“Menopausal women are sold snake oil in a pink bow”, says Dr Jen Gunter, author of the outspoken new book, The Menopause Manifesto</strong>.
The menopause is having a moment, writes Julia Llewellyn Smith in The Telegraph. Once the shameful “change of life” was mentioned just in whispers, today you can’t move for a celebrity describing their joint pain and brain fog.
Gunter, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, agrees it’s great menopause is no longer taboo. “For too long it’s been shrouded in secrecy,” she says.
Yet, at the same time, Gunter, 54, who’s achieved an unusual level of fame for a medic owing to her hugely popular blog, two health columns in The New York Times and large social media following, not to mention a long-running feud with Gwyneth Paltrow, is sceptical about the way some celebrities and big business are now embracing the topic.
“They’ve seen there are huge gaps in medicine around the menopause and they’re exploiting them, by saying ‘Buy this untested supplement or this untested gadget’,” says Gunter. The menopause business is now worth an estimated £425 billion, with one of its chief drivers Gunter’s long-term nemesis, Paltrow.
“Paltrow was one of the first to [sell] these menopausal brand supplements, which to me is the ultimate anti-feminism,” Gunter fulminates. “Wellness, as presented by people like Goop, to me is predatory. They are just selling snake oil, but wrapping it in a pink bow and adding #HolisticLife.
Gunter and Paltrow first clashed in 2017 when Goop started selling £60 vaginal jade eggs the company claimed could regulate menstrual cycles. On her blog, Gunter described these as “a load of garbage,”
Goop replied that Gunter was “strangely confident” in her assertions. Gunter – who’s been practising for 26 years – retorted, “I am not strangely confident about vaginal health; I am appropriately confident because I am the expert.”
When it comes to menopause, much of Gunter’s cynicism is directed towards the trends around HRT (hormone replacement therapy), which she prefers to call MHT (menopausal hormone therapy). Today, the fashion among lunching ladies is to shun traditional HRT pills, previously linked to higher risks of breast cancer, in favour of “compounded” bioidentical hormones, made from soy and yams, from expensive private clinics, although these are subject to none of the tests and regulations of conventional pharmaceutical products.
“Compound products are actually slightly riskier than pharmaceuticals, you may not be absorbing enough of them to get what you need, you might be absorbing too much, which could give you cancer,” Gunter says.
In fact, Gunter explains, “Bioidentical hormones is a completely made-up marketing term. All the hormones that you buy, with the exception of Premarin [oestrogen replacement made from horse’s urine] are all made at the same lab. Women have this idea that because the hormones they’re using are made of yam roots they’re somehow safer – but oestrogen from whatever source can still give you endometriosis or breast cancer.”
She says many women may not need HRT at all – around 15 per cent of women experience no menopausal distress, and of the other 85 per cent, symptoms vary greatly. In fact, she says for most women, managing menopause simply means more of the stuff we already know is good for us: stopping smoking, exercising more, and eating plenty of fibres and vegetables.
“But that’s not sexy new stuff to sell,” Gunter says.
The Menopause Manifesto</strong> by Dr Jennifer Gunter is published by Penguin Random House