Menopause is inevitable. Suffering is optional. So says our guest gerontologist and biohacker, Zora Benhamou. Zora is the host of the “Hack My Age” podcast, and she reminds us today that through our mindset and lifestyle choices we can make menopause a smooth, even empowering chapter of our life. She covers the various stages of this life transition for women (peri-menopause, post-menopause, and everything in between) and offers insights and tips for managing them. She also talks about what a taboo subject menopause is in many cultures. Finally, she reminds us there’s nothing to fear about it and suggests we can disrupt ageist stereotypes at every age and stage.
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Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda.
Did you know that there are over 50 million women worldwide going through menopause? It’s time to talk about this important transition in our lives and there’s nothing to fear about it. As our guest puts it, menopause is inevitable. Suffering is optional. This is Episode 451 and our guest is Zora Benhamou. Zora is a gerontologist passionate about longevity and biohacking menopause. She is also the host of the Hack My Age Podcast.
In this episode, Zora demystifies menopause. She covers the various stages of it, identifies the symptoms or challenges posed by each stage, and offers tips for how to manage them along with actionable resources for women approaching menopause, experiencing it now, or having gone through it. She also discusses the stereotyping that comes with aging and the taboo nature of discussions concerning menopause.
Before we get into the conversation, I want to invite you to become a member of the Weston A. Price Foundation. We are a member-supported nonprofit. In other words, we can only do education, research, and activism with your help. There’s no other way. Please become a Weston Price member. You can go to the website, click on the Member Yet button, and use the code POD10 to join for only $30 for 2023. Thank you in advance and welcome to the family.
Welcome to the show, Zora.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s so good to see you.
It’s good to see you too. We haven’t talked much about aging with vitality, purpose, strength, and good health in this program so I’m happy that you are here. I want to kick things off with the story of a 56 or 57-year-old woman that you worked with who had cancer. Tell us about her situation and what happened.
This happened around COVID time in 2020. I taught her sister, who knew me for health coaching, some basics of breathing breathwork. She loved it and said, “My sister has endometrial cancer. There were a couple of different ones and she had the horrible one, the one that gave her a little chance to survive. I want you to work with her twice a day every day. I will pay you for this. She needs to learn how to do breathwork.” I met her on Zoom. She was in the Philippines. She was so sweet.
The first day I saw her, her head was down. I couldn’t see her face. She was in absolute pain and her belly was hurting all the time. She woke up six times a night peeing or out of pain. I said, “Let’s work on breathwork to help you sleep.” With the time difference, I was meeting her around 9:00 PM her time and I would teach her some basic breathwork techniques, mostly to sleep and remove pain.
I even woke up at 2:00 in the morning in the beginning for a couple of weeks. I was like, “I’m going to get sick if I don’t record these.” I started recording them and sending them to her instead. We would meet every day and she did this every single day. On the third day, I opened up the Zoom. I saw this face in front of me with a huge smile and I said, “Was this you, Lenny?” I thought I got the wrong Zoom code. I didn’t recognize her. I said, “What happened?” She said, “I get pain and when the pain comes, I do the breathing that you teach me, and the pain goes away. If it comes back, I do the breathing again and then it goes away.”
After the third day, she was waking up once or twice less. After about a month, she was waking up only 2 or 3 times, and then eventually just once. Sometimes yes and sometimes no. We got her to a point where she was resting and sleeping because I explained to her, “When you have cancer, you need to rest. You need good sleep. That’s when your body repairs and regenerates and can fight this thing. If you are up all the time, that’s not going to be very helpful.”
She’s now cancer-free. She had an operation. She’s so grateful. I have testimonials from her. I was like, “I got to record this stuff.” It was so beautiful. She believed that a big part of her healing was breathing and learning how to breathe. I would add sleep to that because when you do sleep, it is so helpful. After that, I realized the power of breathing and breathing properly and correctly.
I have used this in my menopause programs and when I coach women through so many things. Learning how to breathe is so fundamental. It’s one of those basic fundamental biohacks that we need to have. That’s my beautiful story. I have so many but that was the first one that popped into my head because it was one of my first beautiful and amazing transformations.
Thank you for sharing it and for reminding us that there are ways in which we can access tools that are free and right around us to have vitality and strength to manage pain and stress immediately with wonderful beneficial effects. I do want to focus on menopause. You are a specialist in aging and what women go through. Talk to us about the stages of menopause and what characterizes each stage.
I’m so glad it’s getting a bit more press and I’m so grateful to you for allowing me to talk about it and give the information that women need. We have 50 million women worldwide going through menopause every year. That’s huge. That’s a lot of women. In the US alone, we have about 6,000 women going through menopause every day. That’s two million each year.
It’s a big chunk of women and we need to start paying attention. When women generally say menopause, they are talking about perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. We use the same words but they all mean different things. Menopause is a one-day event. Believe it or not, it’s the twelve consecutive months that you go without a menstrual period. When you hit that mark, then you go, “Every day after this is going to be post-menopause.”
Before we reach menopause, we have hormonal fluctuations going on and this is called perimenopause. It’s not pre-menopause. It’s peri. We always get these mixed up. Perimenopause is usually about 5 years and sometimes 10 before you hit that menopause date. It depends. The average age of menopause, that one-day event, is about 51 in North America. Perhaps the perimenopause years would be between 45 and 55 as well. That’s until you get that point.
We have pre-menopause and that’s when you get your period pretty much. You are thirteen or earlier. You then go on to that perimenopause in your 40s. We have women who go, “I’m going through perimenopause but I’m in my 40 to 45 bracket.” Those women are very common. It’s not unusual to go through perimenopause a little bit earlier and that’s called early onset menopause. You are having this sudden loss of sex hormones, progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. You stop producing eggs years before they normally would.
Everything before the age of 40, if you are losing your sex hormones and stop producing eggs, that’s called premature menopause. It’s also known as premature ovarian insufficiency. There are words like ovarian failure and a couple of different terminology but that’s not normal. That’s not a common thing. Only about 1% of the women in the US have this menopause before the age of 40.
Out of those women, about 90% of the time, we don’t know what’s happening. Sometimes you are getting these irregular periods and you become infertile. It could be because of an operation, cancer treatments, hysterectomies, and other things that can happen but most of the time, we are not sure what’s happening. You have ovarian failure, which happens before the age of 30 and that’s 0.1%. It’s going to be quite rare but it can happen.
There’s menopause itself, which means you have twelve consecutive months of no menstruation. In that phase of your life, your fertility is done, and then post-menopause.
The post-menopause is from that date, which is about the age of 51, up until you die. I’m wondering if there are going to be other stages created. It’s almost like we forget. Once you are post-menopause, whatever. We have all this stuff classified for women younger but is menopause the same for women in their 80s and as opposed to their 50s? I question if in the future we will start having more terminology as we learn more because we are only starting to pay attention to this. There’s so little research on women’s periods and less research done on women in menopause as well. We don’t have a whole lot of information.
That’s why I’m glad we are having this conversation. Why do you think that menopause is discussed so little?
It’s been taboo for so long. I’m learning about different cultures as well. Is it taboo or people just don’t make a big deal out of it for some reason? Is it because they have fewer symptoms or they are not as strong? There could be many reasons why but generally in the Western world, we don’t talk about that. I have had clients who we were trying to help and she’s in her 60s. I said, “What about menopause? Tell me about it.” She’s like, “I don’t talk about menopause.” I said, “I bet one of your girlfriends does.” “No. My friends say, ‘We don’t talk about that.’” She was from Ireland.
I was shocked. In my world, I live in a bubble. I think everyone is talking about it but still, there are a lot of women who don’t talk about it. It’s a taboo topic like death or other things. It’s uncomfortable. I have been creating this series of reels of menopause around the world. I started in Europe. I will be going to Asia and recording women there about their menopause experience.
I noticed that it’s farther East so I hit Poland. I met women who were saying they didn’t want to be recorded for this because they don’t talk about menopause to a stranger or even with their friends. They say it’s too personal and they are not comfortable speaking about it with me. It’s still in many cultures where women don’t talk about it. I’m trying to figure out what I will be doing as I go on with creating more reels.
I’m interested in this conversation because this is going to help people who maybe don’t feel the freedom to discuss it with their friends, family, or in their particular culture. Let’s talk about the symptoms or challenges posed by these different stages of menopause. You said in perimenopause, the hormones are fluctuating. What does that feel like and look like?
The message I want to get women is to understand that there’s a spectrum of menopausal symptoms and experiences. It ranges from flying by without any notice or no symptoms. You don’t feel any different. On the other end of the spectrum, you seem to have every single symptom on the planet and it’s very severe.
We have the middle. People have some symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, or perhaps unexpected weight gain, or some moodiness, anxiety, or depression. These things happen but everyone has different symptoms and a different intensity of the symptoms. What I like to do is share to not be afraid of menopause because you can be on one end of the spectrum or the other.
We have this stereotype of menopause as being a horrible experience. Everybody is going to suffer. Nobody is going to want to be with you. You are going to be depressed and overweight. Everything is out of control. We are scared. I was scared myself. I thought, “What’s going to happen to me?” Who gets away with menopause? We all go through it and it’s a transition. It’s this transitory state.
When I interview women who are 10- or 20-years post-menopause, everything is great. They say, “Menopause is the best thing that’s happened to me. There’s no problem. Everything is fabulous.” You have the women going through this transition and they are having some of these struggles. The big problem that we have is that doctors are not trained for menopause generally. It’s not a standard thing they talk about a lot in medical school. They would talk maybe one short lesson on it and they are not trained to help a woman go through this transition.
We go to our doctor saying, “I feel this. I feel bad. I don’t know what’s happening to me. This is not normal.” This can very often be in your 40s where you are like, “Menopause. That’s only for people over the age of 50,” or you may, in your head, think it’s 60. You don’t even know much about menopause but certainly, in your 40s, you’re like, “I am light years away from it.” It never occurs to you that you may be having some anxiety or depression, not because you are having depression but because of the fluctuations in the hormones. Correcting them may help not necessarily an antidepressant.
Doctors are not ready to recognize this. Hopefully, they are getting trained more. They are becoming more aware of it but to help a woman through this transition as a doctor, they tend to recommend bioidentical hormones or things like that, which is perfectly fine, even if they don’t know how to prescribe this to help a woman go through that.
I’m not talking about every doctor. I’m saying that there’s a small percentage. There should be a lot more considering 50 million women around the planet go through this a year. There’s a huge demand and most women are being denied some treatments or help because, not to blame the doctors, they are not trained in that. We don’t know where to go and there hasn’t been historically a lot of information online or books but now, that’s changing.
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What resources do you offer to the woman who is about to enter maybe in perimenopause and experiencing hot flashes, night sweats, hormonal fluctuations, and mood changes? Are there ways in which these symptoms can be mitigated or tamped down a little bit through diet and lifestyle, perhaps?
Yes. There’s so much we can do. First, I want women to know that they don’t have to suffer in silence. This is not something that you pick up your socks and say, “Let’s get on with it.” If you want to, you can but you don’t have to. We have a choice. It’s like we have a choice on how we want to age. We have a choice on menopause. Menopause is inevitable but suffering is optional. You can or you cannot.
The other message I want to share with women is, “Please don’t shame anyone for or against X.” Whether it’s a diet, lifestyle, or home therapy, it’s their journey and choice. Everybody is different. That’s why I love bringing the biohacking. It is understanding that we are all bio individuals so we all have different needs and treatments.
Biohacking means understanding we’re all bioindividuals. We all have different needs and different treatments.
I help women pass through this transition of menopause. I’m going through it myself. I first try to get the mindset ready. I tell them, “You don’t have to suffer. Thanks for reaching out. You can do stuff about it,” and change the attitude. It’s not something to fear. It’s all hackable. There are things that we can do. Having this positive attitude helps.
I talk about the biohacking foundation, which if you look at a pyramid, there’s this foundation like the food pyramid for example. Those are the diet and lifestyle. Having good nutrition, removing those toxins from your life, and the toxic food, toxic people, and toxic environment, the pollution, and all this stuff is important because those play around with your hormones. We want to have the appropriate exercise, and the appropriate amount of exercise changes as we go through our lives.
For women going through menopause, I generally tell them, “Don’t do this chronic cardio that we used to do.” We learned in the ’80s. You want to run as much as you can, do aerobics, and get that heart rate up high as long as you can. This creates a lot of cortisol, which is not a bad thing. We don’t want it to be too high for too long. We need it to come down because cortisol loves to hold onto belly fat. It loves inflammation. It loves to wreak havoc with our other hormones because cortisol is a hormone so we need to balance things out. We need more recovery and to have appropriate exercise.
I always include strength training with that. I love to build muscle. That’s important as we age and as we go through menopause because we become a little bit more insulin resistant as we go through this menopause transition. That means that we can’t seem to eat like we used to in terms of the carbohydrate load. We need to pay attention to that.
We have healthy carbs. I’m not demonizing carbs. We need to have our potatoes and our whole grains or whatever it is that you like that are beans and lentils. We don’t want to get into that highly processed food that perhaps we used to eat and didn’t have a problem with it, and now we do. We have to balance out that and get that blood sugar as well.
Having appropriate exercise and good nutrition helps with menopause, and then the sleep. When we have hot flashes and night sweats, that’s going to be difficult. We have to manage the hot flashes and that will help us sleep better. Once we sleep, we wake up more refreshed and have more energy because fatigue is another symptom of menopause.
When we have stress management, which is the key, it probably could be not sleeping because you are too stressed because the hot flashes are coming in. There’s this vicious circle and we need to attack it in different ways. Everybody is different. Someone would have no hot flashes but they have thinning hair or joint pain. There are so many other symptoms that we can hack but managing the stress is key.
What we want to do is lower oxidative stress, the glycation that happens in the body, and the inflammation. That’s not only great for menopause. It’s also good for healthy aging. That’s the foundation, relationships, and community. They have a purpose in life. This is all fundamentals. If we can get this, we have a better chance of a smoother menopause transition.
Some women’s hot flashes are triggered by stress. Some women are overweight and have too much body fat. That’s not so great for hot flashes because that’s insulating fat and fat may over excess. I’m talking about excess fat. I’m not saying we should all be skinny. Just because you are skinny doesn’t mean you are not going to have hot flashes. We have all around but you may have more if you do have more body fat. There are things that we want to do that are on a foundation level.
We have the middle tier of the pyramid and those are things that women tend to go straight to because it’s like the quick fix like a supplement, an adaptogen. These are things that you don’t need a doctor’s guidance for. You can generally pop into a pharmacy. It’s easy to get some maca, ashwagandha, rhodiola, and vitex. Those are some of these adaptogens. You have herbs like black cohosh, Panax ginseng, and dong quai. There are so many other great things you will find with menopause supplements, have a great night’s sleep, or something.
That’s a middle tier. I don’t want people to jump to that right away. If you take that, I want the foundation to be strong because they don’t work as well if the foundation isn’t there or they may not work at all. I do have people who are using it and it’s great. The top tier of the biohacking foundation for menopause, aging, and all that are things that you’d maybe need a doctor for, and I would say bioidentical hormone therapy.
Some women call it menopause therapy and there are different words for it. If you have joint issues and you need to get PRP injections or some other hacks, and these things don’t work as well if you don’t have the foundation, hormone therapy has been getting good research behind it, whether or not people are doing the foundation but I always say, “Do the foundation first.” That will help so much. Maybe you don’t need those middle and top tiers of the pyramid anyway. Those are the biohacking pyramids for menopause. I hope some of these things have helped. You preach so much that diet and lifestyle are so important.
A lot of what you shared is how we all try to live at every age and stage here at the Weston A. Price Foundation like eating a nutrient-dense diet, getting plenty of sleep, honoring that, and connecting with the earth. I don’t think you mentioned that but you can get energy from the earth.
Also, forest bathing.
My interest was piqued when you mentioned glycation because I read somewhere that sugar ages us and contributes to that process that we are trying to avoid. Have you found that to be true as well?
This is from recording loads of podcasts as well, talking about glycation with some doctors and researchers. Everyone from the skin will say, “Externally, this sugar or these glucose molecules bind to a protein and then fold it or mess around with it, and that’s where we get wrinkles.” We can see this in wrinkles on the outside but whatever’s happening on the outside is also happening on the inside in our organs, intestines, and cells. We don’t see or may not feel but it’s happening in the body.
In the biohacking world, we will say, “We will take anti-glycation supplements,” which we can and that’s one little hack but you try to lower the glycation and then you can add on those anti-glycation things. Glycation is something we do need to consider when we want to age well and healthily but not a lot of people talk about it.
In the biohacking world, we do but people are not sure what that means. That’s glucose molecules. Not only sugar but it means anything that converts into glucose in the body. That can be bread, whole grains, wheat, or so many other pastries. You may go, “Bagel doesn’t have sugar.” No, it does. Rice is the same thing. The body doesn’t care what it is. It’s glucose and we can have this glycation that can happen.
It also can destroy our eyesight and so many other things in the body. I don’t want to demonize. I hate demonizing food or anything. Everybody has different diets working in different ways. I want people to be aware that when we are going through this menopause transition or as we age, we do become a little bit more insulin-resistant. We need to play around with things to see what can we get away with. What’s our limit? It may not be the same as when we were younger.
That’s so fascinating to think about what’s happening on the outside is happening on the inside too.
That’s why there are diseases that are called silent killers. There’s osteoporosis. You don’t feel it until you get a bone fracture and you need a hip replacement or something. It creeps up on you or a heart attack. You don’t feel anything until the thing happens. There’s a lot of stuff that goes under the hood. I don’t want to scare people into becoming hypochondriacs or anything. If they are feeling good, generally should be fine but sometimes I notice people say they feel good but they are used to feeling bad. That’s their thing until they change something in their lives and they go, “I didn’t realize I could feel this way.” They are used to that.
I’m a biohacker so I like looking at bloodwork and data. We have these O-rings that are these little computers on our fingers. We wake up and we can see our heart rate and the heart rate variability, which is a measure of stress and recovery. We go, “Let’s look at the data and see what’s happening.” You don’t want to get married to that like you stand on a scale and think, “I’m going to have a bad day because I gained a kilo.”
It’s not that. It’s looking at trends and being aware of what’s happening. Getting good bloodwork and testing is always a good thing because you can. That’s how we find out if we are getting pre-diabetic. Hopefully, your doctor would say, “You are pre-diabetic. You may want to change something in your life, not wait until you are diabetic.” They give us a clue or a warning. We have a chance to reverse these things. Sometimes it’s irreversible. If you want to look under the hood once in a while and once a year, you should get a good checkup and see what’s happening.
I like that you used the word reverse because I was thinking, “Can we pull a Benjamin or Benjamina button move by reverse aging?” I can think of a couple of things that lengthen our telomeres and revitalize our mitochondria which will help us not only live long but have a wonderful health span as well.
You always have to be careful about the word reverse aging. We throw it around. It’s such a buzzword. I love it. We have to realize that we are aging and we will age. There’s nothing wrong with that but we can slow it down. We can reverse certain things like a certain disease you could reverse. You can reverse diabetes.
It’s harder. It’s better not to get into the diabetic state but there are things that we can reverse but you can reverse biological age. There are these biological age test kits. How accurate is that? We are still going to age. Even if you tested and you were 50 or 60, the biological age is 50 and your chronological age is 60. You will age. Fifty maybe will go slower but it will probably go up. Maybe you could even reverse a little bit more with certain hacks.
If you look at the trend, we are going to trend toward an aging state. I don’t want people to be afraid. I’m a gerontologist. You can’t be afraid and have this negative stereotype attached to aging but we can reverse a lot of damage through the foundation of biohacks, diets, and lifestyle in terms. There’s the questionable stuff, bioregulator peptides, for example.
There’s been a lot of research in Russia on this in terms of reversing your telomere age, your methylation, or your biological age. You can and it will help but you’d have to test yourself. How much is it worth it to you? If you are into it, go to the biohackers. You say, “I’m going to measure my telomeres, change my diet, stop smoking, or start exercising,” or whatever it is that you want to do. Take some supplements. Take the bioregulator peptides and then test again.
It’s a game. It could be fun and you probably will feel better by making these hacks. That’s what’s most important. I still think that science is new in so many ways. Some people say, “Who cares about telomere age? That’s not what we should be looking at. We should be looking at other things and markers that are better predictors of how early or late you will die.” There is so much cool stuff out there. We just can’t get wrapped up in it a little bit too much. If you like to play around with it and get a little extra time and/or money, you can become your little biohacker and see how it reverses whatever it is that you have.
Osteoporosis for one is a great example too. You can reverse this. Osteoporosis is when we lose bone density and it happens more in women. In men, it happens as well. For some reason, when we lose all our hormones going through menopause transition, we have more osteoporosis. We can hack that and do things. There’s hormone therapy. One thing that seems across the board every single menopause society does agree with is that hormone therapy can help with osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is when we lose bone density. It happens more to women. When we lose all our hormones going through menopause transition, we have more osteoporosis.
I always say that’s not going to be the only thing you are going to do. I want you to do some impact exercises and have a healthy diet because all of this is the foundation. The hormone therapy is the icing on the cake and that’s going to maybe seal the deal for you or maybe not. We are all individuals but you measure your bone density with a DEXA scan.
Please, ladies, if you are reading this, do it as early as you can. If you are in your 40s or 50s, don’t wait until 65 when your medical care or your insurance will pay for it finally, because 65 is too late. We need to know in advance. You can take another DEXA scan 1 year later or even 6 months later and then see it reverse. That’s cool.
I love your philosophy about having some of the more expensive or biohacking interventions later. In other words, you can work on hormone therapy and this and that but what about weight-bearing exercise to increase bone density or jumping in a cold plunge to lengthen your telomeres? You don’t have to go buy something. You can just do something. Measure our health by how we feel. Are we exhausted? Several years from now, we will be even more exhausted. What can we do to increase our vitality in the present day? That will help us down the line as well.
Have you spoken about autophagy with your community?
A little bit but tell us about it.
Autophagy is interesting. If you are in this longevity and aging world, autophagy is that cellular cleanup and recycling process that happens. We have it. It works well when we are young and then it slows down as we age. When we look at certain populations like in Japan and those centenarians, their autophagy is working pretty well.
Some people contribute this to their healthy diet or diet that’s high in spermidine. Spermidine is a molecule that comes from sperm as well. It’s been discovered by a man and found in the sperm but it’s also in wheat. It’s in mushrooms, beans soy, and natto. Natto, that soybean gooey, has very high levels of it. It’s a very interesting dish. They have a lot of spermidine in there. We can activate autophagy through some of these foods or fasting.
I’m careful talking about fasting because fasting for women is different than fasting for men. It’s not that the more the better. We have some limits, especially with our hormones. We think it’s in a starvation state. You have to be careful with that but some people can’t fast for reasons like if they have autoimmune disease or thyroid issues. They don’t respond so well so we look for other things. If you can’t get natto in your country, you can also take a supplement, exercise, and get good sleep. All this stuff is great for activating autophagy. We want to have that in our lives. Not only does that help us through menopause but aging as well.
I understand that good sleep is also a time when the body and the brain cells take out the trash. That’s another way to clean house so that you can live a healthier and more vital life. I have a couple more questions as we start to wrap up. One is you have traveled the world and you are going to continue doing so I love it. What have you learned about longevity and thriving through these various stages from other cultures?
You and I always have this chat about all our travels and what we learned. I haven’t traveled as much with the menopause on my mind. I have done it through Europe. I have traveled a lot in all these countries looking at aging populations. I know a little bit more but I am discovering more as we do. I do talk about it in other podcasts as well.
The research that I have done in terms of not as much observational research is that in Asia, for example, there are people who report they have fewer menopause symptoms. The hot flashes are not as intense, if at all. We all go through menopause. In some cultures, they report less. Is that because they don’t want to talk about it or do they want to pull up their socks and show that they are strong? Is it because they don’t have that many? We have to question these.
In Asia, people report they have fewer menopause symptoms. The hot flashes are not as intense.
We know that hormone therapy use is not so high in Asia. It’s not even that high in the Western world and it is increasing as women find it helpful for their menopause symptoms. There was a 2010 study that looked at women across several different Asian countries. They found out that only 19% of them took hormone therapy to manage their menopause symptoms. Thirty-seven percent of the population used herbs and natural remedies like dong quai. “What are the extra 42% doing?” That was the question that we have to know but we know that it’s less.
We even know that in Japan, they needed to create a word for hot flash. They didn’t even have this. It was something Western words integrated into the language. In Japanese, the word menopause is konenki. This means renewal, season, or energy. It’s a natural life stage. It’s the same translation in Chinese in terms of rebirth and making room for new things. It would be refreshing if you were to translate this. The word menopause in English sounds like, “Stop your life. Stop the men in your life.” It’s not an encouraging word. Already in their culture, there’s not such a negative connotation if you are looking at the terminology.
In the Middle East, it’s called liberation. There’s a renewed life. I don’t know what the actual word is but that’s their translation of menopause. Women don’t seem to be embarrassed by their symptoms and this is what the research is showing in my little observational research where I ask women to talk about menopause for an Instagram reel. The further I go East, the women don’t want to talk about it. That’s a very small cohort.
I’m going to Asia so I will find out more and dig deeper to answer some of these questions on a smaller scale. This is menopause around the world. We know through some of the research that if women have a supportive household or are the leaders of the household, they tend to have fewer symptoms or less intense symptoms of menopause. Having that support system is important.
That’s what we want to pay attention to if we can bring those people into our lives. If you don’t have this in your family, please get it online if you can. There are options for doing that. Going through menopause, it’s not like anyone is getting away with it but they have different experiences. We have this. Finding out in general in North America and Europe, there is this spectrum that I’m finding but it seems as though women are talking about it more in North America and a little bit less in Europe.
It’s a big deal. We are rattling the cages with this. We are standing up and saying, “I don’t feel good and I need help.” I don’t know if it’s because we are having more severe symptoms than anyone else or we are fed up and we want to have some help with this. The other last thing I found out in India, for example, is the average age of women is 46, which is very interesting. It can vary.
When I say number 51, it’s an average. That’s the twelve consecutive months without your period but what about the whole perimenopause experience, which can be 5 to 10 years of these hormonal fluctuations and having these symptoms? It’s not just like, “I’m not going to look at this until I’m 51.” No. You have to pay attention when you are in your 40s and know that perhaps you are not feeling so great because of the loss of your sex hormones.
This is my penultimate question to you. You said at the top of our conversation that mindset is one of the first things you try to address with women who want support during this stage of maybe perimenopause or menopause. How do we get over the mindset of a fear of becoming invisible or useless? Biologically, we are losing our fertility and sex hormones. How do we overcome the stress and worry that might come with feeling like we are washed up?
Women feel it more than men. In gerontology, we learn that everyone as we age, we do have this feeling of being invisible. It’s not unusual. Very often, we relegate older adults to a corner, a community, or a nursing home. We don’t integrate them enough in our society. They are not part of the fabric of society, which is disappointing.
The older you are, the more experienced you have and there’s so much to learn from older adults. Yes, there are changes but we can shift things and still bring them into society. When you add in other factors such as being a woman, lesbian, being from the LGBTQ community, or being handicapped, all these other things make it a lot worse and harder to integrate with society because you will always have those people who are against you or they don’t accept you and you have these challenges.
It’s hard enough to be an older adult but being a woman on top of it, we do feel the brunt a little bit stronger. In terms of aging, we need to change our mindset. You asked me how because that’s hard. There’s a very interesting model that I learned called the air model and it happens. This is what creates ageism in our society.
The AIR model is for Acquisition, Internalization, and Reinforcement. It’s saying that as children, we are observing our environment. We see how your parents treat their parents or older adults in general. We may look at cartoons and see how older adults are shown if they are energetic, slow, forgetful, or for whatever stereotypes they have. We are building these stereotypes from a young age, especially if they are negative. By the time we are in our 50s and we are feeling a little slow or tired, we go, “We are probably getting older.” That’s internalizing this. You are accepting that this is normal.
Maybe you are tired because you have some virus or your microbiome isn’t optimized. You don’t have to say that it’s aging. Very often, it’s not. I don’t want people to accept this and internalize it. If you do internalize it and accept it, then you are reinforcing the stereotype in the world. You start walking slower, you accept it, you don’t fight it, and you don’t say whatever. You live all these stereotypes as negative stereotypes because you think that’s what’s happening. This is dangerous. This is internal ageism against yourself.
There’s external ageism where you comment on somebody. You are not hiring them because of their age. That’s bad too but anything that you are doing as a younger person in terms of discriminating against older adults, prejudice against them, or reinforcing the stereotypes, you are discriminating against your future self. You don’t want to build on this social acceptance of this practice. What you do now will affect you when you are 67 years old. That’s what I was trying to say. We need to be aware of that and we want to not accept it.
First of all, be aware that perhaps this is not normal aging. There are so many things that we say it’s normal and we go, “It’s common.” It’s not normal. There are plenty of older adults who have loads of energy, who don’t have joint pain, who are playing tennis, or living their best life. Please, look at those people. That’s part of having a positive attitude.
You will have a positive attitude if you surround yourself with inspiring people like older adults or women who have gone through menopause and have this positive attitude. They can help and guide you through it. Don’t externalize these people. Don’t push them away from society. Bring them in because they are going to help you age even better. I want you to have that right attitude and be in this environment.
If you have toxic people in your life, get rid of them if you can, or spend much less time with them. Know that aging is a natural process. We can slow it down and we don’t have to accept those stereotypes. If you are someone who throws stuff on social media, bring in some positivity. Bring in somebody who’s doing something fabulous that inspires you at the ages of 60, 70, 80, or whatever it is. You can start populating your feed because it will be more positive and that will help you think better and have a better attitude and mindset about aging. You have those examples and you go, “I want to be like her when I’m 60, 70, or 80.”
If you have toxic people in your life, get rid of them if you can, or spend much less time with them. Know that aging is a natural process.
I can’t help but think of Sally Fallon Morell who’s older and amazing. She’s a found of wisdom and brilliance. It’s so wonderful to be surrounded by women who are aging beautifully with vitality and great health. I need to ask you the question that I’d like to pose at the end because we are about to wrap up. If the reader could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do?
I have to go back to attitude and have the mindset. This is so much because there’s research on this. I mentioned to you Dr. Becca Levy. She’s a gerontologist. She did lots of studies but there was one in particular in 2002 where she looked at older adults and asked them questions, “What do you think about life, aging, getting older, and all that?” She found out that those who had a negative attitude towards aging didn’t live as long as those who were positive.
This is a study that looked at over 660 people. She found out those with positive self-perceptions lived seven and a half years longer on average than those in the sample who expressed negative self-perceptions on aging. Surround yourself with those positive people. Be a good example yourself, remove those toxic stereotypes, and empower yourself. There’s so much information online that changed that attitude. Aging is amazing. We are so lucky to get older. That’s the message. One thing to do is the mindset and you will find all the rest after that.
Beautiful words to end on. Thank you so much for your time, Zora. It’s been a pleasure.
Our guest was Zora Benhamou. You can visit the Hack My Age website. You can find me on the Holistic Hilda website. For a review from Apple Podcasts, “Easy listening plus invaluable info. Phenomenal guests, A-plus topics, no-nonsense interviewing style, and always interesting and to the point. This is an amazing show on all things health and wellness for busy moms on the go. Thank you for diving quickly into the meat and not wasting our valuable time.” You are so welcome. It is our pleasure. Thank you for reading. Stay well. Remember to keep your feet on the ground and your face to the sun.
About Zora Benhamou
Zora is a 53-year-old digital nomad. She founded the website HackMyAge.com, the Hack My Age podcast, is the author of the Longevity Master Plan & cookbook Eating For Longevity and creator of online programs for women in peri and post menopause. Her online presence reaches over 100,000 people. She is also a member of the Gerontological Society of America, the American Society on Aging and the European Menopause and Andropause Society. Zora received a Masters of Gerontology at the prestigious University of Southern California.
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