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Menopause. Yep. We're talking about it.

We talk about birth, babies and fertility, but we never want to admit we're of "that age." Well, it's time to help each other out and chat about menopause.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Ladies, we talk about everything, right? We chat with our friends about birth, and babies, periods — all the things.

Well, not all the things.

When it comes to menopause, we tend to keep that to ourselves. Admitting that you are of a “certain age” can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be. Menopause is natural. Every woman will go through it and we can help each other out by sharing our experiences. 

But to be fair, most of us don’t really know or understand what is happening to our bodies. So, first, a biology lesson.

What is menopause? It's that moment in time when you go a full calendar year without a period — period. It can happen anywhere between the ages of 45 and 55 but the average age is 51. 

But — and this is a big "but" — perimenopause is the period of time when your hormones, estrogen and progesterone start to fluctuate. That can happen up to 10 years before you go into menopause, and that, friends, is when the fun begins. Just ask Kristel Barber and Shannon Rolfes.

“Did either of you go through mood or irritability issues?” asked KARE 11's Rena Sarigianopoulos.

The two shared a knowing look and laughed. 

"Oh, yeah. For sure,” they said.

“You're feeling like your emotions are always on the fringe, like you're just about to tip over all the time, so definitely. Mood swings, mood changes, extreme moods. I guess you can say, typically on the negative side,” said Kristel.

“Because you do sometimes feel like, 'My God, I feel so out of control. This is an awful feeling,'” said Shannon.

These two brave and vibrant beauties talked to us about their menopause journeys. Kristel has been on this road for about 14 years. She exercises now for bone health and is willing to share her story with us because she wants other women to figure it out sooner than she did.

"I didn't even have enough information to even know I was going through menopause. And so, I was having these symptoms, and as they just gradually became more and more intense. That's when I started to ask questions,” said Kristel.

Shannon is just starting to connect the dots: All the symptoms she's been silently struggling with are actually related to perimenopause.

“I'll be talking to my kids, and they'll be like, 'You already told me that five times,' and I'll be like, 'I did? OK.' Or just not finding the right words. My brain just feels like it's in slow motion,” said Shannon.

That's the thing. Most people think hot flashes are the only sign of menopause. Well, hang on to your fans, ladies.

“Poor sleep, mood, irritability, night sweats, periods get irregular,” said Diane Feller, CNM and menopause specialist with Park Nicollet.

“Those symptoms that used to be PMS before your period, are now a good portion of the month. And that's why women feel like they're going crazy. They just feel like something's wrong,” she said.

Feller is certified by the North American Menopause Society. She said 85% of women will experience symptoms during perimenopause, and women of color are more like to experience worse symptoms for longer periods of time. 

This includes things like headaches, memory problems, weight gain, difficulty sleeping, mood swings — and the list goes on — but no one is connecting the dots for us.

“We have so much information out there for like, childbirth and birth control when women are younger, but at this point, it's just not out there,” Feller said.

It's the reason Selene Yeager started her podcast, “Hit Play Not Pause.

“Only 7 percent of resident physicians, including OBGYN, in one Mayo Clinic study, felt ready or prepared to talk to women about menopause. That's huge,” said Yeager.

Yeager is a health and fitness writer, athlete and woman who knows a whole heck of a lot about menopause through her own experience. On her podcast, she interviews all kinds of people on the topic of menopause, from training as an athlete to your sex life, and everything in-between.

“We talk about sex and vaginal health and urinary incontinence, and all the things, and just give you positive ways to address them and keep living your best life,” she said.

Yeager suggests making a list of your symptoms and seeking help.
Why? Because this isn't the end, it's just the beginning.

"If you start in your early 40s, which some do in perimenopause, you can easily spend 40 years of your life in this transition and beyond,” Yeager said.

“Instead of looking in the mirror and saying, 'Oh, I can't. I can't.' It's like, look ahead and say, 'What can I do?' Because there's a lot you can do, and there's a lot of life left to live,” she said.

Think about it: Most of us will spend years in the workforce post-menopause, and not getting help can make you less productive, not to mention miserable.

A recent study from Mayo Clinic found that menopause costs American women an estimated $1.8 billion in lost working time per year, including women who cut back hours or miss work entirely due to menopause symptoms. And again, it was worse for women of color. 

But what does help look like? A study back in 2002 painted hormone replacement therapy in a bad light, but there have been several studies since then that say something different.

“There's this wonderful window of opportunity within 10 years of when you reach menopause, on either side and before 60, where it is very largely safe and for many women, beneficial,” said Yeager.

“If women can be on estrogen, it helps our bones; it helps prevent osteoporosis," Feller said. "It helps prevent colon cancer which is long studied like the bones. And new studies show it supports our hearts and vessels if it's started around the time of menopause."

That said, hormone replacement is not safe for everyone and it's something that needs to be discussed with a doctor. But diet, exercise, limiting alcohol and smoking can also help with symptoms. 

Kristel said she finally feels like herself again and is back to doing the things she loves.

“I feel like I'm great with mental clarity — I'm great with sleep and I want to maintain right now. I'm in a really happy window and I want to maintain,” she said.

“And I want to get to that place,” added Shannon. “These are our bodies. We need to know how this all works, and what we can do to protect ourselves and keep longevity, and I don't want to be 80 years old and not be able to do anything.”

And because we’re not inclined to talk to our friends about it or to share our own stories with others, we become easy targets for predatory marketing. You’ll see all kinds of ads that promise to help get rid of weight gain and make you feel young again. So Selene Yeager suggests that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There’s still no replacement for good, old-fashioned exercise.

“Resistance training is non-negotiable. You can lose 10% of appendicular muscle mass — that’s your arms, your legs in just in perimenopause,” said Yeager. “It doesn’t take much — twice a week. Seriously, it will help you. You will feel better, you will look better...all the things”

And if you’re still not comfortable talking about it, she said to remember one thing: No matter how embarrassing it may feel to you, someone else has been there, done that.

“You’re not alone. No matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone,” she said.


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