Dr. Margery Gass has dedicated her medical career to menopause research and care, and has been a member of the North American Menopause Society since 1993. In 2010, she took on the role of Executive Director for NAMS and is currently a consultant at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Specialized Womenís Health Care in Cleveland, Ohio.
In this final installment of our recent interview, Dr. Gass discusses her commitment to womenís health and the progress in attitudes towards menopause both in the medical and greater social perspectives.
Dr. Gass: ĎOur goal has always been to give women an objective view of menopause. We do take the position that menopause is a natural, normal event in a womanís life just the way puberty is.
Some people are portraying menopause as something to fix or cure rather than a natural progression, primarily the compounding industry and the so-called bioidentical compounded hormones. These particular companies, when you see their websites tell get the hormones you need to function and some are tossing in claims about how to control aging. These are totally unsubstantiated claims, but they do have a great appeal to public, as we donít relish idea of aging and declining. So if something holds that promise of controlling aging, as they are saying, itís a marketing ploy.í
I asked Dr. Gass if that is part of the North American culture; the fear of getting older in a youth-obsessed society?
Dr. Gass: ĎMenopause is something to blame our poor health on as we age. Even our men go through many of the same things; they get potbellies or find themselves forgetting things too. It can be hard to tease out natural cycles of getting older versus the natural occurrences of menopause itself. It is so much easier to blame menopause than to our lifestyle or our dwindling amount of exercise/lifestyle choices.
Women unlike men have about a 40-year time frame when they can reproduce, and most women wouldnít really want to produce children at age 8 or at age 60. So itís a nice arrangement if you will, that we have this time frame when weíre of the right age of maturity and not too old to raise that child and to reproduce and so itís a normal phase.
Thereís a myth out there that humans were not supposed to live past menopause and thatís just blatantly untrue. The life expectancy was around 50 in 1900 but life expectancy is an average, so if you have infants dying because there are no antibiotics and no vaccines, thatís going to bring the average life expectancy down.
Say one person lives to 100 and the other person died at one year, your average is going to be 50 for life expectancy. So once we got the vaccines and the antibiotics we could keep most people alive longer. Then you see what the real potential is for human life expectancy because humans are not all dying in childhood, childbirth, and young adulthood from pneumonias because there are no vaccines and those kinds of things.
So it is really not true that humans were supposed to die at menopause.
I further asked about societal attitudes toward menopause being the end of a womanís life in North America compared to say in Japan.
Dr. Gass: ĎNot all societies bought into that. In some societies, women past childbearing are finally given respect and are allowed to join the male councils and are seen as carriers of wisdom. So itís not all societies that have gone that far to glorify youth, but it has become a value to a large degree in our society.
If you look at the extensive use of plastic/cosmetic surgery these days it sends the wrong statement about how much we value looking young and all of those things. You mentioned the Japanese and I think itís very interesting that Japanese women have the longest life expectancy in the world and they have had that honor, and a well-deserved honor, for 20 years. And they didnít use hormones at all in their country. So itís kind of interesting in that basically Japanese women lived a healthy lifestyle; they didnít do all the smoking and weight gaining as has been done in our society.í
Dr. Gass offered this powerful quote from Margaret Mead to sum up her philosophy about menopause and believes that maybe in pockets of the world this is true: ĎMenopause is when women lose their menses and find their voices.í
My special thanks to Dr. Margery Gass for our telephone interview conducted April 23, 2012.