Ten years ago I decided to begin Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). I was partly motivated by health, but I must admit that a large part was tied to vanity. When I contemplated a future of sagging, wrinkled skin and diminishing sex drive, there was no question in my mind that I had to do something. Also, my mom had osteoporosis, and I was afraid I'd follow suit. So I rushed off to my gynecologist and received what was then the standard prescription of 16 days of Premarin and 10 days of Provera each month.
This caused my period to return, or so it seemed. Later I learned that what I was experiencing was not menstruation but break-through bleeding. I started to question the pros and cons of HRT.* While Premarin was presumably protecting me from bone loss and dried-out skin, it could also be increasing my chances of uterine and breast cancer. I won't mislead you into believing that my vanity vanished, but, thank goodness, whenever the Health vs. Glamour battle surfaces, Health always wins out. So I stopped HRT. The hot flashes and night sweats returned, along with concerns about bone thinning and vaginal dryness.
It was at that time that a client told me about the Women's International Pharmacy and Dr. John R. Lee's book, What Your Doctor May NOT tell You About Menopause: The Breakthrough Book on Natural Progesterone. This led me to a much healthier path. A new gynecologist prescribed a natural estrogen combined with natural progesterone to be taken daily. This stopped the breakthrough bleeding, and I believed my menopause-induced problems were solved forever. Is the story over? No.
My work as a healer, lecturer and author puts me in touch with cutting-edge data, including research on the concept of the use of Precursor Hormones as a more sophisticated form of HRT. These precursors are hormones made by the pituitary that can be taken as supplements to encourage the ovaries to produce their own hormones as opposed to providing them in pill, patch, or cream form.
It is a well-known axiom that if you give a person a fish, they have a dinner, but if you teach them to fish they will have food for a lifetime. (Oops, since I'm a vegetarian, let's change that to plant a carrot.) That's basically the theory behind precursors. My reading revealed that there is a hormone called Pregnenolone that is the precursor of several hormones, including DHEA, testosterone and estrogen. I decided to have my prescription altered once again. This time I opted for a combination of pregnenolone capsules and progesterone cream - totally eliminating all estrogen supplementation. The breast tenderness disappeared; my energy soared, the hot flashes and night sweats didn't recur and my skin glowed.
Once again, I was relieved. I had conquered another challenge. This continued for about a year. But in the back of my mind there was a certain uneasiness. After all, I was taking a powerful hormone. It was man-made in a laboratory and there were no long-term studies on it effects - and side effects - on human health.
Then, last spring, I lectured at the first Health Map Expo in New York City. After my presentation, I was autographing copies of my book, RetroAge: The Four-Step Program to Reverse the Aging Process, when a woman about my age approached the book booth. She was Dr. Viana Muller, an anthropologist who became interested in ethnobotany in the 1980's, and began to import several extraordinary botanicals that she came across through her research.
One of these is Royal Maca™ (Lepidium Peruvianum Chacón), distributed by Whole World Botanicals, an herb with remarkable rejuvenating properties. It does not itself contain any hormones - not even precursors or phytoestrogens - but Dr. Gloria Chacón, the Peruvian biologist who did animal research on maca in the 1960's reports that it works by stimulating the hypothalamus. This stimulation is presumed to jog the pituitary into producing the precursor hormones which ultimately end up raising the estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels as well as also helping to balance the adrenal glands, the thyroid and the pancreas.
So I decided to change again and stopped the pregnenolone/progesterone regime and started taking Royal Maca™ exclusively. I loved the idea of taking the precursor of the precursors - a FOOD SOURCE - which would make hormone replacement therapy of any kind unnecessary.
At first, I just used a teaspoon in my broth about three times a week. This was not enough for my body. The many years on HRT had made my ovaries sluggish - or perhaps, I feared, they were permanently atrophied. My hot flashes retumed and I started to have night sweats again. Not just once a night, but three and four times a night. I couldn't get a full night's sleep.
I was about to give up and go back on pregnenolone again, but decided to first try significantly increasing the amount of maca I was taking each day, so I started taking a loading dose - a heaping tablespoon of Royal Maca™ powder every day. After a few days on this regimen my hot flashes and night sweats had decreased dramatically, and on the ninth day I got through an entire night without any night sweats.
Within two more weeks, the hot flashes had disappeared and a night sweat was rare and more like a "night heat," similar to what happens to me when I am doing a healing. Once again my skin glowed, my breasts were full and my buttocks returned with enhanced muscular development. It was thrilling to experience my body once again producing its own estrogen. With maca and daily exercise, I'm not worried about osteoporosis.
I now have food sources that propel my body into producing all the necessary elements to create health and youth for my entire life. This was exactly what I was looking for. I have been taking Royal Maca™ for six months now, along with seaweed and flaxseed oil. All of these are 100 percent natural, non-animal foods. That's my current regimen for post-menopausal well-being. I can't tell you that my conclusions are the correct ones for you. I wrote this article to share my personal odyssey from hormones to herbs and to relate the progression of steps that it took.
*Also at that time my commitment to vegetarianism was deepening and I was dismayed at the practice of breeding horses solely to produce estrogen for post-menopausal women.
© 1997 by Hattie. This article may not be reprinted without permission from the author.
Hattie is co-author of RetroAge: The Four-Step Program to Reverse the Aging Process published by Berkley Publishing Group and available in bookstores and health food stores. To order, call: (212) 388-8509.
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