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.