Menopause, like childbirth, is a magnet for myth and old wives’ tales (apologies to the old wives). Is it an embarrassing condition to be treated with medical intervention or is it a natural transition? It is the threshold to old age, loss of libido, weight gain, and debility, or a doorway to maturity, choice, and freedom?
For most of human history, women rarely lived long enough to reach menopause. And until recently, people didn’t talk about it or conduct research on it, so the process itself wasn’t well understood. It was just one of those slightly embarrassing “female complaints” that women who made it to menopause simply endured.
Times have changed, albeit slowly, and while the research and solid medical information about menopause has grown, there remains no lack of myth, hunch, and misinformation.
The Internet, that ubiquitous dispenser of gossip and half-truths, hasn’t helped. The fundamental way the internet works is like ants following a pheromone trail. Ants follow the scent blindly, even if it leads over a cliff—the more ants, the stronger the trail. Similarly, the Internet simply promotes the most-accessed information without regard to its accuracy or credibility. Comments and shares reinforce the trail. Celebrity endorsements enhance the pheromones. And when a tasty morsel of information has gone viral, the misinformation has already spread broadly.
The problem with science, on the other hand, is that it isn’t sexy. Good science is slow, careful, nuanced, and evolving. Research takes time, and it takes a lot of research before a position is widely accepted. But good information is important because you can’t make good decisions about your health with bad information.
So, how can we ferret out good information and avoid the misleading trails, especially about a topic as murky and prone to fables as menopause?
Here’s how to arm yourself:
- Distrust social media. As you well know, anyone can post anything. If your friend posts an article about the latest “natural” cure for hot flashes, test it against several solid medical sources (see below).
- Take word of mouth with the same heaping tablespoon of salt. Friends, relatives, Gwyneth Paltrow—none is an expert.
- Seek the gold standard. Stick with the most credible medical sources: menopause.org (the North American Menopause Society), endocrine.org, webmd.com, nih.gov (the National Institutes of Health), mayoclinic.org, healthline.com. Sites like MiddlesexMD are also credible in that they are written and/or vetted by a doctor specializing in menopause.
- Trust your doc. S/he is the first, last, and best resource for your personal health. S/he can interpret, analyze, and comment on information you’ve found and discuss best options based on knowledge of your personal health.
While the internet has revolutionized access to information, it has also exponentially increased the spread of misinformation. Even the most discriminating consumer of information can be misled, so awareness and care in the information we consume is on each of us.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten. Read more about and from her here.