • Understanding perimenopause and menopause and alleviating symptoms.
  • How the menopause is the start of an exciting new life stage.

With guests:

  • Mariella Frostrup - one of the UK’s most respected broadcasters and columnists, she made the groundbreaking BBC1 documentary The Truth About the Menopause.
  •  Alice Smellie - a journalist who has written for many publications, including the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and Marie Claire

Listen to Episode 5

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The expert guide to understanding immunity

Broadcaster Mariella Frostrup and journalist Alice Smellie share why we ALL need to know more about the menopause

It’s still too often shrouded in shame, with women struggling through alone – but fortunately things are changing. Broadcaster Mariella Frostrup and health journalist Alice Smellie share their mission to break the stigma around menopause, and offer women support, information and inspiration through this transformative – and potentially empowering – time.

‘There’s widespread ignorance about this midlife point in women’s lives’ 

Mariella: ‘It’s hard to recognise the symptoms [of perimenopause] when you’ve never been told anything about the subject. We’re brought up with the words “hot flush” wafting around and the idea that’s the sign we should go into retirement. A lot of women suffer badly from hot flushes, but a lot don’t. I spent a couple of years in my late 40s suffused with irrepressible anxiety based on absolutely nothing. I was also completely insomniac. I’d wake bolt upright at 3 o’clock in the morning for no reason, worrying about everything from whether I’d fed the dogs to whether there’d be world peace in my lifetime. I had no idea what the cause was. Then I saw a helpful gynaecologist and everything made sense. What didn’t make sense was that I’d reached the age of 49 without knowing how this would affect me.’

‘It’s really important to acquaint yourself with the symptoms’

Mariella: ‘First and foremost, think “I wonder if I’m perimenopausal” before you think, “Oh, I’m depressed” or “I’m achy for reasons I don’t know” or “I’m bad tempered and can’t cope with life any more”. Think about what might be contributing to those feelings. The most imperative thing of all is, stop judging yourself badly and coming up with the theory you’re not good enough. Actually, what’s happening is something every woman will go through. You are having a catastrophic drop in hormone levels. One of the best ways to deal with that is to top them up. It’s important we stop demonising the idea of hormone replacement. It isn’t just about getting rid of immediate symptoms like insomnia and anxiety, but really important things like your bone density. I had no idea that the drop in oestrogen would impact on my bone density and I could end up osteopaenic as a result of not dealing with it.’

‘We should be celebrating menopause, not fearing it’

Mariella: ‘The “grandmother hypothesis” was one of the most cheering things we discovered in our research. Our usefulness post our reproductive life is deemed by natural selection to be as important to our survival as a species as when we’re giving birth.’

Alice: ‘Grandmothers looked after their grandchildren, allowing their daughters to have more children and go and be useful in the fields and foraging. We inherited the longevity gene and that’s a reason women have such a long lifespan.’

Mariella: ‘I also defy any women not to feel liberated by the fact you are no longer tied to the reproductive process. That you no longer have awful monthly downs or period pains and you’re actually 100% more confident. Most women are living healthy, productive lives, and they want to enjoy the four or more decades they may have after menopause.’

‘Getting the right advice can be life-changing’

Alice: ‘It would save the NHS billions, and women a great deal of pain and agony in later life if we were told about our options before menopause, so that once we got to perimenopause we could make our own decisions about HRT, lifestyle and supplements and exercise for bone density and muscle mass.’ 

Mariella: ‘I’d like all women, when they get to say 43 or 44, to have a conversation with someone trained to recognise the 38 or 39 menopausal symptoms you might experience and tell you your options. One of the things that shocked us was the discovery perimenopause could start 10 years before your actual menopause, which we know now just means the day a year after your last period.

‘You’re not going crazy and it will pass. But probably not soon enough for you not to get some support. For an awful lot of women, it will be HRT; for women who can’t take HRT or don’t want to, there are supplements that will smooth your passage through.’

‘It’s important we enter this stage of life as fit and healthy as we can be’

Mariella: ‘Exercise in the open air, preferably with a friend. Some of the most important things are not to feel alone, to share what you’re experiencing, and make sure you’re fit and strong and taking in as much oxygen as you can. Whether that’s going for a bracing 20-minute walk, a run or just picking up a log five times. Get out there, preferably with like-minded friends, male or female.’

Alice: ‘In terms of diet and supplements, follow a Mediterranean diet, eat oily fish, and drink less alcohol. I started taking vitamin D3 in winter five years ago, and it’s made a difference to feeling low in January and February.’

Mariella: ‘For women who can’t or don’t want to have HRT, and need support particularly for mental health issues or hot flushes, research shows CBT can be helpful. The recommendation to count my breath in for five and out for five was incredibly helpful for my anxiety and insomnia. It’s like a mantra that takes your brain away from gorging on all the unnecessary stuff, to a quieter calmer place.’


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Author: Gemma NewmanThe Plant Power Doctor

 A doctor for over 17 years, Gemma Newman has worked in many specialities as a doctor including elderly care, endocrinology, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry, general surgery, urology, vascular surgery, rehabilitation medicine and General Practice.

Dr Newman's specialist interests are in holistic health and plant-based nutrition as well as lifestyle medicine. In her practice she has come to understand that body, mind and soul are not separate, and that it is only in addressing the root causes of stress and disconnection that we can truly heal, from the inside out.

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