I recently was featured on the cover and created an article for the November issue of My Menopause Magazine. Thank you to the Editor of the magazine and member of EmpowHER's Medical Board, Dr. Mache Seibel. I love the magazine and everything he is doing for women around menopause and happy to be involved.
I wanted to share the article I wrote for the online magazine published just this week. You can learn more about the magazine and subscribe to it through iTunes.
Are You Menopausal? Congrats and Welcome to the Club!
For all the negative press menopause gets in our society, you’d think it was a four-letter word. But as a women’s health advocate who is in menopause, I’m here to tell you this can be the best time of your life!
Here in the United States we tend to think of menopause as hitting the downhill slide. Life is half over and things will only get worse from here. But Dr. Mao, a 38th generation doctor of Chinese medicine, taught me that in China menopause and midlife are thought of as a “second spring”. It’s the time in life when children are older and more self-sufficient and women have both the time and the wisdom to contribute to the world in new ways.
That’s the way I prefer to think of menopause.
Here are a few things I think every woman should understand about menopause:
Hormones aren’t horrible
If you’re like most women, you probably know you have hormones. But do you actually know what they do? To put it simply, hormones are chemical messengers that help your body regulate itself. Hormones help regulate over 400 different things in your body. That’s huge!
If you hear “hormones” and think of estrogen for women and testosterone for men, you are on the right track. But those reproductive hormones are just two of the many hormones at work in both men and women. In addition to regulating reproduction, hormones also interact with each other to regulate metabolism, temperature and many other body functions. It takes a complicated mix of hormones to keep our bodies in peak condition.
It’s all a balancing act
When it comes to reproductive hormones, women are definitely more complicated than men. When we are young, our hormone levels naturally go up and down every month to prepare our bodies for the possibility of pregnancy.
Those changes in hormone levels can make us feel out of sorts. We may get grumpy or moody. We may have cravings for chocolate, retain water or have sleepless nights. We may forget things or feel like our brains are foggy.
All those symptoms can be the result of natural fluctuations in hormone levels. But other times they may be a sign that your hormones are out of balance. The only way to be sure is to get your hormone levels checked through a blood test.
Know your numbers
I am a huge proponent of early testing for hormone levels. Knowing your numbers when you are young and healthy can open up a world of understanding for you and your doctor later in life when your hormone production slows down.
Next time you see your doctor, ask to have your baseline hormone labs done. I wish I had. Then keep a copy of the report in a safe place so as you age, if you develop symptoms, you can show them to a menopause specialist who will know the right way to balance your hormones.
In my case, my body didn’t get to ease into menopause. I was 42 when my doctor told me I had to have a hysterectomy. The medical term is a total abdominal hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (sal-ping-go of-uh-REK-tuh-me) which means my uterus and cervix were removed along with both ovaries and fallopian tubes.
I didn’t know better, so I agreed – and I was immediately thrown into menopause. My body was in shock! It no longer had the ability to produce the reproductive hormones I needed and my health went into a downward spiral.
It wasn’t until later, after I finally found a doctor who got me on the right therapy to get my hormones back in balance that I finally understood how much it would have helped to know what my hormone levels had been before surgery.
Menopause can start any time
My situation is a great reminder that menopause doesn’t keep a schedule. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are too young to worry about menopause. Some women naturally start menopause at a younger age. Others experience severe stress or require surgery or other treatments that can cause menopause to start early.
Being young also does not mean your hormone levels are “right”. Your hormones can be out of balance at any age. Now that my hormones are balanced, I realize I didn’t feel this good when I was younger! I suspect now that my hormones may have always been low or “off”. But I’ll never know because I didn’t get my levels tested back then.
Make an informed decision
Knowledge really is power when it comes to your health. Going into menopause means you will need to decide whether to live with your symptoms or try to bring things back into balance through hormone replacement therapy.
Some women breeze through menopause with no symptoms and no desire to take hormones. Others have symptoms that make it hard to function. There are also potential benefits and risks you should consider. I believe the research shows hormone therapy offers some significant benefits including protecting your heart, improving brain function and helping maintain bone mass to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. But you need to decide what is right for you.
I had no choice when it came to hormone therapy. Because of my surgery, my body didn’t have the opportunity to ease into menopause. But I have to be perfectly honest and say that finding the right hormone balance probably won’t be a quick process.
To those of you going into menopause more naturally, my advice is to do your own research and make your own, personal decision. The book “Screaming to Be Heard” by Dr. Elizabeth Lee Vliet finally brought everything into focus for me and set me on the right path for my health. < a href = “http://www.amazon.com/Screaming-Heard-Hormonal-Connections-Suspect/dp/0871319144”>You can find her book on Amazon.com.
Whatever you do, please don’t go along with whatever your sister or your friend is doing just because she chose it. This has to be an absolutely personal choice for you. Talk to your doctor about what is best for your personal situation and then make your own informed decision.
Become a science project
If you decide to go ahead with hormone therapy, it helps to think of yourself as a science project. Don’t expect your doctor to magically come up with the right dose of hormones to “fix” your levels. Anticipate that there will be some trial and error involved in finding the right dose and the right delivery method for your body – whether that ends up being pills, creams, a patch or something else.
You need to be patient with the process and believe that you and your doctor will be able to fine-tune your treatment to help you feel as good if not better than you did before.
Don’t suffer in silence
Now here is my plea to you. Please don’t keep quiet and try to get through this on your own. I already did that and I don’t want anyone to go through what I did ever again! That’s why I founded EmpowHER.com – to give women a place to go to connect with other women, do research and get the information they need to make informed decisions.
I believe I am living proof that you can feel good at any age. I feel the best now that I’ve ever felt in my life, and I have balanced hormones to thank for it! I believe menopause is not the end of our good years, it’s the start of our better years. Congratulations on arriving with me, and welcome to the club!
Want to learn more about your own health? Visit www.EmpowHER.com to join our community, connect with women like you, share what works for you and get answers to your questions.
This article was originally posted in the 9th Issue ofMy Menopause Magazinepublished November 2013.