What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Premenopause

doctor may not tell you

What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Premenopause: Balance your hormones and your life from thrity to fifty by John Lee, M.D. and Jesse Hanley, M.D. Originally published in 1999. 395 pages.

‘Kay, folks. I read this one almost two months ago, and told myself that I wasn’t going to review it until I had tested the suggestions a bit. Then I tested the suggestions, found a couple of them were not only healthy but genuinely helpful, and still waffled on reviewing it.

Sunday, I handed it to a friend of mine who I thought might be helped by it, and realized that I was avoiding reviewing it because…well, it’s another public declaration of my stage of life. But it’s a great book, and the health improvement suggestions are not only very efffective, they align with my ideals as well. So I’m getting over myself long enough to recommend this book. It’s that good, and I want to share this information with other women.

If my hormones had started wigging out at 40, or I’d had time to process the gradual changes many women report experiencing starting at 35, I might have been better prepared for stuff. However, I was humming along like clockwork with nary the faintest hint of anything out of the ordinary for 45 years. Very recently, little things popped up here and there, and my desire to keep living my normal life in all respects sent me on a hunt for answers, and that hunt led me to this book.

People (ahem, like me) heard Suzanne Somers going on about not having life hindered by hormonal changes and laughed. If I met her today, I would offer her my apologies nd join her on a tour to tell every woman over 40 that you really don’t have to have your life, moods, and sex life turned upside down by the calendar. You can find what to do, how and why by reading this book.

One of the things I appreciated about it was that these are OB/Gyns who openly and defiantly advise women to ignore most of the conventional medical wisdom and toxic prescriptions offered by most gynecological professionals. A second thing I appreciated about them was that they had an entire chapter dedicated to the deadly and damaging nature of artificial birth control. They actually advocate the calendar method for those couples interested in child spacing.

They strongly discourage elective surgeries to handle issues caused by wild hormonal swings or conditions such as menorrhagia. They strongly discourage estrogen-like replacement alternatives as well, although they don’t spend much time on that since the book is written for women who are not yet menopausal. Perhaps in five years I’ll pick up the next book.

They go into great detail about how our hormones really work. For instance, that it’s not a decrease in estrogen but progestrone that is the culprit when pre-menopausal women first start to experience problems. That alone was very enlightening for me, as well as the less expensive, non drug, all natural, bioidentical hormonal supplements and replacements that work with a woman’s body rather than against it. In other words, unlike progestins or  ERT, natural hormones won’t make you gain weight or increase your risk of developing cancer later in life.

After making several of the adjustments outlined in the book, and probably because I got started working the problem at the first sign of trouble, I have seen a lot of success with every bit of the advice I tried. From greater ease of weight management, to an immediate return to regular cycles, to better sleep. It was actually quite remarkable, until I stopped to consider that the natural way, using the stuff that God created, should yield the best results.

I suppose my grade for this book is obvious, but for the sake of consistency, I’ll offer one.

Grade: A

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The Gluten-free, Almond Flour Cookbook.

GF Almond flour cookbook

The Gluten-free, Almond Flour Cookbook, by Elena Amsterdam. Published in 2009. 144 pages.

I stumbled upon this one in our local library and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I have finally accepted the reality that at this stage of life[1], the white sugar and white flour have to be forever banished. Or at least relegated to the odd special occasion. Since special occasions seem to occur with startling regularity in this house, I have to take the further step of figuring out which times I’m willing to throw caution to the wind and eat the cake.

I had been grappling with how to make this adjustment, given that baking is a very big part of my life. I even brought a decent supplemental income for a couple of years selling my home baked wares. Our eldest is also quite the baker and is on the cusp of developing quite the entrepreneurial enterprise as a baker herself. In other words, around here gluten is more than just the protein found in wheat that makes the bread chewy and the cake stay together. It’s a major part of kitchen life. Because we thoroughly enjoy working with it, I was a little sad to say goodbye to baking as much as anything else.

Enter this little book by Elena Amsterdam, and baking (at least baking I can actually eat) re-entered my life in a snap. I haven’t tried every recipe in the book yet, but I have tried 5 and not one has been disappointing. That was enough for me to go ahead and offer a review and endorsement of the book. The second reason I felt comfortable with it is that my husband thoroughly enjoyed the flavor of both the pancakes and the pecan shortbread cookies, and he is not easily impressed. Because he has become increasingly less tolerant of high levels of sweetness, these recipes are a good fit for him as well.

The natural sweetness of the almonds means that only few tablespoons of agave nectar are used as the sweetener in most of the recipes. I haven’t made one of the cakes yet, but I will this weekend -I hope, as we have quite a full one ahead- but the frostings will require confectioners sugar, making them recipes with a higher level of sweetness.

The caveat here is that almond flour is expensive. I paid $13.95 at our local warehouse club for a three-pound bag and felt like I was getting a real deal. However, because I am making adjustments to my diet which are permanent and not a temporary fix, I don’t have a problem with making the investment. As far as I am concerned, almond flour is equivalent to gluten free GOLD for someone who loves to bake but wants to keep the white flour in their diet to a minimum.

Grade: A

[1] The dietary changes are not related to weight loss, but rather hormone balancing, and by that I mean hormones of all sorts: adrenal and thyroid as well as estrogen and progesterone. I may review a good book I read on the subject at a later date. I am giving it 30 days to see if the positive changes I am experiencing are more than just a fluke.

 

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals.

sitting kills book

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. By Dr. Joan Vernikos. Published in 2011. 150 pages.

This is another one of those books I stumbled onto while perusing the shelves of the local library. Just as its title implies, this is a little book which explores the science of how gravity, and our use of it benefits our body in terms of health and longevity. I found it fascinating because it the findings of the studies Dr. Vernikos unveiled were an education of gravity that I was pleased to get a refresher on.

It’s not a secret to anyone that sedentary living is damaging to our health and vitality. This is as common to us as our knowledge that the sky is blue. What this life scientist from NASA found however, is that the commonly proposed solutions -30 minutes or more of exercise, 3-5 times per week- is ultimately not the long term answer to the dilemma.

It’s not that time in the gym is without benefit. It certainly is and even improves health metrics on a few levels, including weight and obesity related disorders. It just isn’t the magic elixir we’ve all been lead to believe when it comes to long term health and vigor. To achiever that, in addition to good genetic fortune, requires a life that is active more often than not, and takes advantage of the inherent benefits of gravitational pull on those who stand and move more than they sit and stew.

The gist of the book is that if you spend most of your time standing and acting with the effects of gravity in mind, you increase your chances of being able to do things like stand up from a chair on your own at 90, if you live to see 90, of course.

The interesting thing about this book is that a lot of the tips and tricks the author recommends -as a result of the studies they’ve done at NASA on the effects of gravity on the human body- are things that are easy to do but that many of us don’t do. I was shocked to realize how often, for example, I unconsciously use a small amount of leverage such as my hands to get up and down from a seated position until I started making a point of doing as the book suggests, and getting up and down without using any leverage at all.

A lot of the research overview in this book (because I don’t expect many of my 10 readers to actually read this) can be found here:

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals (pdf)

We have been fortunate in our life to have been surrounded by plenty of lifelong friends and family members who have lifestyles and mobility that defy what our culture has been conditioned to expect when we reach a certain age. As I read this I was almost immediately reminded of the couple who run the ministry to the homeless and needy at our church. Our entire family works alongside them so we get to spend a lot of time with them.

The wife is 61, the husband 71. They are on the move -physically- almost constantly. They can’t sit still if there is something to be done, even in their own house. Their energy level is something the average 40 year old American would envy. They are textbook examples of what Dr. Vernikos describes in this book. I am standing as I type this review, which is actually not unusual for me, but I am certainly inspired to make better use of the inherent work our bodies experience from gravity simply because we’re standing up.

Lots of science in this book. I liked it, but it’s not something everyone will want to sift through. Luckily the second half is an action plan any person can skip right to and begin to make use of.

Not a literary masterpiece, but that isn’t the point. I learned a lot.

Grade: B

 

 

 

 

Better Than Before

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin. Published in 2015. 320 pages.

I am in the process of re-establishing good habits that I allowed to waver over the past year, while also (and probably more importantly) working to let go of some bad habits. As I have been contemplating and making some pretty big changes of late, I stumbled upon this book in our local library. I was curious enough about the possible research and information to pick it up and give it a look.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the NYT best-selling book, The Happiness Project. I was not familiar with her work prior to stumbling upon this book. That’s a good thing. Had I been familiar with her claim to fame, I might have been inclined to skip picking up this book, which I found pretty insightful.

It wasn’t so much that Rubin broke any new ground here, as much as she put it all together in ways that made sense; to me at least. It is entirely possible that we are more open to and impressed by ideas that speak to where we are on a particular leg of life’s journey. However, even with that concession, I think this is a good book for anyone in the process of trying to establish new habits and break old ones.

The trick to breaking old habits, of course, is to replace them with something better and stick to that thing until it becomes a habit. What Rubin attempts to do here is assist her readers with identifying what strategies will work best for them as they embark on a new habit or attempt to break one.

There is, as there always are with these things, general standards offered by way of a quiz to help the reader categorize him or herself in ways that best narrow the strategies that will work for them.  In years past, I balked at these types of things mainly because the idea that I fit into a neat box offended my snowflake tendencies.

As I have grown older, however, I have come around to the conclusion that while none of us fit neatly into any particular category (an obsession with categories is unhealthy), human tendencies can indeed be roughly narrowed and quantified enough that we can all use some of this information to help us achieve the goals we wish to accomplish. What’s more, there isn’t anything innately wrong or ungodly about making allowance for the fact that we all have personalities within we much navigate as we set ourselves on solid paths in life. The problem comes in when we use this information as an excuse not to change we should rather than tools to help us change the things we need to address.

As I said at the beginning, this book isn’t groundbreaking. Since there is nothing new under the sun anyway, we could all save ourselves a lot of angst by understanding that people the saying the same things in what we perceive to be a new or more comprehensive way doesn’t make it new. It just means that they said it in a way we can identify with. Like Gretchen Rubin did.

You can read an excerpt of her book here.

What I figured out from this book:

  • Unlike my husband, and my father before him, it is not enough for me to be internally motivated to do better in an area of change course in another. I invariably run out of steam if I don’t set up the proper guardrails to keep me moving in the right direction. That reality doesn’t mean I’m a “bad Christian”, which is what I used to think.
  • I can use my husband’s (and to a lesser extent one of daughter’s) stronger internal push as a guardrail. For example, once I decided that potato chips with a side of tears are not the key to managing stress, I took a page from this book and said out loud, “I don’t eat chips.” If I pick up a bag, I can trust my husband to take it from me so as to help me not be a liar, which would make me a bad Christian.
  • Our kids saw a lot of themselves in the four archetypes. Even the 10-year-old rebel has shown some growth since we all took the opportunity to examine ourselves in light of some of the insights here
  • Habits are surprisingly tough, and habits are surprisingly fragile (p.160) I totally need to remember that. You’d think after a year of running faithfully and spending a crazy amount of money -at least for me- on a race, I’d turned into a runner for life. Didn’t happen, but the health gains I made as a runner were so startling that I am back at it, this time with the understanding of how fragile habits are.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • Too much of it focused on eating and health issues when most people’s most entrenched habits are related to things other than diet and exercise. For instance, my hurdle at this point is managing my Internet time. Exercise and eating are quite frankly, secondary. I’m in decent health and my husband thinks I’m gorgeous even carrying 25 extra pounds. The mental and time drain lost online however…that’s worth addressing.
  • Given the time this book was written, I was surprised at the sparse amount of time given to some of the other things people deal with as habits.

The good far outweighed the bad, however, and even without specifically mentioning things like social media, smart phones, collecting clutter (NOT an issue of mine), mindless spending (also not an issue of mine) or other vices, the book’s tools are easily transferable to whatever one’s habit might be.

Grade: B

 

 

 

Dr. Susan Taylor’s Rx for Brown Skin

brown skin book

Dr. Susan Taylor’s Rx for Brown Skin: Your prescription for flawless skin, hair, and nails. Published in 2008. 304 pages.

I stumbled on this one as I was doing my usual stroll through and perusal of our local library’s shelves. There is little about caring for our skin that we can’t readily find answers to online these days, but as a lover of books, I picked this one up anyway.

It’s a good, comprehensive book covering common skin problem women of Asian, Hispanic, and African ancestry have to deal with. As much as we enjoy the fact that our higher melanin content means few to no wrinkles for many years, there can also be problems associated with darker skin than can be bothersome if we don’t exercise due diligence with regards to skin care. In other words, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

What I liked about the book was the extensive coverage of all topics related to hair, skin, and nails. Because women of color tend to be more inclined to going the “extra mile” when it comes to beauty treatments, the admonitions against things such as over processing of hair -with heat and chemical treatments such as relaxers- and damaging the nails with the use of acrylic nails was important.

At one point, she alluded to the notion that what we eat has less importance with regard to our epidermis than the care we give it. I disagree strongly with that but later in the book she makes a point of noting that nutrition is an important part of maintaining a healthy appearance. I suspected the dermatologist in this author was loathe to concede that women can reverse many of their skin conditions through proper nutrition rather than dermatological intervention. I can understand the inclination, so I gave her a pass on that because the book overall was quite informative.

For instance, it has always been obvious to me that my skin tone varies greatly in photographs I have seen of myself. The difference in the winter and spring made perfect sense since most people tan in summer and lighten in winter, but  the fact that the change can be exaggerated simply by stepping from the shade into the sunlight was good information and demystified for me why I looking at photos makes me wonder, “Why is my skin a totally different shade than it was in an earlier photo?”

Dr. Taylor also offered sections for dealing with skin care during pregnancy, middle age, and the more mature stages of life. In short, she left no stone unturned, including referencing the safest and most effective over the counter products to use. She also included references to those products which should be avoided due to their harshness or incompatibility with darker skin.

It was a useful book.

Grade:  B

 

 

The How It Can Be Gluten Free Cookbook

gluten-free-cookbook

The How It Can Be Gluten Free Cookbook, by America’s Test Kitchen. Published in 2014.336 pages.

Like so many American women, I can tend to get sucked into the latest nutritional trend. The one exception to that rule has been the trend of the gluten free variety. Sure, I’ll ditch the wheat for a while to drop a few pounds, or do a Whole 30 because I really do feel better with a pared own diet.

However, I embark on these things with a general understanding that at some point I will return to my beloved gluten. After all, I am a baker, and not just a hobby baker. Well, I’m just a hobby  baker now but once upon a time I was baking enough and had built up reputation enough that I was able to hock my baking wares for a decent bit of grocery money.

I basically poo-poohed everyone who claimed to have some kind of intolerance or allergy to gluten as just a trend gone wild. Many people who claimed to be gluten intolerant couldn’t even tell you what gluten is:

Did I mention this? I like to bake, and my husband likes to eat what I bake. As such, gluten free has never been viewed as a permanent solution to anything in our house, even though managing my weight is markedly easier when I don’t eat it.

One thing however, caused us to give pause in our staunchly pro-gluten household: our youngest daughter’s health. Eight-year-old has been battling eczema to varying degrees since she was born. Recently we began -again- the process of eliminating things from her diet systematically and chronicling the results. Benevolent Dictator decided that for the months of November and December, we would eliminate gluten.

For the sake of her comfort, the dictator and I join our daughter in whatever is being eliminated from her diet. Rather than see this as the end of baking (it’s the holidays after all!) I saw it as a challenge. If there was anywhere I knew I would find excellent gluten free substitutions for our favorite baked goods, it would be from America’s test Kitchen.

If you’re not familiar with America’s Test Kitchen and you love the science of cooking and baking techniques, this is a show you want to watch. I watch them on PBS, and they test every conceivable technique, test and review kitchen and food products, and go to great lengths to get the best possible results. And they produced a gluten free cookbook! Two volumes!

We mastered the art of producing cakes that are hardly distinguishable from its gluten filled counterpart, but bread was the one thing I was hesitant to try until I fund this book. Well, until my daughter found this book. I started with the hamburger rolls which tasted divine. Our entire family enjoyed them and the verdict was that you could hardly tell the difference between regular hamburger buns and the GF variety I made using the recipe from the book.

Next up was the pull apart dinner rolls, which again, were a home run. I considered making at least one more recipe (English muffins) before offering a review of the book but I have owned a couple of ATK cook books and I can’t think of one bad recipe I’ve made from one of them.

Like all ATK books, there are lots of insights on the science behind the techniques they chose and reviews of different products. This was helpful since there are so many gluten free flours and products available on the market today.They always accompany the most involved steps with photographs. There are also comparison photos to show the different results they got with different flour blends. So much information can be found within the pages of these volumes that even the most inexperienced baker could embark on gluten free baking and have success.

Since it appears at this juncture, that eight-year-old is actually seeing some improvement as a result of this particular elimination, this might be our life for the foreseeable. It was great to stumble onto a book with such a wealth of information and guidance.

Grade: A

El’s Rabbit Trails: That Was Then…

 

This is now, and is tangentially related to two books I previously reviewed. The first is The Whole 30. The second is It Starts With Food.

As it happens, I am in the last five days of a Whole 30 cycle. The energy level boost, decrease in waistline (inch and a half) and better sleep are the things that keep me doing this plan over and over. Even when I end a 30 day cycle, I stick with the eating plan for three-fourths of the time. The summer -which we dub “birthday season in our house- was a notable exception and by September I was feeling all the ill effects of birthday cake, road eating, and lack of sleep.

Fall was a welcome opportunity to start a new cycle of Whole 30, which includes a complete prohibition on not just bread, but grains in general. Yesterday when I ran across this “epic Christian meme”, I decided it might be worth exploring how much we should take Jesus’ words to mean that Wonder Bread is a perfectly acceptable food product compared to broccoli or kale:

bread-meme

Now, on the one hand, it is kind of funny (“Bread is life”?) and I can take a joke. I would have taken it as a simple joke -my kids did- except that I heard a local nutritionist say something quite similar on our local Christian radio station. So that tells me that there is a *there* there, and I want to take a minute to look at it. I’m going to keep my remarks short and sweet because I’d really rather hear from you guys on the subject.

I would think that it is generally recognized by anyone with any nutritional knowledge at all that the food we eat today is in many ways markedly different from the foods that were eaten in Jesus’ day. I’m not only referring to bread, but also meat and vegetables. After all, there were no such entities as Tyson or Monsanto in Bible days. No monopolies controlling the food supply, no round up ready seeds, no bread loaded with sugar in plastic bags on shelves. In other words, the bread we eat isn’t the same bread of Jesus’ day and those who write up such memes probably wouldn’t want to eat such bread if it were the same.

If the creator of the meme is like me, willing to bake his or her own bread to mitigate *some* of the effects of commercial farming and everything that goes along with it, then I can give them something of a pass. That doesn’t change the issues with commercially farmed wheat, but you can at least use good oils and no sugar, making the bread significantly more healthy that Wonder. Most of us aren’t in a position to provide our 100% of our families’ food from optimal sources, but we can make every attempt possible to eat food as close as possible to the way God made it, and whether you agree or disagree with the meme,  we all know that means more kale and broccoli, less rolls and burger buns.

In the end, I’m of the mind that we should just shut our traps and let people eat whatever the heck they want while we eat whatever the heck we want. I’ve cut down on my bread intake significantly, to one serving a week when I’m not abstaining completely. It doesn’t bother me that my husband likes warm bagels slathered with peanut butter. Even if it did I know full well that I’d better keep it to myself, but it really doesn’t.

My sister-in-law got back down to her ideal weight after 4 kids by going vegan. There is NO WAY short of a terminal diagnosis with veganism as the antidote, that I am giving up my burgers, but I’m happy she found what works for her.The world would be a much better place if we would be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper when it really matters and learned to stop meddling.

So…you enjoy your pancakes, I’ll enjoy my home fries with caramelized onions, and we can all just sing kumbaya unless there is something one of us really needs to confront the other about.

/end rant.