Davina McCall shares more about the making of ‘Sex, Myths and Menopause’ documentary
Published: 11th May 2021
In this interview, Davina McCall opens up about the impact on her personally of being a part of the Channel 4 documentary, ‘Sex, Myths and Menopause’, aired on 12th May 2021.
What is the one thing you hope women – and men – take away from this documentary?
Firstly, I hope that friends and relatives and partners of women who are perimenopausal or menopausal, will leave this documentary with an enormous amount of compassion for anyone who’s going through it. I hope that women who are at a loss and really don’t know what to do might find a bit of comfort and look at treating themselves with HRT. I feel like this is a call out to women, and to men to support their women, on a journey to get HRT and to understand what a big difference it can make to everybody.
How do you think we should/could educate better on menopause?
I feel like we’re on the crest of a wave of change, that we as women are no longer ashamed of talking about something which is completely natural and biological, is happening in our bodies to a lot of us and none of us can escape it. Some of us will get there via illness, some of us will get there at our usual biological age and some women are menopausal very early, so it is definitely something that we should tackle head on. I’m not sure that school is the right place to learn about it, but I do think that when women become inquisitive about there should be a lot more places for us to access information.
What’s so sad is there are a very small handful of male and female doctors and gynaecologists who are very informed, open minded and forward thinking. But there are a whole host of other health care professionals who are basically nervous about prescribing HRT or talking about the menopause because they just don’t know enough about it. That’s not their fault. There is a failing I think, somewhere along the line possibly in their training or with the government. I often think when you go to the doctor’s surgery, obviously half of their patients will be women and 100% of those women will go through the menopause, so it seems really right to me that a GP would learn about the menopause and all the different ways you can treat it in medical school. But what I don’t understand is not all of us will get diabetes or Alzheimer’s or lots of other illnesses, but these are illnesses that they do learn about. I just don’t understand why doctors aren’t learning more about the menopause and how to treat it.
I think also it’s been such a thing that we don’t talk about since “the paper” in 2002, which we explain in the documentary very clearly – why women were literally flushing their HRT down the toilet and how far HRT and any kind of treatment for the menopause has now come but how the same old worries and fears apply.
What made you go on to HRT?
I was very lucky because I had a great gynaecologist. It was probably 2014, he’s a man, I’m going to shout his name out from the highest hilltops – he’s called Angus McIndoe. He was the one that said “it’s ok, you can try it.” and I said “I don’t want to get breast cancer” and he said these are the risks and told me everything and he told me what kind of risks I’d have from other things like alcohol.
I wasn’t aware of the health benefits and once I’d heard about those I was like this is a no brainer; with one hand it’s probably giving me a slight increased risk in this area but I am very conscious of checking myself none stop. I’m very careful, I don’t smoke, I exercise, I do everything I can to stay fit and healthy. But osteoporosis is no joke and heart disease is a huge killer of people over 50 and that’s no joke either. My dad has Alzheimer’s and it helps with brain health and cognitive health, so for me it was a no brainer.
However, it’s trying to tell people about it in a way that doesn’t make them go “oh you’re just a rabid HRT loony”. You have to be quite careful about the way that you put it because I don’t want to feel like I’m forcing it down people’s throats at all. But what I am saying is that it’s good for you so go an talk to somebody about it. In my case the risks were just way outweighed by the benefits.
What made you go from hiding that you were on HRT to embracing it?
I hid it for quite a long time, I probably hid it until I met Louise Newson. I didn’t hide it, but I lied to friends about it and these are really lovely friends of mine who maybe have careers in homeopathy. I did tell them a couple of years later, but I felt like I was doing the wrong thing, that I should go through it naturally. Now I’ve realised that I don’t give them a hard time about their choices, and they don’t give me a hard time about my choices, but I think there was shame around it. Once I’d spoke to Louise, I did an interview with her that really was a game changer for my Own Your Goals platform, she just blew my mind in the most unbelievable way. The way she explained it, I just thought good grief every woman in her 50s should be offered HRT. Whether they’re symptomatic or not because of the benefits. She made me start thinking, I’m not doing something terrible or embarrassing, I’m actually helping the NHS. You know further down the line I’m not going to be in A+E with broken wrists or ankles, hopefully I won’t be in there with heart attacks because I’ll be a healthy person, because I’m taking HRT. It’s about reframing everything that you thought you knew about menopause.
There was a huge WHI (Women’s health Initiative) study which found that women on estrogen-only HRT were 20 per cent less likely to get breast cancer than those on no treatment. They were studied for 18 years. These are the facts and stats women need to know, not just the study we all remember from 20 years ago.
I’ve never felt this strongly. In fact I did do a documentary on sex education for Channel 4 when I was pregnant with my son and was very passionate about that, so I guess sexual health and health and women and health in later life all of that is important to me. I feel like education in this area, so we can take care of ourselves, is important. And importantly we need to not judge each other.
Do you think employers are doing enough to tackle this situation?
Women are the verge of losing their jobs or leaving their jobs because they can’t cope with it. I would love to encourage any big business to have a menopause nurse on site who can answer all of their questions, refer them to GPs and just to give advice because that’s what women seem absolutely desperate for and that’s what this documentary is about – to give advice and statistics and clear up the quagmire of differing attitudes and opinions that there are flying all over the place.
If you were able to give menopause “rebrand”, what would it be?
What it is, is a hormone deficiency. Why wouldn’t you, if you wanted to, replace those hormones if you could in a safe way? What a lot of people don’t know is that the HRT that is used now is body identical and it’s made out of yams, it’s completely natural and plant based. People say “oh it’s genetic” but it’s just not. There is so much misinformation out there that terrifies women. I just tell people when talking about HRT, look there is an increased risk of breast cancer by taking HRT but there is more of an increased risk by drinking two glasses of wine a day and there is an enormously higher risk of breast cancer from being obese. So why are we so terrified of HRT?
It is, in many women’s case and in my case, career saving. I definitely would not have been able to continue working had I not gone on HRT. In many women’s case it’s lifesaving, marriage saving – it’s really, really hard not just on the women going through it but on the people, who love them and surround them.
You have to weigh up the risks obviously and every single case is different, and every single case needs to be treated as an individual. But for our GPs who have done the extra modules, it isn’t that difficult and then it’s just a bit of a balancing act to be able to help somebody to try a few different things to get to exactly the right place.
How did you feel when you were talking to the other women featured in the film?
Kate Duffy, she really is one of the most hard-hitting cases. What she went through was so heart-breaking and sadly is really, really common. Me and Kate seemed to spend most evening together on Twitter like some sort of silent army answering women’s questions, which is ridiculous that we would have to do that. It’s inspiring but there were night’s when I was making this and I would just go home and cry because I would think about the women I’ve spoken to and then of the other women who are just suffering and can’t access help. The women I spoke to were incredibly strong really, they were going through something terrible, but they just never gave up. I feel like there are so many women out there who have just been told to pull their socks up. I want this documentary to make a difference, I really do.
What would you say to all the women out there going through menopause?
The biggest thing for me is that any women, certainly any women over 40, you should definitely download the Free Balance app and keep an eye on symptoms because it’s not just hot flushes and night sweats, it’s a whole range of other symptoms that women don’t know about – confusion, brain fog, depression, anxiety, aching joints. These are often written off by GPs because you’re too young to be going through perimenopause. You should definitely know exactly what the symptoms are and get on it as soon as symptoms hit. Inform yourself. Get out there, get online. You’re not alone but unfortunately the situation as it is at the moment you might have to fight, but don’t give up – on yourself or your marriage or your job – keep going, you’ll get there.
Do you feel proud to be a leading voice in this incredibly important conversation/movement?
Yes, it’s really important to me. I’ve never been more passionate and felt more involved in a project. Pride doesn’t even come close because I feel like it’s a public service, I have to do it. There are lots of women out there, I’m not the only one battling away. I think someone who should feel really proud is Louise Newson, she just puts out endless amazing resources online for free, she’s an absolute juggernaut of a women. All the women out there, everybody who is doing so much for women that are menopausal – Karen from Menopause Whilst Black, helping her community and her followers – there are just so many warriors out there really flying the flag for menopausal women and the more we can gather, the greater the momentum.
‘Sex, Myths and Menopause’ is on Channel 12th May 2021 at 9pm.
The documentary is written and directed by Linda Sands for Finestripe Productions and co-produced by Kate Muir.