I first heard about menopause and osteoporosis in my early 20s. It was in a book called Everywoman by Derek Llewellyn-Jones, which my prudish mother kept hidden. I found it by accident and read the contents.
‘At a time which is quite variable and individual for a woman, the remaining egg follicles in the ovary begin to disappear. This … occurs sometime between the 45th and 55th year of life. …
‘As the months pass fewer egg follicles are stimulated and the amount of oestrogen secreted by them diminishes still further, until the menstrual periods cease altogether. The menopause has arrived. … [T]his is a time of hormonal turbulence.’ 1
‘Hot flushes are noticed by at least three-quarters of women … other symptoms often attributed to declining hormones include depression, irritability, headaches, palpitations, dry skin, frequency of passing urine.’ 2
Llewellyn-Jones believed that those symptoms were not because of a lack of hormones but because of the need to adjust to being menopausal.
‘Women lose bone more rapidly than men, particularly 5–10 years after the menopause. The thinning of bones is called osteoporosis.’3
Right. So was this what I had coming to me? The price I had to pay for being a woman? Why didn’t Mum at least warn me?
But thinking of it now, how does a mother explain to her young daughter what she should be preparing for when she reaches 50?
Maybe I was different. I wasn’t into clothes, make -up and the usual feminine ‘things.’ All I wanted was to learn how to stay healthy, sing, write and be financially independent. At 20, I was already thinking of the future – mainly spelled out by slogans from my Dad such as ‘save’ and ‘buy shares!’ Health was the last thing on my list – until after I turned 30, when I was first drawn to the books of Dr N W Walker.
As it turned out and discussed in Move! 2.0, I had premature menopause at 36. I knew osteoporosis would cripple me if I didn’t take steps to prevent it.
In reality, would young, beautiful, vibrant women today even believe they should be preparing now for this ‘thing’? I think most would google ‘menopause’ or ‘osteoporosis’ and then promptly scroll back to their favourite websites.
My early symptoms were:
- less frequent periods with longer intervals between
- rapid heartbeat
- frequently dropping things
- dry skin
- brittle hair without body
- general lack of interest in life.
One night after months of tests, totally discouraged and frustrated without any conclusive diagnosis given, I sat on the floor crying, wishing, praying, and hoping I’d find an answer.
The answer came the next morning. I remembered what I had read 14 years ago, and asked my doctor for a blood test to check my FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) levels. I already knew what the result would be: yes, it was menopause. I was just too young for this!
The somewhat encouraging words from my doctor were: ‘No more children, Shirley – but at least you have your son.’ I sat on a park bench and cried some more.
The disturbing images of old age I had growing up in Singapore flashed before me: I now fully understood. The men and women who couldn’t get up from their chairs, who gorged, didn’t exercise, smoked, drank and sat all day. They only looked forward to heart disease and diabetes.
In Move! 3.0 I wrote on how HRT restored my life again. But I knew I couldn’t depend on that alone. It was Diet, Exercise, and Relationships. And I had to work on all three.
HRT – plus …
I keep returning to this topic because I’d like my female readers to avoid the pitfalls I met.
My first question is: is it the true fountain of youth it’s made out to be?
Many friends have suggested that it’s a substitute for exercise. They tell me: ‘It’s alright for you – it’s HRT that’s giving you energy!’
But HRT alone does not build bones and muscles or release endorphins. It can also make you put on weight.
If not for Dr Walker’s diet, eating more calcium-enriched foods and sticking to my food combinations, I would have easily piled on the kilos over the years. It was also years of walking, my mat home-exercise and more recently, the regimen of a structured weights/aerobic circuit class at the gym.
It was HRT, my DIET and EXERCISE that saved me from osteoporosis.
I also found HRT’s effectiveness diminishes with age. When the time comes to stop taking them (around 75 years) I want to walk away with confidence, still active and enjoying life – and not as a wobbly, crotchety old woman. So dear friends, please remember it is never just the one thing that gives results. It could be the foods we eat, friends we choose to have, or the way we think. With the right options, YOU are the creator and YOU are in control.
1 Llewellyn-Jones, D. (1971/1992). Everywoman: A gynaecological guide for life [6th edition], p.379. Penguin Books Australia: Ringwood, Victoria.
2 Llewellyn-Jones, p.382.
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