Not so funny bones
18th October - World Menopause Day
Having gone through fertility treatment in my early 30's (I'm now 43) it has been something that has been so close to my heart. I have now been diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (or 'POI', which I have been told I have probably had for years and is in actual fact early menopause. It simply means that ovaries aren't working properly). I have also just discovered (following a DEXA scan) that I have osteoporosis in my lumbar spine and osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis) in the remaining spine due to rock bottom oestrogen and progesterone levels. So although I am quite daunted (and frustrated by it all) I wanted to share my story in the hope to help others. I'm pleased to see some resources out there educating people, as POI is something I didn't know much about at all. Or indeed about bone health.
My lack of periods throughout my life has just been something I have kind of lived with - they were never regular in teenage years and then actually stopped in late teens/early 30's when we started trying for a baby. Suffice to say I couldn't naturally conceive but following IVF I feel extremely lucky and privileged that 2 rounds did result in my children, who are now 11 and 7. My periods never returned and I wasn't too concerned (something I now hugely regret pursuing in order to get some answers) - but in my head, I had had my family and therefore didn't pay much attention. I actually felt so lucky and grateful after what was an all consuming fertility journey, I was focusing on family, leaving the fertility/hormonal impact behind me.
It's now I realise that I wish I had it investigated sooner. To have no periods is not normal, and not ok. I repeat. It is not normal and needs investigating. I also question why I was never informed at the time (during fertility testing and results of hormone levels) that this potentially needed a close eye on and monitoring in terms of bone health, hormone health and all that comes with it.
In 2017/18 I did actually go and enquire about my absent periods - but to no avail. I was told by a hospital consultant that I should just go on the pill to have a bleed. I was 'too young' to be perimenopausal (I was 39) and after stating concern for my bones, I was also told that my calcium levels were 'ok' so bones would be fine (worth noting that calcium levels don't indicate likelihood of osteoporosis). Subsequently, I gave up - I didn't want to go on the pill, I felt that this wasn't getting to the root cause of the issue. I realise now that there was a lack of understanding, awareness and reassurance about what was going on and no options for me to delve into. This is what I feel very passionately about now, and what needs to change.
When it comes to learning about periods in schools, there's a whole heap of things that kids also need educating on. Not everyone gets periods, or some start and then stop pretty much immediately and people as young as 14 have been diagnosed with POI.
The theme of this year's World Menopause Month is 'bone health' hence the desire to share. We can't SEE our bones and therefore easy to neglect, but they are fundamentally important to our health - in terms of allowing us to move, protecting our organs, containing our body's calcium supply - the list is actually endless! When we think of menopause (at whatever stage) we think about HRT, hormones, moods, brain fog, headaches, all of which are SO SO important and need addressing, but we don't think of the things we can't feel or see - so let's not forget our bones! Bone health is closely related to overall health and sometimes it's only small lifestyle changes that can make all the difference.
I am very grateful that I have been into fitness for many years, and actually enjoy eating well and learning about ways to better my wellbeing. I feel lucky that I can easily tweak my lifestyle in order to help in terms of bones and POI. I am grateful for what my body CAN do - so now it's about prevention and helping myself in any way I can. I started HRT a month ago, which is something I should have been on for some years. I was recently denied this from my GP in the first instance (a few months ago) as he said I wasn't 'showing signs of menopause'. All of this despite knowing about my bone health results. I have now learnt that HRT is actually LICENSED to be given following a diagnosis of osteoporosis which frustrates me more! Like so many women I felt cross that I needed to fight for it.
I often feel the guilt of not having done anything sooner to find out what was going on. But HRT is the way forward for me....hopefully better sleep (THIS would be game changing for me), better protected bones, stability in mood, less sweats, feeling more 'like me', along with a few tweaks in strength work, bodyweight exercises, balance work, nutrition supplements and introducing a more of an alkaline diet. I don't feel like superwoman quite yet (watch out!), but I am grateful I know all this now and feel, like so many others, it's about sharing our knowledge and stories in the hopes to help others. So LOOK OUT for any signs you may think are linked, the earlier we know how to protect ourselves, the better.
Having spoken to a few organisations with regards to POI/fertility/bone health, I feel there is help out there but you have to search for it. POI is something that can even be diagnosed in early teens (one in 10,000 are under 20) and can often be highlighted during fertility treatment (where potentially my diagnosis could've been made). I just hope more healthcare professionals are more aware of these things and can be better equipped to suggest help, resources and advice during vulnerable times.
Further reading and useful organisations:
- Louise Newson - The Menopause Doctor www.balance-menopause.com @menopause_doctor
Download the free Balance app
- Blossom Living withPOI - on facebook and Instagram @blossomlivingwithPOI
- Royal Osteoporosis Society www.theros.org.uk
- The Daisy Network - dedicated to providing information and support to women diagnosed with POI. Also provides information within the fields of assisted conception. www.thesdaisynetwork.org
- The Menopause Charity www.themenopausecharity.org
- Menoscandal - Everything About the Menopause. The Davina McCall menopause documentary @menoscandal
- Change the Change - the ultimate guide for women who want to own their menopause journey. A 6 week online and practical course. www.changethechange.co.uk
- The Well HQ - Health and Wellness website, re-thinking how women think, train & perform. @thewell_hq
- The Blend Essential Oils designed to help relieve the symptoms of perimenopause.
- Ancient and Brave - a collection of nutrient-rich blends and supplements that aim to encourage the body to naturally rejuvenate. True collagen powder, MCT oil etc. www.ancientandbrave.earth