Documentary Reveals the Good, Bad, Ugly of Menopause

PHOTO: New documentary offers humorous insight into menopause.
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"When I think of menopause, I think of hate, pure clean hate," one woman said in the new documentary "Hot Flash Havoc."

"I told my wife if she goes through menopause again, we're getting a divorce," a husband said.

Nevertheless, "you're very lucky to reach menopause," another woman said. "If you don't reach it, you have some troubles."

"Hot Flash Havoc," a film of "menopausal proportions," is a documentary meant to examine menopausal symptoms, reveal the history and society's view on menopause and even question the results from an ongoing National Institutes of Health initiative, which, in 2002, discouraged women from taking estrogen plus progesterone to treat symptoms of menopause.

For some women, menopause symptoms are much more than the occasional hot flash. Depression, low libido, night sweats and panic attacks are only a few of the many indications that storm through the body of a menopausal woman.

The controversial documentary will be released to the public March 30.

The beginning of the documentary creates a playful dialogue on the experiences and expectations of menopause and menstruation.

For one woman, the roundabout way in which she was told about her feminine health left her confused for decades.

"Your Aunt Tilly is going to visit you once a month, and she's going to hang around for about 30 years," the interviewee described how her menstrual cycle was explained. "When Aunt Tilly dies, you'll know about it cause she won't come around no more. Who the hell is Aunt Tilly?"

The majority of the film documents the benefits of estrogen replacement therapy, commonly taken to curb hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. It particularly criticizes a NIH Women's Health Initiative study, which, in 2002, found that women taking estrogen were at higher risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Researchers halted the clinical trial altogether in 2002 because of the noted increased risk.

Filmmakers and menopause experts interviewed in the documentary argue that the 2002 study results were misrepresented, and led millions of menopausal women to unnecessarily stop taking hormones that otherwise curbed debilitating symptoms sometimes associated with menopause. No money from pharmaceutical companies was used to create the film, according to producers.

And research released last week in the Lancet reignited this debate when a study found that estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy might lower the risk of breast cancer for some postmenopausal women. While the findings were specific to women who have had a hysterectomy, have no increased risk of breast cancer and no increased risk of strokes and blood clots, advocates of hormone therapy welcomed the results.

"Menopause has been this secret filled with shame, anxiety and confusion for centuries," said Heidi Houston, executive producer of the film. "The movie is intended to give information so every woman can make informed decisions about treating menopause and allow women to become health care advocates for themselves."

Prior to the 2002 study, some preliminary research found that the menopausal hormone therapy actually helped to decrease the risk of heart disease, but the preliminary data found the treatment did not decrease risk and put women at increased risk of some invasive breast cancers and stroke. Prior to the study results, hormones were one of the most prescribed drugs in the country.

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