Holy Hormones!

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Pregnant with Baby A and looking tired.

It’s July 2013 and since July 2006, I have been pregnant, nursing or both for all but eight months.

Holy hormones!

I tend to have the mindset that right now, I am experiencing something unusual and “other” and that once I am done nursing Baby A, then my body can get back to “normal” or “baseline.”

But, after reading [amazon_link id=”1451666942″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Hormone Cure [/amazon_link] by Sara Gottfried, M.D., my thinking on the subject is a tad more nuanced.

Instead of thinking about the old me as the “baseline” me, I am re-imagining my hormonal existence as one of stages and phases.

Dr. Gottfried tries to disabuse us of the mindset that we are “women,” we birth and nourish children, then we are “women” again, and then we are “menopausal women.”  Instead, she explains that our hormonal selves are in constant flux both due to the natural rhythms of life and to our nourishment, relationships, stress, and genetics.

Rather than review the book, I’d love to share some of the terrific quotes I highlighted from it.  That will give you a good sense for Dr. Gottfried’s philosophy and help you decide whether reading it would be a good investment of your time and money.

(Apologies – because I read on my Kindle, I don’t have page citations for you.)

On her medical approach:

“Modern conventional medicine—with its focus on pathology, drugs, and surgery—functions largely by using drugs to mask symptoms.”

“Taking symptom-masking drugs can be likened to shooting out the indicator lights on the dashboard of your car to reassure yourself that all is well. A much wiser approach is to look under the hood and see where the problem lies in the first place. Believe it or not, most problems, including hormone imbalance, can be largely relieved through lifestyle changes alone.”

“Sustained health results from treating underlying causes, rather than suppressing symptoms.”

“Health is a complex ecosystem. The biological processes of our bodies, whether they’re functioning ideally or are disordered, affect our mood, psyche, and the way we live.”

On the largely under-investigated and under-treated “epidemic” of hormonal imbalance:

“Modern women face an unacknowledged epidemic of hormonal imbalance. Unremitting stress, superwoman expectations, and misinformation about hormones have led to a full-blown crisis. We are offered crash diets, sleeping pills, or anxiety medication. Now, one in four women in the United States takes a prescription medication for mental health reasons, the majority of which are women aged forty and older. Doctors lead us to believe that this is just what it’s like to get older. We’re told that it’s normal to feel fatigued, anxiety ridden, unsexy, fat, and cranky.”

“What’s clear is that we need a completely new paradigm that encompasses a quantum shift toward being preventive, proactive, and lifestyle-based, with emphasis on the role and responsibility of the individual in daily choices, habits, and long-term consequences.”

“In my opinion, most conventionally trained doctors haven’t a clue about how hormones wreak havoc on a woman’s physical and emotional state; the effects of these imbalances fly beneath their radar. The inclination is to write a prescription—too often for the antidepressant du jour. Not only can antidepressants cause weight gain, stroke, low sex drive, preterm labor, and infant convulsions, but recent data link antidepressants with breast and ovarian cancer.  As if these adverse effects weren’t enough, I see no evidence that prescriptions for mental-health maladies offer a cure. Yes, there is a time and a place for prescription medication, and some people urgently need such medication. But I find that mental-health prescriptions are handed over too readily, when the root cause and contributing factors, such as neuroendocrine imbalance, have not been fully explored.”

Why women are affected more than men:

“It’s not fair but it’s a fact: women are much more vulnerable to hormonal imbalance than men. An underactive thyroid affects women up to fifteen times more often than men. According to national polls, women feel more stressed than men: 26 percent of women in the United States are on a pill for anxiety, depression, or a general feeling of being unable to cope, compared with 15 percent of men.”

On “organ reserve”:

“Bottom line: organ reserve is a crucial aspect of longevity—the more you protect and enhance your functional capacity, the more able you are to bounce back from stresses such as illness, environmental toxins, and injury.”

On the notion that women’s hormones change once they leave their “childbearing years” but before they hit menopause:

“Dr. Louann Brizendine is a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco … .  She’s concluded that, in the service of the householder tasks—securing a mate and having children—the predictable hormonal changes of our fertile years drive women to be accommodating and nurturing. Some call this attitude the hormonal cloud or veil. Then we wake up in our forties (probably around two a.m.), convinced we want a divorce. We’re sick of all the needy, self-absorbed narcissists in our life; we’re tired as hell, and we need a break. We are primed and ready, anciently wired, to be forest dwellers.”

“Once past the householder years, you become less interested in what other people think. You care less about your clothes and makeup, about your mother’s opinions on your hair, about offending others. Why? Your ovaries are making less estrogen, and estrogen is what makes you want to have babies, look pretty, and please people. Less estrogen means you stop accommodating people indiscriminately and perhaps finally blurt out what you’ve been meaning to say since you were twenty-five.”

On stress:

“At Harvard Medical School, I was taught (and blithely internalized) the message that the ruthless and dogged pursuit of medical knowledge was noble, even if it meant denying basic needs. I gladly worked 120 hours per week for many years. I denied myself sleep, food, exercise, and even going to the bathroom.”

On women and stress:

“Recently, fifteen biological markers of stress reactivity were consolidated into an allostatic load index and shown to predict burnout. The best predictor of burnout was low salivary cortisol in the morning.34 Burnout can happen to anyone, but it’s seen frequently in teachers, caregivers, nurses, doctors, and social service staff—professions in which people care directly for others and in which women predominate. A study of female teachers showed higher cortisol levels while they were teaching and lower to normal levels when not teaching.”

* * * * * * *

Seriously, I could go on and on.  But I think you get a good taste of the book.  One of the aspects I love is that she offers both simplified “what do I need to do to feel better?” text as well as “why is this happening to me?” explanations so the reader can go as deep as she wishes.

It’s a great read, and it has changed my thinking on so many issues.

If you have read it, chime in in the comments sections to let us know what you think!

4 Responses to “Holy Hormones!”

  1. on 08 Jul 2013 at 8:43 amMonica

    Have’t read, but think I need to. Now that I’m about two years post-nursing the last little dude, I’ve been in a whole new hormonal swing that is certainly not “baseline” compared to pre-pregnancy #1. Think I’ll add it to the bookshelf for some insight. Thanks for the pre-read!

  2. on 08 Jul 2013 at 9:06 amKristine Rudolph

    You’ll blast through it for sure.

  3. on 08 Jul 2013 at 1:55 pmSheri Goff

    Thank you for bringing this book to my attention. I will be forwarding this message to my 40ish daughter-in-laws. All I can say about a lot of what you quoted is, “amen,” and “it’s about time someone gets it!”

  4. on 08 Jul 2013 at 2:11 pmKristine Rudolph

    That’s basically what I said the whole time I was reading it!

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