Menopause: What exactly is it?

in Features

All women go through it, but how exactly can you get through it? For many women, the menopause can be a real pain and have a significant effect on both your mind and body.

What does ‘menopause’ mean?

Technically, ‘menopause’ is simply the end of your periods, when you’ve gone at least a year with no menstrual bleeding. Physical changes begin years before the final menstrual period, and this transition phase is called perimenopause, when levels of the main female hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) start to rise and fall erratically. On average, perimenopause lasts for around four years, although for some women, it can go on for up to 12 years. It’s likely you’ll begin to notice signs of perimenopause in your forties, or even your thirties and only 10% of women report their periods stop suddenly, with no noticeable changes in their cycles beforehand. The menopause usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55.

What are the most common menopause symptoms?

Not every woman has significant symptoms and you may find you barely notice the transition. Here are the most common menopause symptoms and how to tackle them:

Menstrual changes

A persistent change of seven days or more in the length of your cycle – making it shorter or longer – can indicate you’re in early perimenopause. A stretch of 60 days or more between periods usually happens later in perimenopause. Menstrual changes are caused by ovulation becoming unpredictable as your supply of eggs dwindles.

Hot flushes

Hot flushes and night sweats are collectively known as ‘vasomotor symptoms’ and affect between 60 and 85% of women, varying in severity and frequency. They usually last around two years but for 10% of women, hot flushes can last as long as 15 years. Experts still don’t know exactly what causes them, but it’s thought hormone fluctuations affect the way the brain controls body temperature.

What you can do: ask your doctor about HRT (hormone replacement therapy). This replaces your missing hormones and is the most effective way of stopping vasomotor symptoms, as it treats the underlying cause. Taking HRT can also lower your risk of conditions such as heart disease and osteoporosis that increase post-menopause. 

Some menopausal women may prefer to use alternative remedies to tackle their symptoms, such as agnus castus, red clover or soy isoflavones. Look out for Holland & Barrett Femlieve Agnus Castus or Holland & Barrett Soya Isoflavones with Vitamin B6. Why not try Vitabiotics Menopace Plus plus active botanicals from Holland & Barrett to provide support during and after menopause.

Adopt simple lifestyle measures, like wearing natural fibres and try to reduce stress. Reduce (or cut out) alcohol and spicy foods which can often make hot flushes worse. Consider a course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which has been shown to reduce the frequency and duration of hot flushes.

Mood problems

Anxiety and depression are more likely to affect women during perimenopause; if you have a history of depression, you’re likely to experience it now. Changes in hormone levels may affect the neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, that control mood. Of course, your mood can also be affected by other factors at this time, such as loss of fertility and negative social stereotypes around menopause, along with worries about children, work and elderly parents. Holland & Barrett Menopause Mood Relief 30 Tablets is a traditional herbal medicinal product for the relief of symptoms of the menopause including hot flushes and contains 300mg St. John’s Wort & 6.4mg Black Cohosh

What you can do: self-help measures can ease depression and anxiety, including yoga, meditation and regular exercise. Speak to your doctor about a course of CBT too. HRT may be useful, but antidepressants are not recommended as there’s no evidence that they work for low mood associated with menopause. Some women find herbal remedies, such as St John’s wort or valerian, may be helpful for low mood or anxiety during the menopause. Try Holland & Barrett Maximum Strength St John’s Wort Capsules or Holland & Barrett Valerian capsules containing Valerian root extract, but always read the advisory information on the packet beforehand. 

Sexual issues

Falling oestrogen levels can thin and dry vaginal walls, leaving you prone to infections and making sex uncomfortable. You may also experience irritation and soreness, even if you’re not sexually active. On top of this, you may find you have a reduced libido. Stress and relationship problems can contribute to lower sex drive and loss of lubrication too.

What you can do: vaginal dryness can be treated very simply with topical oestrogen, used either as a cream, pessary or vaginal ring. It can be used on its own or with HRT. Or you could try over-the-counter vaginal moisturisers and lubricants. Holland & Barrett Sea Buckthorn (Omega 7) can help to increase production of mucus in these linings.


After menopause, a lack of oestrogen means you’re more susceptible to developing osteoporosis and heart disease. You may also find you gain weight and your skin starts to become dryer. You can support your bone health by upping your intake of calcium and vitamin D while omega-3 can help reduce your risk cardiovascular disease and combat dry skin. Holland & Barrett Calcium 600mg with Vitamin D3 or Holland & Barrett Extra Strength Omega 3 Fish Oil may help with post-menopause issues. 

Advisory Information:

Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, taking any medications or are under medical supervision, please consult a doctor or healthcare professional and always read the label before use.

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