For years, Dr. Christiane Northrup, MD was the go-to source on The Oprah Winfrey Show regarding issues of women’s health. I remember watching a show after the release of her book The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health During the Change in the early 2000s and thinking, “I should read that book someday.” That day finally came.
Not surprisingly, the book covers a lot of scientific ground regarding all aspects of women’s health. Topics covered include:
- What’s happening with our bodies and our brains
- What’s happening with our hormones and options to deal with them
- Foods and supplements to support the change
- Strategies to support pelvic, breast, heart, and bone health
- Myths and reality re: sex and menopause
- Living with heart, passion, and joy
As one who favors a natural (non-pharmaceutical) approach to nurturing my body, I was keenly interested in the lifestyle choices that she recommended to promote optimal health. They are consistent with the advice dispensed by others throughout this blog… with a couple of interesting twists.
First, Dr. Northrup notes that menopause is as much a re-orientation of a woman’s psychological wiring as it is her physiological being. For most of her life, a woman has been programmed to focus on others as a caregiver for her life partner and offspring. Menopause creates the opportunity to nurture herself – to resolve old issues and set the ground rules for the years ahead. Physical ailments that arrive during this season are messengers that illumine a pathway to her inner wisdom. If she heeds the messages, she has the potential to heal holistically. For example:
“Lack of support, loss of or separation from one’s family, or difficulties balancing a feeling of belonging with a sense of independence can affect the immune system and increase susceptibility to infections and autoimmune disease.”
Hormonal imbalance may be adjusted with bioidentical replacements and/or lifestyle changes to address unpleasant side effects of the change. Laboratory tests can assess serum levels of estrogen (in its various forms), progesterone, and testosterone. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for all women. An experienced physician can provide guidance and suggest alternative approaches.
A healthy diet makes a big difference. Eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables along with a good chunk of natural fiber. Eat three meals per day with each meal containing a healthy source of protein. Be attentive to portion size. If you cup your two hands in front of you, you approximate the size of your stomach. Don’t overtax this essential organ. Eat healthy fats (omega-3 and omega-6). Good sources include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, hempseed, organ meats, and cold-water fish.
Non-GMO soy-based protein contributes significantly to many aspects of health. For example, a 12-week study of persons ingesting 60-70 mg of soy isoflavones showed a 5.5% increase in HDL (good cholesterol), a 9% drop in LDL (bad cholesterol), a 13% increase in osteocalcin (bone builder), and a 14.5% decrease in osteoclasts (cells causing bone loss). Soy also reduces the risk of colon cancer.
Note: Many women have been counselled to avoid soy due to concerns over the phytoestrogen content and its possible relationship to breast cancer. According to Dr. Northrup, phytoestrogens are far less potent than human estrogens – on the level of 100ths to 1000ths of a percent in potency. Moreover, they are antioxidant (preventing free radical damage) and adaptogenic (balancing estrogen activity in the body – stimulating if too low, blocking if too high).
Avoid sugar, processed carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeine. Eat whole organic foods to maintain normal blood sugar and avoid overproduction of insulin. Caffeine is a bladder irritant that can stimulate growth of bacteria and weaken crucial muscles.
Get regular exercise. Aim for 30 minutes of continuous aerobic activity at least 5 times per week. Use weight training sessions at least 2 times per week to place load on the skeletal frame and encourage bone growth.
Get outside in the natural light during the early morning or late afternoon hours to stimulate natural production of Vitamin D. Deficiencies in this critical nutrient sets the stage for poor health. Twenty minutes 3-5 times per week ought to do it.
Get 8-9 hours of restorative sleep nightly. Develop good sleep habits and create an environment in the bedroom that supports rest and relaxation.
Never retire. Have something that keeps you interested and alive for which you can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. It doesn’t have to be related to an established career or monetarily compensated.
Cultivate a positive attitude toward aging. Revel in the wisdom that this stage of life brings. Be optimistic, lively, engaging, and filled with good humor. Take the pruning shears to relationships and things that aren’t life-giving.