An invigorating dip will cure us of menopause, right? Remind me to stay away from the sewer | Catherine Bennett

IIn a climate that is often hostile to middle-aged women, it is perhaps a sign of progress that an only weakly convincing contribution to menopause treatment, such as last week, can become a cause for national celebration.

That is, if it doesn’t just confirm suspicions that when it comes to women’s health, any visionary, ancient or drug-repellent theory can still become mainstream. As long as NHS medics are congratulating women on enduring, say, a medieval-style birth, it might not be surprising to find an appreciative audience for a new study that favors cold-water swimming: therapy for hot flashes and other menopausal complaints not conspicuously evolved from the cold bath regime proposed by Sir John Floyer in 1702.

Given the warm response in the media, the joy at Dryrobe headquarters must have been boundless. If it cannot completely dispel the pharmacopoeia, could cold water bathing evolve from a fashionable hobby to routine social prescribing? If menopausal women can be persuaded to seek out ice-cold, immersion-quality water by the millions, why wouldn’t this treatment work for equally distressing symptoms – assuming they exist – for which effective relief is also available , but often So issued reluctantly?

The finding in a new study from UCL’s Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health that swimming in cold water appears to ease menopause symptoms – at least in women who enjoy swimming in cold water and are lucky enough to find water without sewage in it – became national news headlines considerably more ambitious than the study’s title (“How do women feel cold water swimming affects their menstrual and perimenopausal symptoms?”). “The Benefits of Cold Water Swimming on Menopausal Symptoms” was one; another: “A dip in cold water ‘can combat menopause symptoms’”, was accompanied by the bullet points: “Researchers in London found that almost half said it improved their anxiety”; “Almost a third also reported that it helped their low mood and hot flashes.”

Half of who? A third of how recruited? What were their symptoms when they started swimming? Were any participants also taking the usual hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which has been found to help with hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms? Or indeed, any of the non-evidence-based products, Goopish and worse, that are now contributing to a global menopause industry estimated at $16.93 billion (£13.3 billion)?

Only a few respectful reports on what turned out to be a study without a control group included the even less convincing detail that it was based on self-reporting by enthusiasts who responded to advertisements about cold-water swimming groups on Facebook. That is, it drew, albeit more extensively, on the kinds of personal confessions that are currently raging Dragons Pine tree viewers.

In fact, it would have been remarkable, given the appeal of outdoor swimming, socially, aesthetically and physically, if these regulars had not reported positive results on a study apparently so keen to do so, whose senior author, keen outdoor swimmer Professor Joyce Harper, seems to be UCL’s answer to John the Baptist. “The excitement when the water is cold is astonishing,” she writes elsewhere, uninspiring to anyone who considers this particular activity, if not hellish, impracticable for most city dwellers in a country where bathing water is increasingly replaced by feces. To be fair, Harper’s research notes several limitations that other outdoor activities may provide similar benefits. “It is likely,” say the authors, “that we would obtain similar results for women who practice other outdoor sports, such as paddleboarding, kayaking, and sports that are not as risky, such as hiking.”

Maybe walking would actually be a safer bet? On the day the swimming menopause study was published, London City Hall calculated that Thames Water had quadrupled its sewage discharge over the past year, to 6,950 hours. But while Harper’s study mentions the risk of gastroenteritis, it still favors cold-water swimming over less heady but potentially more user-friendly exercise. The hope, the authors say, “in light of the benefits recorded by our participants, is to increase the number of women participating in this activity.”

In terms of objective value, you could compare the study with a study in which, for example, regular visitors to a model railway club are asked whether they notice that their meetings alleviate a low mood in middle age. With the difference, of course, that the results that testify to the genuine euphoria of the participants would probably never reach a doctor’s office. Which cold water swimming will almost certainly do, now. Even recent history indicates that, when menopausal symptoms are present, any not-totally-insane, non-pharmaceutical solution may eventually be suggested to women in place of causally targeted medications, whether by a GP or some other so-called menopause authority.

News of UCL’s cold water treatment comes just two months after women discovered that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which reviews the treatment of menopausal symptoms, suggested the consternation of some campaigners, which uses cognitive behavioral therapy to treat conditions considered ‘bothersome’ (a clinical term still preferred for women suffering due to hormone deficiency). The action group Menopause Mandate objected, among other things, to “vague and patronizing” language.

Others noted limited enthusiasm for the most effective treatment for menopausal symptoms, HRT, tracing back to a now-discredited 2002 study that dramatically misrepresented its risks, leading to a sharp decline in both prescribing and uptake, and a continued decline in treatment. suspicions and misconceptions. Mumsnet CEO Justine Roberts said: “Women are already struggling to access the HRT they are entitled to. We hear every day from women in perimenopause and menopause who are battling a toxic combination of deep-seated misogyny, misinformation and lack of knowledge among GPs.”

That’s not to say that women’s recourse, as an alternative, to icy, murky water might not have unintended benefits. A large army of troubled women, energized by regular immersion, might yet be the avenging tide our water companies deserve.

Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist