I grew up in Orange, Texas, a small town 100 miles east of Houston. I never even saw a woman doctor until I was 25 years so it never occurred to me to become a doctor. Like many women in medicine, I got into medicine through another profession. In my case, it was pharmacy. While I loved pharmacy, for me it was simply the beginning of my journey to better understand the world within each of us.I have been practicing as an endocrinologist since 1983. When I completed my medical training at UCLA and USC, I did not plan to practice other than traditional endocrinology. My focus on natural hormone replacement simply evolved from my intense curiosity about the human body. The more I have studied it, the more I am in awe of what a perfect system we have been given. Having personally managed over 5000 menopausal women has given me unique perspective into the subtle variations on the theme. The endocrine glands are powerful allies in maintaining good health; having them perform in optimal balance throughout life is what I strive to achieve for my patients.
Women often ask me, “Why should I take hormone replacement? Many of them think it’s better to go through menopause naturally. However, it isn’t exactly natural for women to be living this long! In 1900 the average age of menopause was 55 as it is in 2000. However, in 1900, the average life expectancy for a woman was 50. Many women in the 1800’s died in childbirth. Now as a result of modern medicine, the life expectancy for women is approaching 80! In essence, as women, we are now routinely outliving our ovaries. We have been given this precious gift of 30 extra years of life. Do we cherish that gift by caring for ourselves so that we can extend our productivity and enjoy those years? Or rather, do we let Mother Nature take its course and watch the relentless deterioration of our bodies as hormone levels decline? Men can also experience a type of male menopause, although it’s not as abrupt as it is for women.
If you need a compelling preview, simply go to any nursing home and see the hollow, lost faces of those men and women who stare back at you. If I can play a part in preventing that sad outcome, then I have fulfilled my purpose.
I had the great blessing of providing hormone therapy for my own dear mother throughout her menopausal years. She had such a zest for living and maintaining her independence. I always made sure she was prescribed hormones by her gynecologist. Even in her 80’s, she lived in her own home, did her own cooking and loved to read. Everyone around her admired her constant energy. She and my father had a big garden and she loved to give away vegetables to all the neighbors. One day she got up, did her daily 30-minute walk, went to a garage sale (one of her favorite past-times) and had lunch with a good friend. That evening she had the worst headache she had ever had and by the time she got to the emergency room, she was unconscious from a massive stroke.
She lingered on for three days until the last of her five children had all gotten there and then she quietly passed on. It was a shock for us to see her go so suddenly, but later after I had had the chance to process what had happened, I realized that we should all be so lucky.
We have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but also to our families and society to take care of ourselves and maintain our productivity as long as possible. Our goal should not be to just live longer but to live better. No therapy is without risks but there are safe, effective ways to minimize those risks. Baby boomers by our sheer numbers will bankrupt the healthcare system if we do not take charge of our own health. Imagine the cost to the healthcare system when 76 million of us baby boomers hit 80. Contrast that with the enormous potential savings to society if we each take preventive medical measures, which enable us to not only enjoy our independence but to also compress those pre-terminal health costs to a few days instead of several years.
My hope is to inspire people to take responsibility for their own health and actively participate in the process with their doctors. Poor lifestyle habits and nutrition are often the source of many serious chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Our inattention to these issues is already seen in the growing epidemic incidence of diabetes, which is even occurring in our children. The word doctor in Greek means teacher. And so, it gives me great pleasure to see that sparkle of enlightenment in the eyes of a patient when I am teaching them how to care for their own body.