Published: 02 February 2023
TV presenter and menopause awareness advocate Davina McCall stressed the importance of women’s health research - in particular the menopause - at an NIHR event last week.
She was the guest speaker at the NIHR Reproductive Health and Childbirth National Research Champions Group Symposium.
She said: “All women will go through the menopause and we want to be armed with all the information and support and help we can have. When it happens to you you'll need some help. Or to help your daughters, or your daughter's daughters. It’s basically women helping women and we want to help each other. We've got to lift each other up and research is the way to do it."
Talking about her own menopause journey, she said: “I felt so invisible I felt like no one could see me anymore. I had no information, but the information is getting better, it is getting out there.”
On Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), she said: “We know that HRT can really help women. We are beginning to learn that it is safe and that there are many unbelievably good health benefits to taking HRT, particularly in terms of your bones. It can also help with heart health, the brain fog and libido. There was a recent study connecting HRT to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s if you are prone to getting Alzheimer’s.”
She also acknowledged that not all women can take HRT and said: “A lot more research needs to go into supporting women who have no other avenue- what else can they do?”
Women often feel unheard
Much of what Davina said is echoed in an NIHR Collection about Women’s Health, which brings together key messages from recent NIHR funded research. According to the findings, women often feel unheard or misunderstood after a conversation with their doctor. The research suggests that professionals’ attitudes, and lack of time, knowledge and cultural awareness, all play their part. The UK Government’s Women’s Health Strategy aims to make sure women and girls feel listened to and have their concerns taken seriously at every stage.
National Lead for the NIHR Clinical Research Network’s Reproductive Health & Childbirth Specialty, Nigel Simpson, said that the NIHR recruits very well to pregnancy and reproductive health studies. In the last 12 months, there have been over 200 studies recruiting over 100,000 participants, but for various reasons only a small proportion of these are menopausal studies.
Encouraging more menopausal research
Nigel said: “Women are very open to research, they have a desire to help other women to understand more about the common problems they encounter. So we need to capture this enthusiasm and ensure that there are opportunities to take part in research.”
He shared some ideas about making this a reality: “Most reproductive health research takes place at hospital appointments during pregnancy, whereas women with menopausal symptoms tend to visit their GP. So one opportunity would be to get reproductive and primary care researchers to work more closely together and co-produce research with women.”
Another suggestion was to continue to build links with communities through resident groups, churches and mother and baby classes, so that research is accessible to people from all different communities.
He also encouraged eligible nurses and midwives to join the Associate Principal Investigator scheme to become the Principal Investigators of the future and to explore other NIHR career development opportunities available to them.
Women supporting women
Chair of the NIHR’s Reproductive Health and Childbirth National Research Champion’s Group, Jennifer Syson said:
“As an advocate for women's health and research, we invited Davina to join us on the day as it is so powerful to hear first-hand stories of women's experiences. Davina highlighted the work still to be done to ensure women's health research provides answers, particularly concerning the menopause, and inspired the nurses and midwives in the room to seek out research opportunities that will improve the health of the women they care for.”
Davina concluded by saying:
“If there is anything you can do to support women going through this phase in their lives, then please do it. I call it the second spring, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, it is like being reborn - if you can get the support you need. So anything you can do to support women with that would be amazing.”
Find out more about the NIHR’s mission to inspire nurses and midwives to improve health outcomes for research
Find out more about the NIHR’s reproductive health research