I’m Sixty But I’m Not “Menopausal”
Even though I’m sixty, I don’t consider myself “menopausal.” Theoretically, I am in menopause because I don’t have a period anymore. Other than that, I’m the same woman I’ve always been. I do a lot to stave off aging, especially the accelerated aging I see all around me. But one of the most important aspects of my personal program is bioidentical hormone replacement (BHRT). I attribute a lot to BHRT, including my sex drive. People tell me that I don’t look different than my high school pictures. That’s an exaggeration, but suffice it to say, at sixty, when I walk down the street I get compliments, sometimes from men in their twenties. It always makes me smile.
I’ve been using hormones for fifteen years, and I’m going to continue using them for the rest of my life. The reason is simple: Hormones are the chemical communication system that every single metabolic process in your body depends. If one hormone falters, the rest also falter, causing your entire system to go into an insidious but inexorable decline that builds steam and propels you into accelerated aging. Eventually you’re disabled by “age.” I would very much like to see people become aware of the fact that we don’t have to die a protracted death of “aging.” We don’t have to be stricken with diseases, incapacitated by drugs, crippled by pain, or lost in the oblivion of some neurological disease with nothing to look forward to but an appallingly impersonal hospital finale. Because we’re assaulted by over 80,000 toxins in our food, drugs, and environment, even the most health-minded, disciplined person can get sick, but BHRT is part of a healthy arsenal we can use to try to avoid that fate.
I can’t call BHRT a fountain of youth, but it is kind of miraculous. For the first time in the history of humankind, we can replace the missing hormones of our body’s communication system in a fairly exact way and in so doing stay healthy and normal for our entire lives. We don’t have to nose dive into the abyss of aging. We can remain energetic, athletic, alert, and sexy. I’m not so delusional to think that BHRT will keep me young forever. We’re all going to age and die. But it’s how we age and how we die that interests me. I would like to take care of business as usual until I die. And I would like for my death to be a celebratory experience in my own home, surrounded by loved ones. That’s the way we were meant to leave this world. A healthy eating and lifestyle program (such as the one I outline in my new book Healthy, Sexy, Happy) can help make that happen, but it’s not going to be nearly as effective without incorporating BHRT when your hormones begin to decline.
What’s really alarming is that girls in their teens and early twenties are experiencing symptoms of low estrogen. For a multitude of reasons: extreme exercise, eating disorders, stress, high sugar and refined grain diets, overuse of stimulants (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, diet pills, OTC, prescription, and recreational drugs) women are suffering from hormonal decline at very young ages. So it’s not just women over forty who need to learn about hormone replacement.
When I talk about hormones, I’m not talking about Premarin and Provera, which are drug hormones. I’m talking about bioidentical hormones such as estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, adrenal (Cortef, DHEA), pregnenalone, melatonin, and human growth hormone.
Human growth hormone (HGH) is actually an illustrative microcosm of hormone misconceptions. HGH is so controversial because of the perceived abuses by professional athletes, and the exorbitant cost, which has served to associate HGH with vain, aging movie stars. In my opinion, there’s a very fine line between abuse, or “cheating,” and personal responsibility to your body, and I’m perfectly comfortable sitting on the edge of this controversy. If you look at elite athletes who are punishing their bodies and breaking down in a dramatic acceleration of aging during every day of training and especially in competition, there’s really no question that these people need some hormonal support. Is it abuse for them to replace the hormones that their bodies are using up like crazy? I’m not talking about people who turn themselves into circus hulks. But in many cases, I don’t believe athletes are “cheating” by using hormones. I see many elite athletes’ use of testosterone and HGH as a microcosm of what we all should be doing—being responsible to our health by assisting our endocrine systems, as needed. You could argue that athletes shouldn’t be exercising and breaking down so much. And people may criticize those who use HGH and other hormones to stave off accelerated aging, by saying it’s vain or “unnatural.”
Hormone replacement has become a polarizing subject. I find it interesting that the women who are on hormone replacement are the ones who are smiling and calm, and the ones who are vehemently against hormones are enraged and combative. That really says a lot. I don’t argue about hormones with anyone. I’m happy with my position. But I would like ask all the people who argue that BHRT is unnatural to please tell me what’s natural about having open-heart or brain surgery, being equipped with a colostomy bag, having chemo drugs shunted into your artery, being irradiated, shooting insulin, or any of the other standard of care medical procedures or protocols?
Hormone replacement is still on the edge of mainstream healthcare, and you have to decide where you stand. In my opinion, the problem is not that hormones are unnatural or cheating, but more that they are not affordable for most people. If we had real health care, we would be looking at ways to replace hormones to keep people from aging in an accelerated way.
Hormone replacement isn’t experimental. Hormone replacement has been going on for thousands of years through the eating of animals’ sex organs. Ancient practitioners of Chinese medicine collected the hormone rich urine of adolescent boys and girls, dehydrated it, and used it to treat menopausal women and andropausal men (the lucky and spoiled emperors and empresses of the court). To date, hundreds of thousands of clinical studies have been done on hormone replacement, and in the past thirty years, millions of women have benefited from the use of BHRT.
BHRTs are made from plants and tweaked in laboratories to be exact matches of human hormones. They’re healthy only when taken to replace the amount you cannot produce in your body and in doses that maintain normal blood and saliva levels. Hormone imbalances can cause serious health problems, as I experienced. Hormones travel in complicated pathways from their original state as they convert into other hormones to be used for various functions in the body.
Estrogen is one of the most important hormones because it is often the first to decline. Estrogen reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis and colon cancer, and it relieves the symptoms of menopause. Its other benefits include youthful-looking skin, a restored sex drive, a keener mind, and a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Estrogen is important for brain health and is also a natural antidepressant. It helps in the production of tryptophan, which converts to serotonin—what I call a “happy” neurotransmitter—and it also increases the sensitivity of serotonin receptors. Estrogen keeps your bones strong and also maintains collagen, the fibrous protein that maintains that nice plump layer of support under your skin. It also keeps your vagina lubricated and your genital tissue from aging. Estrogen prevents your breasts from sagging, and keeps you sexy and primed with sexual desire.
Estrogen should always be “opposed” for two weeks of your cycle (regardless if you have had a hysterectomy or not) with progesterone. It’s another sexy, youthful hormone.
If you’re interested in BHRT, you need to find an enlightened doctor who, through personal curiosity and the desire to help people, has made a point of learning beyond medical school. Ideally your doctor will be interested in helping you learn. My hormone doctor isn’t an endocrinologist, but he’s been prescribing bioidentical hormones for 35 years and is a self-described “conference addict.” He’s always learning and on the edge of hormone knowledge. I trust him. I can also talk to him. He understands my basic philosophy that I want to share with you: Symptoms trump labs. You are not numbers on a piece of paper. Labs are merely a starting point. If your symptoms persist or something else happens, then your doctor needs to listen to you. If not, then move on immediately.