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Gabby Logan has shared the lifestyle and medical changes that have helped her feel more like herself, since she was diagnosed as perimenopausal last year.
The 48-year-old TV presenter and podcast host found out her hormone levels had dropped dramatically after a doctor requested she take a blood test 12 months ago. She was then told her dry skin and lack of energy were actually symptoms of perimenopause.
Gabby spoke exclusively to Red, ahead of the release of the third series of her hit podcast: The Mid.Point, which launched this week.
Kicking off with Ruby Wax, subsequent episodes will feature Gareth Thomas and Penny Lancaster chatting about all things mid-life, including relationship breakdowns, crises of confidence and the physical changes that come with ageing, as well as perimenopause.
Perimenopause and menopause are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. Perimenopause is the term used to describe the run-up to the menopause (when ovulation begins to slow down and you'll have menopausal symptoms, like hot flushes, but still have periods), before your periods stop entirely (menopause).
As Maisie Hill, a women's health expert, explains in her new book Perimenopause Power: Navigating Your Hormones: "Perimenopause is likely to start in your forties, but for some it will begin in your thirties. It can last as little as two years or as long as 12, and if more of us were aware of the subtleties of the transition, we'd recognise the hallmark signs of our hormones shifting far sooner and actually be able to do something about it."
There's also another issue that Gabby knows only too well. Many GPs and health professionals have received no formal training around perimenopause and menopause.
"One of the most shocking things that I learned along the way, was the lack of medical training that doctors have on this period of life," she says. "If they're a doctor and they're not a woman who's experienced in the menopause and perimenopause, they probably won't have a great understanding of what you're going through."
Whilst researching for the podcast, Gabby spoke to Dr Shahzadi Harper — a menopause and perimenopause specialist — whom she turned to after realising she was perimenopausal and that taking bio-identical hormones could be the key to her feeling "like myself again".
"It's about arming people with knowledge," she explains. "You know that anxiety that you're feeling? Well, actually you don't need to go on antidepressants, this is to do with your hormones. Let's have a look at your hormone levels."
Gabby believes lots women aren't aware of how their bodies work. Admitting that it wasn't until she started IVF that she realised exactly how pregnancy worked, she's thankful that there are women like Davina McCall who have been so open talking about perimenopause and the menopause, both on The Mid.Point podcast and in her recent documentary Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause.
Davina revealed last year — and in the documentary in greater detail — the shame she felt around taking HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) and the fear she had prior to taking them, due to confusion and misinformation around the risks.
Luckily, she discovered a natural alternative known as BHRT (Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Therapy) that Gabby uses too, which uses extracts from yams to replace the synthetic hormones used in traditional medication.
Gabby's advice on bio-identical hormones? "Don't just take [your information] from one headline in a tabloid newspaper."
"Over the years, mainstream media surrounding HRT has made a lot of people think 'I can't look into hormones because of the negative impact', but I think you've got to look at all different kids of information available to you, to come to a decision about something that could really improve the quality of your life."
For the former gymnast, the improvement was almost instant after she started taking BHRT. "It was probably about a week," she recalls, "I felt a lot better really quickly." However she notes that everyone's body balance is different, which makes it especially important to go and see a specialist who can prescribe the right combination for you.
"It's not a one-size-fits-all," she says, explaining how after her skin starting breaking out, she realised she didn't need as much testosterone. So her doctor scaled back her dose to every other day, following further blood tests.
"It's a fine balance," she admits. "We don't want to go and upset our endocrine system and create other issues...." But ten months in? She has no negative side effects to report.
Gabby is 48 now but until she was diagnosed as being perimenopausal, she'd just put her "mild" symptoms of lack of energy, dry skin and "not feeling the best version" of herself down to the ageing process and admits she could have easily carried on not knowing.
It wasn't until she went to see a doctor and had her hormone levels checked that she realised all the signs were there — and she urges all women experiencing similarly mild symptoms to go and demand a blood test from their GP.
"It was a relief almost to know that my hormone levels were so low," she explains. "I was thinking, 'I'm putting all this good stuff in my body and eating really well, doing exercise and I don't feel like I'm getting the reward'."
She admits that, looking back, the difference was "quite dramatic" to how she was just a few years before. "I thought, 'God, if this is the decline, if this is ageing — by the time I'm 60 I'm going to be knackered.'"
Now that Gabby's had her hormone levels tested, she's on the BHRT and armed with the knowledge to not only survive but thrive during her pre-menopausal years, she shares her perimenopause survival kit:
Gabby Logan's perimenopause survival kit
Due to a drop in hormone levels, women entering this period of life should be thinking about adding weights to their workouts to improve bone density, according to Gabby, as they now could be more prone to osteoporosis.
"We're not talking about Olympic weight lifting, no scary stuff that's going to change our body mass dramatically," she says. "It's going to make you feel stronger and better and it's going to help your bones."
"I take something called Menoprime."
"I always do exercise and the food and the diet," she says, explaining that although looking into what kind of foods help during perimenopause and menopause (such as protein), this won't help you completely. "If you've got a history of women [in your family] having quite strong menopauses, [your diet] isn't going to alleviate all your symptoms."
"It's really important to get some some kind of meditation, breathing or yoga going," Gabby says. "Something where you're really controlling your breathing. We all operate on some sort of high level of stress and cortisol in our lives."
Pilates or yoga
"It won't be the most physical part of my exercise programme, but it probably gives me as much mentally as anything," she explains.
Life isn't a race, Gabby says, and there's plenty to look forward to. She admits that in her 20s, she didn't think she'd still be on television after 40 and says if she could go back and give her younger self some advice, it would be, "to chill and don't think you've got to finish everything."
"I think my younger self always felt that she had to get everything done by the time she was 40. That there was no life after that," she recalls. "I probably rushed things because I was thinking, 'What can I possibly achieve after the age of 40?' I would like people to think of their life as slightly longer and [that they're] able to achieve for longer.
"It's like anybody who thinks, 'By the time I'm 35, I'm going to be CEO and have a Ferrari' — it's good to have goals, but what if you get to that stage and you've achieved all those things? What do you do then? Life doesn't always present you with the opportunities until that stage, so if you haven't done what you wanted to do by the time you're 40, don't worry!"
The Mid.Point with Gabby Logan is available on all major podcast platforms, with new episodes from the third series released every Wednesday.
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