Ageing with attitude: Menopause should not be a dirty word - Paula Mee, dietitian

Paula Mee has come through a difficult phase of her life, including the break up of a long-term relationship. Along the way she learned how to manage the ‘Change’, says Margaret Jennings.

Ageing with attitude: Menopause should not be a dirty word - Paula Mee, dietitian

‘It’s not a disease, it’s a natural transition like adolescence — a life stage — and it’s a normal part of who we are,” says dietitian Paula Mee

IT would be easy to think that Paula Mee, consultant dietitian on TV3’s Doctor in the House and a regular expert voice in the media, has it all sorted.

Add to her credentials her first book, which she has just co-authored, called Your Middle Years — which is a practical and upbeat guide for women during the menopausal years — and another box is ticked regarding that judgment.

Mee, who will be 53 in June, admits that it is only over the past 18 months that she has come out of a hugely challenging phase of her life, during which she lost her confidence, split up of a long-term relationship, was struggling with her own weight, and became very anxious.

Some of the challenges, like the relationship break-up with a “wonderful man”, might have happened anyway, she says.

But she’s in no doubt that the menopausal symptoms, which were at their peak for her at age 48, turned up the volume on how she responded to life.

“Going though the transition I was very anxious, because it was like ‘what’s going on here?’

I didn’t understand the symptoms. I felt very moody.

"I was all over the place in terms of my work; I used to get brilliant media opportunities and I’d make up excuses because my confidence was knocked. I would say I would be away and I wouldn’t be away,” she admits.

“I lost my interest really in a lot of things, even in friendships. My weight was fluctuating.

"I think women who go through this feel a lot of pressure because things are shifting.

"I hope the book helps them anticipate the possible changes; that they can dip in as they need, to get the relevant information.”

Throw into the pot that Mee was raising a teenage son, Cian — now a “fine young man” of 20 — at the time, and she jokes there were lots of hormones active in the household.

“The most severe symptoms I had though were the night sweats, which were torture and lasted two to three years for me — and that’s pretty typical.

“I had a friend who used to put a packet of peas at the back of her pillow so that when she flipped her pillow she would have an instant cool-down.

"Those are the kind of things I didn’t know about. I had endless sleepless nights and of course that has a knock-on effect on your hormones. I actually did think I was depressed for a while.”

In addition, Mee learned that a diagnosis of osteopenia in her early 30s, a genetic condition carried by her sisters, her mother, and aunts, had evolved into osteoporosis.

“I’m conscious that it’s always there, but I’m going to do everything I possibly can do to improve my balance and my flexibility so that the risk of falling is minimised and of course I am implementing all the dietary factors that I fundamentally believe in.”

The invitation to co-author the book with lifestyle writer Kate O’Brien was perfect timing.

She has obviously earned her stripes to advise the thousands of women in Ireland going through the ‘Change’, but the book is also a wellbeing guide for the older years ahead and adopts a holistic approach, embracing mental and physical health.

In the meantime, apart from the odd internal ‘Global Warming Day’, Mee says: “I really feel I have entered into a more positive phase of my life.

"I don’t want women to see it as a negative and to be ‘hush, hush, oh don’t mention the menopause’, because it shouldn’t be a dirty word.

"It’s not a disease, it’s a natural transition like adolescence — a life stage — and it’s a normal part of who we are.”

She didn’t feel the need for HRT herself, but ended up turning to yoga, mindfulness, long walks, and quiet interludes in churches to help her self-manage.

“Although it can be rocky to varying degrees for different women there are lots of things we can do to help ourselves.

"And when we come out the other end we may have a completely different perspective and maybe new opportunities to take on the next phase of life.”

* Your Middle Years, by Paula Mee and Kate O’Brien, is published by Gill & Macmillian, €16.99

NATURAL HIGH

Gentle exercises, like Tai chi, seem to lower blood pressure and ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, according to a review of 2,200 people.

Tai chi, qigong, and other traditional Chinese exercises were also linked to improved quality of life and reduced depression in heart-disease patients, it was reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Although no cause-and-effect link was created between the exercises and heart-disease prevention, the positive results were seen from a review of 35 studies, involving 10 countries.

The exercises did not significantly improve heart rate, aerobic fitness levels, or general health scores, but the researchers plan to conduct randomised, controlled scientific trials to further review the effect of different types of traditional Chinese exercises on chronic diseases.

HOW’S YOUR HEARING?

Approximately 650,000 Irish people are affected by hearing loss with 47% of respondents in a national survey agreeing that it’s just part and parcel of getting old.

As a result, the average person waits up to 15 years to have their hearing tested, despite the detrimental effects it can have emotionally, physically and mentally.

However Specsavers audiologist Rory Perry recommends people over the age of 55 get a hearing test every two years.

The stars of the TV series 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy, Nancy and Baz Ashmawy, pictured, helped launch the Specsavers Sound Check Ireland Roadshow 2016, to encourage people to avail of a free hearing screening and consultation.

Visit www.specsavers.ie/hearing to find out when Sound Check Ireland will be near you.

AGEING QUOTE

There is no old age. There is as there always was, just you— Actress and author Carol Matthau

SILVER SURFER

How your breasts change as you age http://bit.ly/1SMeH6U

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