For women of a certain age, The Wisdom of Menopause could be just the book you’ve been waiting for. Menopause doesn’t have to be a dreaded curse of ageing during which we can look forward only to hot flushes and hormonal mood swings. According to Christiane Northrup, MD (Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom), menopause often marks the beginning of a woman’s most sexually passionate, creatively inspired, and professionally productive phase of life.
While this may sound like wishful thinking, Northrup backs up her good news with solid medical expertise. As an obstetrician and gynaecologist, Northrup has specialised in using a mind-body approach to women’s health for decades, which means she doesn’t just write about hormones, but also examines how a woman’s lifestyle, emotions, and beliefs are affected by menopause. With the right diet, attitude, and perhaps some supplements along the way, women can actually look forward to a resurgence of energy and a revolutionary opportunity for personal growth–one that rivals the hormonally driven period of adolescence in its scope and urgency, she claims. And yes, at just under 500 pages, The Wisdom of Menopause does explain how to have a positive and healthy menopause in concise detail. Northrup has indeed “written the book” on menopause.
It helps that Northrup has been through menopause herself (she vowed she wouldn’t write a book on it until she was on the other side). Readers have the sense that they are gleaning advice from a knowledgeable holistic doctor as well as a sage aunt whose life was radically altered by the “change of life” (Northrup divorced at the onset of menopause). After she shares her personal story of “the change,” Northrup delves into a significant discussion on how self-sacrifice catches up with women in midlife. Suddenly, hormones are directing women out of the care-giver role and into an inwardly focused assessment of life and its meaning, she explains. Resentments (not hormones) are what spur the notorious surges of anger, as women re-examine the agreements surrounding their relationships with colleagues, friends, and family members.
From here, Northrup guides readers into a thorough section on menopausal hormone changes–a discussion that is scientifically informative, yet entirely accessible. While acknowledging the need for hormone-replacement therapy and the tremendous relief it can provide (helping to alleviate insomnia, hot flushes, and depression), Northrup encourages women to avoid synthetic hormones and instead consider “bioidentical” hormones (such as estradiol, estrone, and estriol). She also devotes an entire chapter to foods and supplements that support hormonal balance. By the way, she says to skip the wild Mexican yam creams: “they certainly don’t provide the documented benefits of progesterone.” Be warned: some readers may find the advice in The Wisdom of Menopause too alternative for their liking. For example, in her discussion on insomnia, one of Northrup’s recommendations is to cover the mirror at night, following the ancient Asian design principles of feng shui. (Sceptics will find Northrup’s medical assertions carefully cited and footnoted in the rear of her book.)
Northrup gives a solid and practical diet plan that supports hormonal balance while countering the weight gain that so frequently plagues menopausal women (“focus on portion size, not calories”,”eat protein at every meal” and cut down on refined and high-carbohydrate foods). Readers can also expect a thorough mind-body discussion in subsequent chapters that cover breast health, bone loss, and cultivating midlife beauty, along with chapters titled “Sex and Menopause: Myths and Reality” and “Creating Pelvic Health and Power”.
She concludes with a list of mail-order and online resources, such as retailers for bioidentical hormones, progesterone cream, Chinese herbs, soy products, weight-loss audiocassettes, lubricants, and Kegel weights. Northrup takes a truly comprehensive approach to all the effective treatments of menopausal symptoms so that women can make their own highly informed and wise choices. —Gail Hudson