The Secret Pleasures of Menopause: An Interview With Christiane Northrup, MD
Dr. Northrup talks about how you can navigate the shoals of menopause and maintain tip-top physical and emotional well-being.
By Linda Melone
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Christiane Northrup, MD, a revered expert on women's health and the author of severalNew York Timesbestsellers on the subject, recently released a new book,The Secret Pleasures of Menopause(Hay House, 2008). Dr. Northrup firmly believes that every woman going through perimenopause or menopause can create her own vibrant sense of self, both physically and emotionally, that will serve her well not only during this transitional time but also going forward with her life. Read on to learn the advice she shared with us.
Everyday Health:Women hear so many negative things about perimenopause and menopause. Are they just myths, and if not, what's the reality?
Christiane Northrup:The myth is that menopause is the beginning of [your body's] inevitable breakdown, leading to a host of degenerative diseases, and that life as you've known it as a desirable woman is over. The truth is that perimenopause is a process of rebirth. Everything not working in your life to sustain you for the second part of your life will come up and hit you right between the eyes — aided by hormonal changes.
EH:Please explain a bit more about what you mean when you say perimenopause is a period of "rebirth."
CN:Perimenopause is a 6- to 13-year process. You need to pay attention to this process and begin to clean up your diet and relationships in your forties. I believe perimenopause was designed to get your attention. Things that have felt intolerable for awhile — relationships, jobs, and so on — now becomemoreintolerable. If you pay attention to these things, you don't need to go through a cataclysmic change in your menopausal years. Women who have gone through real trauma in their earlier years often don't undergo much at all during menopause, because they've already had to reach deep inside themselves. Some women don't even realize they've gone through menopause until they've gone a year without a period.
EH:So you're saying stress plays a big role in the physical symptoms of menopause and perimenopause?
CN:Yes, stress that feels inescapable will produce hormones that create epinephrine and cortisol, which tear the body down. Cortisol is your body's own prednisone [a synthetic corticosteroid drug often prescribed for allergic reactions] and is an independent risk factor for heart disease and osteoporosis. So stress is not just in your head, since there's nothing in your head that is not simultaneously affecting hormone levels in your body.
EH:What can we do to offset these stress-related changes?
CN:One way to eat up excess stress hormones is to get adequate sleep, and most women don't get enough. Another way is to exercise. You're actuallymoretired if you don't exercise. You also must stop living an undernutriented lifestyle — with too much caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. This leads to cellular inflammation, which is responsible for conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Meditation also works. Research shows that women who meditate for 20 minutes twice a day can decrease menopausal and perimenopausal hot flashes by 90 percent.
EH:Do we have more control over perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms than we've been led to believe?
CN:Absolutely, you do. You need to find things that bring you pleasure and joy. Ironically, overindulging in alcohol or food comes from our desire to feel better, so you must choose [things that bring you true joy] first. And keep in mind that depressing, negative thoughts instantly trigger a metabolic cascade of inflammatory chemicals. Uplifting thoughts instantly change your biochemistry toward health. Do things that bring you joy. It's that simple.
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