Opening the door to talking about the menopause

Ireland’s first perimenopause coach, Catherine O’Keeffe is on a mission to change the attitude towards the menopause in Ireland, something that many women find difficult to talk about. West Cork People finds out more.

Also known as the Wellness Warrior, Catherine, 48, previously worked in investment banking before going back to college to train as a Homeopath. Over the years she has researched every aspect of menopause and health and has discovered many natural solutions that are providing relief to women both in perimenopause and menopause. Author of ‘The Best Friend’s Guide to Anxiety’, Catherine also writes articles for My Second Spring, a website dedicated to menopause. 

“It really saddens me that this is still a taboo, it can be such an amazing time in your life if you have the right attitude. In the West we don’t appreciate the innate wisdom that a women has in her mid 40s onwards; if you look at Japan, women at this age are revered and looked up to by society. In the West it is a different story and this is something I am passionate about changing and My Second Spring is the same,” says Catherine.

“It won’t happen overnight but I really hope for the next generation this will be an openly discussed conversation and not one behind closed doors. If society sees it as a taboo, that attitude reflects on women and it makes it a subject that women are uncomfortable discussing…change that attitude and you change everything.”

Anxiety is a huge factor in the menopause, which is how Catherine’s book ‘The Best Friend’s Guide to Anxiety’ was born. Studies indicate that 25 per cent of women in perimenopause and menopause experience increased anxiety and stress, “Anxiety in menopause can manifest in many different ways – social and health anxiety are the most common followed by panic attacks,” explains Catherine. “When you look at anxiety you really need to step back and look at what is going on in your life – be very honest with yourself. Are you getting enough sleep? How is your diet? Are you drinking too much caffeine or alcohol?”

In a moment of anxiety Catherine says that breathing is the most effective form of relief and sidetracking your brain. “Longterm lifestyle changes should be tweaked and also look at Cognitive Behavioural Therpy, which is really effective for anxiety and can also be practised easily on your won.”

It’s believed there are 38 symptoms in perimenopause. “I actually believe there are more than this,” says Catherine. Most women think it’s hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia etc…the ones I see most often, apart form the typical ones, are loss of confidence, anxiety and brain fog. Heart palpitations are a big one – this is one that can be very frightening and often people don’t realise it can be menopause related.”

Catherine started perimenopause around the age of 44. “I know this by virtue of the symptoms I had – I had experienced flooding (where you get heavy intense periods), bloating and the mood swings. The journey is gradual so this all came on slowly over time…I don’t get flooding anymore – I did acupuncture to treat that. My diet is very good, so bloating isn’t an issue and the moods are good except for the few days before my periods but I manage that now and I know what to expect…as do my family!”

There are a few key supplements that Catherine says can help with the symptoms of perimenopause – Maca, Sage, Rhodiola and Red Clover.

“Maca is an all rounder really for menopause; it’s a hormone hitter and I have had great results with this – Sara’s Choice (based in Galway) do what I see as the purest Maca on the market here. I am very particular about the supplements I recommend, I have no affiliations but I research each supplement before I recommend it. Sara has brought this Maca direct from Peru. I like that it is ethically sourced and the benefits of the fact it has three types of maca root. Maca will help with all the typical physical symptoms of menopause and it will also help irritability and mood. The key with Maca is getting the dosage right.

“Sage works on hot flushes, Rhodiola on stress relief. Red Clover is a soy isoflavonoid and, as such, you need to be aware of contraindications if you have had cancer or there is a family history. It is a very concentrated form of soy so you need to be very mindful of that and use it only when needed. I had a client recently who took Red Clover for irregular periods and two weeks later started night sweats. She was 43; Red Clover was not the right supplement in this case and it triggered hot flushes and made her think she was in perimenopause – she wasn’t! Seek advice with supplements would be my advice and if new symptoms start to appear, be aware of that.”

Catherine’s number one supplement that she takes herself is Camu Camu –also referred to as the Feel Good Berry. “It’s mighty in my book, it’s a very pure form of Vitamin C, which boosts your immune system, it also enhances collagen production and so helps you skin, and finally it is great to give you energy and boost you mood. I also take Omega 3; even though I eat fish we still won’t get enough through our diets. I am passionate too about gut health, so I eat alot of fermented foods like milk kefir etc.”

Catherine works with women, not just in Ireland, but overseas too. “This is very accessible with Skype/Zoom etc. Together we look at all areas and those challenging symptoms and devise a wellness plan that is tailored specific to that client’s needs,” she explains.

“The most important step is to Keep Social – we underestimate this!” says Catherine. “We underestimate the power and support of the female network and support group. This will help anxiety and help you feel you’re not alone in this journey.

“Embrace it, don’t fear it – the physical symptoms are niggles telling you you need to so something. I often find that by incorporating 10 minutes of meditation in a day, hot flushes can be reduced. Research in the UK recently showed how meditation reduced hot flushes by 60 per cent. Listen to the symptoms and take action – don’t be afraid of them. You have a great power in this chapter and you emerge a stronger wiser women.”

She also recommends eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, reducing processed foods and drinking lots of water, while being aware of the nutrient robbers like alcohol, caffeine, sugar and smoking.

Exercise and moving as much as you can during the day is also very important.

Her final piece of advice is to find a passion. “Find something that fires your brain and that you enjoy… it could be salsa dancing, learning a new language, whatever it is incorporate it into your life.”

Catherine’s book The Best Friend’s Guide to Anxiety’ offers offers practical everyday tools to address all forms of anxiety from panic attacks to everyday anxious moments.

Another source of information on the menopause that she recommends is the website My Second Spring. “It is really the Oracle in Ireland and now reaches over 2m people globally – it is a great resource for women to check all the details of menopause.”

You’ll also find lots of information on Catherine’s website,, where she writes regular blogs on new research for all areas of interest to menopause.

Catherine is also the Irish representation for the Daisy Network – a UK Charity for young women who suffer Premature Ovarian Insufficiency. “This is a very tough journey. There is no support in Ireland for this and this is something I am really looking to change,” she says.

Catherine gives talks all over Ireland and is hoping to visit Cork next September to give a perimenopause presentation.

You can follow Catherine on her website and various social media platforms.

Mary O'Brien

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