I lost all of my hormones when I was 40. Gone. Nada. Kaput. It felt like I lost them overnight. I was at my doctor for my regular physical when she walked in and said, “Carrie, you’re in menopause. According to your test results you blew right past peri-menopause into full-blown menopause. It’s time to get on hormone replacement therapy. I’ll leave it at the front desk for you.”
I didn’t want to be on hormone replacement. I had no time to process this. Don't women go through peri-menopause first? I asked her how to fix it and when she said there was no fix except hormone replacement, I began to cry. She said, “Oh Carrie, why are you crying? This is normal.” I was shocked. This was normal? How could it be normal? My mother didn’t have early menopause. My older sisters weren’t in menopause. Why was I? She said this just happens sometimes and that I should attend her weekly Wild Women Dance sessions to help me adjust to my new estrogen-patch life. At checkout I was given a bill of over $1,000 for the hormone replacement therapy and that was going to be a new monthly expense for me.
So, I lost my hormones, was told that dancing with a bunch of women once a week would resolve my depression over it, and I needed a new job so that I could afford the $12,000 annual cost of the hormones she was going to sell me. I never went back to that doctor but instead, cried for a week in my office and told every person I saw at work, through tears, that I’d lost all my hormones. Even my boss. Oh the things we do when we are in distress.
When I researched the causes of early and premature menopause this is what I found:
I had been tired for decades. I cannot even begin to think about how much money I spent on supplements trying to fix the ever-present lethargy. There were many days when I could barely get myself out of bed. My brain was regularly full of a fog that not even 16 ounces of coffee could clear. To top it off, I had constant gastrointestinal issues that made my life even more challenging. Finally, my poor body just couldn’t keep up.
You know what I wish? I wish I’d known about functional medicine in my 30’s. I wish someone had tested my cortisol patterns and hormones to look for adrenal dysfunction. If they had, it would have shown that my HPA axis was working its little butt off trying to compensate for my exhaustion and lifestyle. I wish my gut had been tested. If it had been, the H. Pylori bacteria we eventually found would have been dealt with earlier. I wish someone talked to me about sleep, diet, and exercise. I was over-exercising because I thought exercise would give me more energy, my diet was not optimal, and sleep was my greatest enemy. I needed help.
Many years ago when I was in a job interview, the person who eventually became my boss asked me this question: What made you angry enough to get into public health? I thought that was a strange question but I had an immediate answer: Alzheimer’s Disease. It was my father’s journey with Alzheimer’s Disease that not only broke my heart but also made me feel powerless. Sometimes I wonder now if functional medicine was around when my father was young if he could have avoided Alzheimer’s Disease. I cannot know the answer to that question but I believe the odds would have tipped back in his favor if that was the case.
I became a functional medicine health coach because I was angry. I was angry that I couldn't find the help I needed. I was angry that so many people around me were having hormonal issues much too young. I was angry that the best medicine cost half my salary.
When I finally turned to functional medicine four years ago, my life turned around. My hormones didn’t because my body had been out of balance for so long that they just weren’t coming back. My functional medicine physician talked to me about stress, sleep, exercise, diet, alcohol use, my relationships and social engagement. She even asked me how often I took time to have fun and play. Yes, she used the word “play”.
After three months on a protocol that included supplements (no new medications!) and lifestyle modifications, the H. Pylori was eradicated, I was finally sleeping 8 hours for the first time in decades, my exhaustion and depression lifted, and my life completely changed. I began to wake up excited for the day because I knew I could manage it. You know those antidepressant commercials that show the person before and after? I was the after. I still am the after.
If you aren’t feeling well, if your hormones are out of balance, or if you are exhausted and have tried everything, please don't lose hope. In many cases hormone imbalances, especially in young people, can be resolved with lifestyle changes. Of course you know what my suggestion is: see someone trained in the functional medicine approach!
Go, Do, Be, my friends.