The former music PR turned health advocate tells Victoria Woodhall why she's on a mission to get the nation talking about menopause and the health secrets that worked for her
When Meg Mathews appeared on Radio 4's Woman’s Hour in February to talk about the menopause 3.9 million listeners tuned in. Meg, a former music PR, events planner and ex-wife of Oasis’ Noel Gallagher was at the heart of the party-loving Primrose Hill set in the late 1990s. An unlikely health advocate perhaps, but here she is at 52 (teetotal, incidentally) with some of the country’s top menopause doctors on speed dial and almost tripping over herself to tell you everything she learned and the treatments she has tested in a bid to help other women navigate the menopause.
“I started experiencing menopausal symptoms at 49, but I think I was perimenopausal in my early forties," she explains. "I’ve tried everything out there to see if it helped. I’ve done bioidentical hormones, HRT, I’ve been to see gynaecologists, I’ve even had vaginal rejuvenation…”
More than anything, she has the bit between her teeth about the fact that there are 13 million women going through the menopause in the UK today and that many are suffering needlessly. “I know quite a few women who don’t have a bad menopause - lucky things - but a lot of women do suffer with it.”
What bugs Meg most of all is the unnecessary shame and taboo attached to a natural process that every woman goes through. The lack of openness around the condition makes it difficult for women to identify their symptoms as menopausal or perimenopausal. The upshot is that they receive no help or the wrong kind of help - as happened to Meg.
Three years ago she developed crippling anxiety, fatigue, headaches, depression, night sweats and aching joints. Her GP prescribed antidepressants.
But if it was on a SOAP as a storyline, it’d be ‘look at what’s going on in EastEnders, she’s got the menopause!’
“I told everyone I had glandular fever. I didn’t leave the house for three months. I was so flat, I was riddled with nausea, my breasts hurt. I didn’t have hot flushes or any of the other things you are told are symptoms of the menopause. I had all the things that are lesser known. My joints were so inflamed; I used to be able to get up and do a downward dog but I was walking to the bathroom like an old lady. It was taking my body a lot longer to wake up.
"It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go through the menopause, I just didn’t know what was happening,” she says. “I spent a lot of money in the first couple of years having tapping and acupuncture." She began researching and found out that there were in fact 34 symptoms of menopause – including burning mouth, mood swings, problems sleeping, hair loss, loss of libido - and she had 32 of them. Eventually, she went back to the GP and is now on prescribed ‘body identical’ hormones – the name given to naturally-derived and NICE-approved HRT available from the GP as opposed to customised ‘bioidentical’ blends available privately. “I have a [topical] oestrogen gel and progesterone tablet at night, which really helps you sleep”. She is also taking testosterone , which has given her greater energy “and my hair hasn’t stopped growing since". This is prescribed by an NHS menopause clinic and Meg is passionate that women should know that such things exist as they offer a further line of support. A few lifestyle tweaks have helped her as well - she gives us the top ten things that have helped her below.
Meg is firmly on a mission is to open up the conversation about menopause. “I want to make it cool,” she says. Last year she was made Red magazine's online menopause columnist and in January she launched her own site MegsMenopause.com. It features contributions from top doctors including GP Louise Newsome ( menopausedoctor.com ) and Consultant Gynaecologist Sara Matthews as well as women’s real-life experiences. She’s also bringing in some of her celebrity friends to write their stories.
Next week, her first Meg's Menopause Conference takes place in London (Monday 21st May). Guest speakers include specialist menopause nurse and chair of the British Menopause Society Kathy Abernethy, founder of Menopause Matters Dr Heather Currie, nutritional expert Dr Marilyn Glenville and gynaecologist Sara Matthews. They will be joined by the premature menopause charity The Daisy Network . Topics to be discussed include: ‘What is HRT?’, ‘Menopause in your teens, 20s and 30s’, ‘Myths and facts of complementary therapies’, ‘The impact of your daily choices on your hormonal system’ ‘Menopause in the workplace and in the media’ and Meg herself will be hosting a roundtable with questions from the audience.
For Meg, this is just the start. She plans to take the idea nationwide and make the tickets more affordable, as well as to help women create a sisterhood network in their area. “My idea is that in your village hall on a Monday night at 7 o’clock you can have a Weight Watchers-style menopause meeting. Women can go there and have a coffee or a tea and discuss things among themselves because many women don’t have anyone to talk to – we’re in a bubble in London. I have learned everything just through my network of women.”
And she’s not stopping there – also in her sights is lobbying the Government for trained nurse practitioners to act as the first port of call for women experiencing menopausal symptoms and to get writers of the soaps to include a menopause storyline.
“There have been storylines about had paedophiles, rape, murders and drug addiction, LGBT issues - but they have never had Bet Lynch behind the bar having a hot sweat.” Soaps play a pivotal role in helping to start conversations within families on a national scale, she believes. “So many women probably don’t know how to explain to their husbands or what’s going on. But if it was on a TV show as a storyline, it’d be ‘look at what’s going on in EastEnders, she’s got the menopause!’”
That would be music to Meg’s ears. Meanwhile, she’s reaching across the pond too where her network of contacts extends. “There are women that I know in LA who are really big names, but who couldn’t get off their sofa for three years. They have got movies coming about or albums and they are finding it difficult to cope… but nobody talks about it. We look at these amazing women - but none of them talks about menopause.”
But she’s working on them. And if anyone can do it, it’s Meg.
9 things that help me manage the menopause, by Meg Mathews
1. Drink water
"Dehydration can worsen so many of your menopausal symptoms, making your skin drier, your brain foggier, and your digestion slower (among other symptoms). It’s recommended that you drink about two litres of water per day. I tend to drink at least three litres per day. It’s the best small change I’ve made."
2. Exercise at least 3-4 times a week
"I found exercising regularly about three or four times a week has really helped keep my symptoms in check. Exercise isn’t just good for weight loss! It keeps your blood circulation up, your heart healthy (to protect against heart disease), and your bones strong (to fight against osteoporosis). I do-eighties' style weight-bearing exercises."
3. Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium, omega 3, and vitamins
"Nutrition can make all the difference. I have been advised that, during the menopause, the most important nutrients to have are calcium (for your bones, joints, and a healthy heart), omega 3 (for hot flushes, inflammation, a healthy heart, and even vaginal dryness), and vitamins (especially B and D, for stress, bone health, fatigue, weight gain, and mood swings). Speak to a qualified nutrition expert if you are thinking of taking supplements to find out what's right for you."
4. Find a way to destress
"Chronic stress can cause your body and mind to go into overdrive, leaving you feeling exhausted and aching. High levels of stress made my symptoms worse and finding a way to destress was really key for me. A cup of cocoa with almond milk at night along with a relaxing bath have been really helpful."
5. Keep cool
"I didn’t suffer with hot flushes but I had terrible night sweats. If you suffer with night sweats, one of the best things to do is to deal with it and be ready. That whole cycle of waking up, changing your sheets and getting back into bed can leave you in a real state. I would suggest buying a flannel nightie that will soak up the moisture while you sleep. Have a fresh one next to your bed along with a towel ready for when you eventually wake up. That will shorten the amount of time it takes to get out of bed and back in; the less time you spend awake the easier it will be to fall back to sleep."
6. Keep organised
"Foggy brain, memory loss, and problems with concentration are common during the menopause. I suffered terribly with this. To fight against these symptoms, keep your day-to-day life organised. Write down your to-do lists, the tasks you need to accomplish, things you tend to forget, your weekly timetable – anything that will help you remember the important details in your life, so you don’t fall behind!"
7. Talk to others or join a support group
"While you may feel embarrassed about it at first, there is nothing at all embarrassing or wrong with the menopause, and you’ll likely find that many of your friends are going through it too. Even a simple and quick phone chat with your friend can do so much. Talking about it is what got me through it!"
8. Be prepared and educated
"Sometimes, the shock of the menopause can make the whole transition worse, especially if you think your symptoms are caused by something else. I thought that I had severe depression! The more you know about the symptoms of the menopause, the more prepared you can be, and the less shocking everything will feel. Be sure to educate the people in your life too, so that if you do have moments of mood swings and irritability, they won’t take it personally."
9. Avoid alcohol
"It might be obvious, but excessive alcohol consumption can worsen your mental concentration and memory retention. That extra glass of wine might be tempting, but if you suffer from daily brain fog, I've found it’s best to stay away - completely if you can. I have been sober for a number of years now and I’ve never felt better"
Find out more at megsmenopause.com Book Tickets for Meg's Menopause Conference on Monday 21 May 2018 here.