Honestly, referring to my emotional state as “fussy” is probably not as strong an adjective as the one my husband would use. But let it be known that I do have a solid excuse for crying at the drop of a hat and feeling like I’ve swallowed a watermelon. I even understand why it feels as though I’m literally dragging myself around with an energy level equal to that of someone who’s been unknowingly visited nightly by a thirsty vampire. Apparently, this blood-sucking energy drain also causes its victim to sweat so much that her bed sheets get drenched in the process.
Yes, of course I have PMS. However, this is PMS on steroids! I’m 50 and I’m in my peri-menopausal years!
There, I said it and the world didn’t end.
To date, my columns have been pretty gender neutral — not that there’s anything wrong with that (”Seinfeld” fans are laughing here). But this time around, I’m asking for your permission to get right down to the nitty-gritty of a real “Women Only” topic. Unless of course you are a seriously sensitive mate to a wonderful woman who is working her way through this and want to understand a little more about what she’s dealing with and how to help. WELL, if that’s you….WELCOME - WELCOME! I’ll also try my best to share just enough personal data to get my points across without crossing over into that dreaded “you can’t poke out your mind’s eye” type of T.M.I. However, if I occasionally nudge that fine line, I hope you’ll forgive me. After all, a little venting is good for the soul, right?
So, let’s drop all the masks, judgments and facades and just get real. I truly believe that when smart women allow themselves to get real and vulnerable together, we win! When we build each other up instead of tearing each other down, we can weave a bridge of solidarity that is so strong, I’m convinced that collectively we could eventually solve the issues that have hindered us from finally achieving world peace! So, setting world peace aside for the moment, let’s attack an even bigger issue … MENOPAUSE.
This seems to be one of the hottest media topics of the year. Everyone from Dr. Phil and his wife Robin to Larry King with his guest Suzanne Somers (whom many consider either a guru on the topic or a total nut job – I’m holding judgment) are all riding the menopause wave to super ratings. “The Doctors,” that new, ground-breaking medical show, has tackled it head on, and yes, even the big kahuna herself, Oprah Winfrey, has done it proud. So what’s all the hoopla about?
First of all, if you’re asking that question, I’d like to ask you one in return: “Have you gone through it yet”? If not, you’ll soon understand … it’s a pretty big deal. And it can’t be escaped. While some women have milder versions than others, many women lead lives of quiet desperation during their menopausal and / or their "peri-menopausal" years with seemingly nowhere to turn.
These TV shows have actually been very helpful by opening a dialogue and educating the public. For years now, women have had their concerns dismissed while being fed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication till it passes. “You know,” they’d whisper, “she’s going through ‘the change.’”
Not anymore, baby. We’ve got information and there is help to be had. May I drop all decorum and shout a hearty “YIPPEEE!!!”
For the last couple of years, though my cycle has been as right as rain as far as every 28 days goes, I’ve been symptomatic in other ways … a few of which I so colorfully described earlier in this column for your enjoyment!
I’ve been searching for information on perimenopause for several years now. Because of what I do, I already had a fairly good, working knowledge of the changes that can and do occur, both physiologically and psychologically. I must tell you that in my opinion, it’s crucial to remember that every woman’s experience will be different and unique to her and we need to respect that and build each other up by supporting the decisions that each of us feels is in our best interest to make. What works for you may not be my choice, and visa versa.
So, I’ve been adding to my knowledge with hours of Internet research as well as interviewing doctors, including my own gynecologist. In an attempt to save time, as always, two weeks ago I asked if I could … uh … ask her some questions on the subject while she examined me. Yes, I did! Hey, I’ll save time wherever and whenever I can, even if it’s “Feet up, honey, and slide down a bit”!
Ever noticed that no matter how much you’ve slid down, they still ask you to slide more? Really, I make a game of it. Before my doctor turns around with her medieval platypus bill-shaped device, I try to slide down so far it’s ridiculous, just to see if I can beat her to the punch. And nope, always “just a little further dear, thank you.” Try it, I swear we’re being punked!
OK, back on track. Due to all of the questions I was asking my doctor, I’m quite sure the exam was a little longer and more intense than usual. I don’t think I’ll do that again.
At the conclusion of the exam, even though my periods are still very regular, I asked for a blood work to be done to check all my hormone levels. The ranges of normal estrogen levels are measured in parts pg/ml of what’s called estradiol. In normal reproductive-age women, estradiol levels during the menstrual cycle range from 50-400 pg/ml. The actual normal level of estrogen varies during different parts of the menstrual cycle.
Value ranges of normal levels under 100 pg/ml can be associated with hot flashes and may signal perimenopause. I mean, 50 is way low. Wanna wager a guess at what my number is? Keep in mind that I’m still a competitive athlete, with regular cycles, kicking it hard, still winning races and often beating the pants off of 20 year olds in the process. (Unfortunately, even though my ego enjoys that a little too much, it bothers me as far as what that means for our young people today, but that’s a different column.)
Ladies, I came in at a whopping total of 14!
Yikes! I’ll also share that my DHEA levels are pretty darn low, as well, to say the least. It’s important to know that what time of the month you have this work done makes a difference, so ask your doctor. I had this done at the exact time they ask you to shoot for. I waited with my paperwork in hand until the exact moment they said would be ideal for the best results. That’s enough info for now.
This information has just been faxed to several of my doctors and we’ll powwow shortly to decide what we’ll do with it. What we’ll be making decisions about is whether or not to use Hormone Replacement Therapy, or HRT. That is truly the crux of much of the hype lately. HRT is really the red center, hot button part of the discussions at the moment.
You’ll be deciding not only whether or not to use HRT, but if so, what kind. There’s a choice between Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy and Synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy. This, my friends, you will have to decide for yourselves.
I implore you to do your own research. I am not going to ask you to substitute my judgment for your own. I don’t want to sway you one way or the other by telling you what type I have decided to use, but I will share that I’m quite sure that I know what I’m going to do … and that includes the use of HRT. I’ve spent countless hours of time in researching this topic, so I feel more than informed to make that decision, and again, I strongly plead with you to do the same, so that when the doctors just start whipping out prescription pads, you will have done your homework and can choose what’s best for you.
The reason I will jump right at this now is that I’ve already gotten the first order of business taken care of and I’m on a roll. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I have covered all my bases to the best of my ability in taking care of the most important part of this issue. As a matter of fact, I’ve been on this roll for 20 years now. What is it? Diet and Exercise — and this is no joke!
What you may expect to experience in your early 40s and sometimes a little earlier than that are changes due to shifts in hormone levels but also other factors associated with the aging process. You may have mood swings, hot flashes, depression, stress and anxiety, weight gain, sleep disorders, irritability (see, told you I was feeling fussy), increased appetite, night sweats, the beginnings of osteoporosis and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. But no matter what else you eventually decide to do about it, my first question to you is are you exercising regularly and eating a balanced, nutrient dense diet that’s low in sugar and saturated fats and high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, etc.?
“No,” you say? Well, here’s what exercise alone can do to help with many of these symptoms:
1. Add muscle back by adding weight training to your schedule. We will lose somewhere in the range of a half pound of muscle per year starting as early as your late 20s or early 30s. Muscle fuels your metabolism, helping to control your weight. It will not only speed up your lackluster metabolism, but allow you to keep your weight under control more readily and aid in keeping a tighter and toned youthful physique. More importantly in my book, it will help to create greater bone density!
2. Do cardio at least five times a week for at least 40 to 45 minutes per session. This will not only add to more calories burned, helping to keep your weight under control, but this has been proven to boost your mood! Ladies, get some endorphins flowing through you first no matter what else you decide to do later on. It will lower your stress levels, reduce irritability and lighten feelings of depression. Some research has shown that exercise increases estrogen levels that may be responsible for helping reduce the severity of hot flashes.
3. Exercise can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
4. Eat a sensible diet low in saturated fats and sugars and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables with adequate amounts of lean protein. This will not only help to keep your girlish figure, but we know that by eating a balanced diet our brains are better nourished and ready for action.
Before you do anything else, give this a try first. Yes, I’m 47 years old, I’m definitely in the midst of this transition and though I don’t feel it’s appropriate to tell you which form of HRT I’m going to use, I will tell you that I’m going to keep doing everything I’ve been doing with exercise and nutrition so that I can know with great certainty that I have done the best I can naturally for my mind and body.
Because of having taken care of all of the above, I am much more physically fit, have a better physique and am in better physical condition than I was when I was 20. Think it’s worth a try?
I also know that I’m looking forward to where I’m going from here. I’m excited when I look ahead to the next chapter, so to speak, and I’m pleased when I look back at where I’ve been. I look forward to many more exciting years of knowing myself even better, to more years of becoming more fully me, with less concern (in a kind and loving way) of what others may think of me. With each passing year, I feel more settled in who I am and feel more strongly than ever that I am on the right path, for me at least, for now.
I must say though, after all these years of being pestered by “her,” interrupted by “her,” annoyed by “her” … when the time comes, I’m quite sure I’ll miss “her.” It will definitely be like saying goodbye to an old, dear friend … and hello to a great new adventure.
To all you Smart Women out there, I say let’s look ahead with great excitement and expectation, for as surely as I live and breathe, I know it’s only going to get better. Bring it on!
Live Big and Power On!