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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
352 pages
Mar 2005

When Your Hormones Go Haywire: An Over 40 Women's Guide to Hormonal Balance and Lifelong Well-Being

by Pamela M. Smith, R.D.

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt





Whether you’re in your late thirties, forties, or early fifties, you know that your body is behaving differently from what it once did. It is different, and not just because of the never-ceasing stress demands of life — career, family, too much to do, too little time to do it. Sure, those stresses show in occasional dark circles under our eyes, but there’s more.

Now there are those unpredictable moods, the restless nights, roller-coaster energy levels, expanding waistlines, fuzzy thinking, heart palpitations, surprise tears, anxiety and paranoia, strange appetite cravings. Maybe you are still having periods, but they’re not the same. They’re shorter, longer, less painful, more painful, heavier, and lighter, and you can no longer set your clock by them. In fact, very little about your monthly cycle is the way it used to be. Or maybe it’s regular as rain. You’re on the pill, after all, so all these maladies couldn’t possibly be related to your periods. Or could they?

Many women sail through their personal mid-life crossing, noticing little different with their bodies except that periods have stopped and it’s even harder to manage their weight. Others feel as though they’ve entered a storm from which they may never emerge, as though they’ve been caught in hurricane winds that threaten to blow away their emotional and physical health.

Many others, although thrilled to be “over” periods and raising children, will nonetheless find their body’s reaction to this time of life to be a royal pain. Hot flashes, insomnia, those mood swings, and crying jags.

This note came from Kay:

    My weight hadn’t changed but a few pounds, but my body sure didn’t look the same. My entire shape has changed — when I see myself in the mirror, I can’t believe it’s my body, or that I’m not 4 months pregnant.

    And my body doesn’t feel the same. I’m only forty-eight and my joints hurt — sometimes enough to wake me up at night. But the reality is, I’m waking up most nights anyway, and not easily getting back to sleep. Am I waking up a little hotter, sometime sweating? Sometimes — but I’m surely not waking up in the morning rested nor replenished.

    I’ve had a physical and blood work and everything checks out. So I spend hours wondering if this is just what it feels like to be almost 50 — or could it be my hormones?

Funny, I’ve been asked and asking that question since fifth grade when I had my first period. And here we are — thirty-something, forty-something, fifty-something — and still looking for answers. Are these feelings a sign that I’m sick, or stressed, or is it really just my hormones? As if that makes it tolerable somehow!

You would think we would have been better prepared for this period — something akin to being shown that “movie” in grade school or getting our “Kotex Starter Kit” (remember the sanitary belts?). Yet, most of us aren’t any more prepared than we were then. It’s come too early; we’re confused and frustrated — and somewhat irritated with our bodies.

I surely know that I am, and I know that many of you are as well, based on the overwhelming pleas for help that come to my practice, seminars, and website. A good number of the questions come from women who have faithfully been living healthy lifestyles and are uncertain as to why their bodies are no longer responding in the same way. Why can’t they get a good night’s sleep anymore? Where did this five-pounds-through-the-tummy come from, and why won’t it go away? They are desperate for direction and guidance in dealing with the changes they are being slammed with — and they want to know what to do now.

How now shall I eat? What are phytoestrogens; will they help or hurt? If I’m taking estrogen, should I avoid soy? What if I’ve had breast cancer? My physician says I need to gain weight to get my hormones in balance; how do I do that without getting fat? Am I waking up in the middle of the night because my blood sugars are dropping? Should I be eating a bedtime snack? Should I be taking vitamin E? Can I do anything nutritionally to shrink fibroids? Is walking enough for exercise; should I be strength training? Is there anything I can do about my expanding waistline — and shrinking tolerance?

And, with the hormone controversies that have erupted in the last few years: Should I go off my hormones? Cold turkey? And, if I’m not doing HRT, how do I prevent hot flashes — and osteoporosis? Are natural hormones better — or safer? Have you heard of black cohosh? Are antidepressants a sign of surrender?

Women in mid-life are in a state of confusion — and panic. We certainly aren’t the first women in history to experience hormonal changes; after all, we watched our moms go through them. But they didn’t talk much about it, and we sure didn’t ask. We certainly are the first generation to knowledgeably question the way mid-life has always been done and to choose to do it “our way,” a new way — and a healthy one.


Regardless of how our mothers rode out their personal mid-life storm, we are looking for a better way, certain that it must exist. Most of our moms lived through “The Change” silently, isolated from other women, quietly wondering if they were losing their minds along with their periods (even the word “menopause” was taboo in social and medical circles; hence the code word “The Change”).

Many of us remember stormy moments with even the calmest of mothers — times when even June Cleaver-like moms went a bit schizoid. For some, those times may have resulted in much family pain and tragedy — my sister-in-law’s mother took her life; another’s went through a difficult divorce. For the lucky ones, our moms’ “moments” were something to chuckle about — daily going on a treasure hunt for her missing keys, playing “period-math” to figure out why she woke up as the Wicked Witch of the West . . . or why she was crying at Johnson and Johnson commercials.

Our mothers’ physicians rarely suggested HRT unless their symptoms were incapacitating. If it was prescribed, our moms — simply did what they were told, even though they understood neither the risks nor reasons for such treatment. And they certainly had no idea that there was anything else they could do with their lifestyle to make a positive difference in their menopause experience.


Compare this scenario to Valerie, a forty-two-year-old boomer who has started noticing changes in her body — her energy, her weight, her moods, her sleep, her libido. She has gained eight pounds in three months without any change in her eating or exercise, and it has all gone to her abdomen. Feeling almost pregnant and definitely fatigued and frazzled, she goes to her doctor, hoping he will assure her that all is well, that it’s only stress. Perhaps he will simply urge her to take that vacation she’s been postponing. If only her health insurance would cover the cost of a Caribbean cruise!

Instead, he interrupts her island daydreams by prescribing a low-dose contraceptive pill that will give her a hormone boost, matter-of-factly informing her that she has entered the ranks of the perimenopausal. Her doctor explains that her body is starting to be affected by fluctuations in hormone levels in her bloodstream.

Menopausal? The word stuns her. Am I really that old? Okay, he said “perimenopausal,” but it sure sounds like the beginning of the end!

Truly, more than simple fatigue has been plaguing her lately. She can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, suffers from migraines, feels bloated, and occasionally breaks out in sweats. She has been too busy to dwell on these symptoms; she has tossed the blame on the huge project she is working on. So maybe it’s more. Maybe it’s not just a matter of getting some needed time off now and then and exercising a little more.

Interestingly, Valerie doesn’t fill that prescription for the pill; she isn’t ready for hormone replacement, low dose or otherwise — certainly not now, with menopause possibly being years away. At the same time, she doesn’t want to live with the symptoms she is experiencing. And that’s what brings Valerie to me for coaching in taking charge of her health as naturally as possible. If HRT may ultimately be necessary, it is not going to be her first course of action. She determines that the perimenopausal diagnosis is just the wake-up measure.

Valerie’s goal? It’s the same as my goal and, most likely, yours: feel well, look great, and live well. She wants to live as a whole woman — body, soul, and spirit — not as one torn apart at the seams. Valerie is ready to reclaim her joy and her purpose. It’s the heart-cry of every woman between the age of thirty and fifty-five. (Forget that; it’s the heart cry of every woman, regardless of age!) We are not ready to simply accept such problems as normal and be silent sufferers of “The Change” happening to us. Instead, we are ready to take charge of our own well-being in a whole new way — employing natural solutions for physical maladies, trading in emotional havoc for emotional stability, and receiving God’s strength in our areas of weakness.

Here’s a report from Kara, her “before and after” story, of sorts. The change she is experiencing after she has “taken charge of her change” by employing the Hormone Balancing Plan is in a word, amazing!

    Before: took approximately 4 powerful migraine pills each month for migraine headaches

    Now: months pass without needing to take even one

    Before: several days of feeling very emotional /depressed around the time of my period and ovulation; needing to take Prozac for a week during that time

    Now: minimal emotional change; have eliminated drugs

    Before: low energy, tired, no desire to keep up with my sons, ages 5, 9, 15

    Now: high energy, enthusiasm for life, enjoy activity with my family and friends

    Before: excessive use of caffeine, Nutrasweet, and sugar to get and keep me going

    Now: realize that those things kept me from going; stopped using them and changed to water, healthy foods, movement, sleep, and faith to get me going

    Before: 70 pounds overweight

    Now: have lost 40 pounds, slowly, and know that more will come off!

    Before: considerable joint pain

    Now: considerably less pain

    Before: waking up several times a night

    Now: peaceful sleep

    Before: feeling foggy or fuzzy or headachy

    Now: feeling clear

    Before: guilt of how I was eating and how I was feeding my family; also guilt over the example I was setting; fear about my health and the future health of my family

    Now: peace

Thank you!! Thank you!! For helping me take charge of my change — balancing my hormones and reclaiming energy for life!