Gwyneth Paltrow has recently claimed we don’t have enough aspirational female role models going through the menopause, it has been reported. The article implied that she would like to be that very role model.
She does have a point in one sense - we need more successful and powerful women as role models. We also need to have an open conversation about women’s health including menopause. Whether she’s the right person to be championing those issues is another story.
Now that my school friends and I are entering menopause I see the need to find good sources of information. What they want to know the most is whether they should take HRT.
My friends ask me for advice because I am “The scientist”, but I am a neuroscientist, a PhD in molecular and cell biology and a biochemist by training, so menopause is not my usual read.
I normally read the latest cellular neuroscience manuscripts and when I want to unwind, I read romance novels, the ones with a resourceful heroine that saves herself and demands the hero to respect her. Although I have the training to read and understand the original research communications, when I want information fast about a public health topic I personally go to Wikipedia where the ecosystem of thousands of editors makes it a good way to know the scientific consensus at the time.
Unfortunately, the Wiki page on Hormone Replacement Therapy for menopause is confusing, at best. The lack of clear information available to women is disappointing, but not surprising - there have been dramatic changes in the conclusions of this research over the last decades.
My next trusted source are the national and international health organisations and government agencies. These sites don’t have conflict of interests because they are not trying to sell you anything and they are founded by government grants or donations.
Which brings me to my main problem with Paltrow’s activism. It is hard not to feel it is just a storefront for her new line of supplements, aimed at women going through the menopause.
On her website Goop, next to articles giving advice on women’s health, there is a link to her store that follows you as you read. And the vitamins and “phytonutrients” (whatever those are) sold on her site, or in any other such business, are not effective to treat the symptoms of menopause.
Goop sells these supplements as a “tailored” package to be taken daily, despite there being only one type of package. It contains about 50 ingredients, including for example black cohosh which “has been recommended for years for symptoms associated with menopause,” according to Goop’s Dr Dominique Fradin-Read. Unfortunately, black cohosh is not only ineffective to treat any symptom, it can also be toxic to the liver. The package also contains Rhodiola rosea “a well-studied adaptogen”. Adaptogen is a term that has no scientific meaning and there is no convincing evidence of any health benefit of this substance.
That being said, there is also some good advice in this Goop section, despite it being obvious: eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. But simple lifestyle measures are not enough for many women and many may benefit from taking HRT, especially if you are younger than 60 and within 10 years of the onset of menopause. It is something that you have to discuss with your physician.
In the meantime, an excellent source of trusted information is the The North American Menopause Society menopause.org. Another good source is the Canadian OB/GYN Jen Gunter. Her blog -commercial and store free- is peppered with irreverent humor and her advice is based on sound scientific evidence. She also writes a column at the New York times and you can often hear her debunking the health myth. She doesn’t aspire to be a role model. She already is one for me, and her post about herself going through menopause is packed with facts and thoughtful advice Dr-jengunter.
I wish Gwyneth Paltrow would use her power and influence to truly help women. Because selling dreams and pixie dust packed as medicine is unethical and not something to aspire to.