What Is Your Body Telling You?
"At the end of May, I was so exhausted I couldn't figure out what was going on in my life. I ended up going to Africa and spent a month with my beautiful daughters there, was still feeling really tired, really tired, going around from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what was wrong and finally figured out that I had literally sort of blew out my thyroid," Oprah says.
After her diagnosis, Oprah says she turned to a book she keeps next to her bed—Dr. Christiane Northrup's The Wisdom of Menopause. "I pulled out that book and realized that I was not alone. That 25 percent of perimenopausal and menopausal women experience some kind of issue with their thyroid at some time and most women don't know that that's what it is."
That's why Oprah says she decided to share her story about her thyroid in the October 2007 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine. "I wanted so many other women who are going through the same thing to check on yourself and recognize that, first of all, it's an issue that we all share in common, especially if you're of a certain age," she says. "It was hugely, hugely, hugely important for me to get that in balance."
"Absolutely," Dr. Northrup says. "I call it 'break down to break through.' You come to a crossroads. One road says die; the other says live. You've got to choose the live route."
Dr. Northrup says your health depends on what's going on with your mind, body and soul, and your symptoms are actually your soul's way of bringing deeper issues to your attention. "You're in labor with yourself because everything that no longer serves your highest purpose and your optimal health starts to go away and your body gives you signals'—Hey, you've been putting too much stuff under the carpet emotionally, nutritionally, not exercising ... putting everyone else first. The kids, the husband, the job, whatever,'" Dr. Northrup says. "And your soul is saying, 'What about me? What about me?' And your body will start getting symptoms to hit you over the head with till you wake up."
Oprah says she came to an important realization about menopause after rereading The Wisdom of Menopause. "There's a passage in the Bible that says, 'When I was a child I spoke as a child, and when I became a man or when I became older, I put away childish things,'" Oprah says. "This is about putting away childish things."
"Yes, it is, and you're becoming who you really are. And the really nice news is this: When you hit about 35 to 40, you have an ego structure strong enough to really express who you are. So it's like all the stuff you knew when you were 12 or 13 or 11 comes back, but now you have the wherewithal and the skill set inform to manifest that in your life," Dr. Northrup says. "So people go and they ride horses. They start new businesses. They can't wait to redo their houses. Women go wild for color. They can't stand the off-white anymore. They're reinventing themselves. They're figuring out who they are and they can't stand it another moment to live the way they've been living."
Looking back at old photos of cross-country ski trips and dances, Rachel says she isn't the happy person she used to be. "The Rachel of 10 years ago was more optimistic, and the whole world was like my oyster," she says. "I walk around with just resentment and envy. I feel like I give a lot to others and don't get much back. I feel like I've lost my passion and compassion, especially for my husband, my partner. And I feel numb a lot of the time."
Her husband, Joey, says he's noticed a change in Rachel. "She's not the same outgoing person she used to be," he says. "She gets angry a lot. It seems hard to please her."
Rachel says she knows her stress affects her family, even though she pretends it doesn't. "Everyone walks around on eggshells wondering what's gonna make Mom blow?" she says. "Something's missing. I guess it's joy. I think if I had some of that, it would be a lot better around here."
Dr. Northrup has a prescription for Rachel. "I want to get your hormones balanced and you need more circulation. The circulation of blood equals the circulation of joy," she says. "So you need to actually deliberately put in your calendar joyful times. I don't care what the kids are doing. Because if you're not happy, the legacy for them and their health is not good."
The first thing Dr. Northrup wants Rachel to do is to make a list of five things she wants to do—and then do them! The five things Rachel chooses to do may help improve her health in the long run. "When you do those, they decrease cellular inflammation. This isn't just some kind of pop psychology. They decrease inflammation in your cells and cellular inflammation is the beginning of all chronic degenerative disease," she says. "So headaches, high blood pressure, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, it all begins with cellular inflammation. Things that bring you joy quell stress hormones in the body and decrease cellular inflammation."
Dr. Northrup also says Rachel needs to make sure she's eating right and keeping her blood sugar steady. That means eating breakfast, cutting back on carbs and increasing grains. "There's no other way. You can't get into that little black dress after, you know, the five days of dieting. The body goes, 'Oh, yeah. I'm not doing that anymore. You wanted me to do that for 20 years? We're done. We're done.' So you need to eat very, very well."
But don't think of it as a diet, Dr. Northrup says. "Because you value yourself, your body doesn't like the word diet. It's got die in it. Okay? It won't do it anymore," she says.
"But the Baby Boom women, all of us in this time grew up with, 'Don't trust anyone over 30' and we were the Me Generation. We're redefining the whole perimenopausal transition now and you're angry because where is the 'me' in the Me Generation now? So we're doing it differently so you don't have to go off and get the same diseases that your mother had, you see. So I want to give you permission as a doctor to do the things that bring you joy and pleasure for your health. For your family's health."
Still, Dr. Northrup says it's important to express—not repress—your anger. "Now, I don't want anyone to get rid of anger. In fact, some of you who are depressed, I'd like you to find your anger. Women who are depressed, they're easy to manipulate. The women who are angry, everyone's afraid of. But you don't want to stay chronically angry," Dr. Northrup says. "You figure out what that anger means, what you need to do about it, and then you have a dance break or you do something to get into joy immediately. You use the anger and then get out of it as soon as you can."
The first step to a better night's sleep is decreasing the amount of white foods—like pasta and sugar—in your diet. "If they get off the white foods, there are high glycemic index carbs. Glycemic index is raising your blood sugar quickly."
Instead, try to eat more foods with omega-3 fats—including salmon, ground flaxseed and macadamia nuts. "When you eat that way, you find that it will decrease insulin. It will also decrease stress hormones, and there's less inflammation in your brain and you'll sleep like a babe."
Another way to avoid another night staring at the ceiling, Dr. Northrup says, is to establish a calming routine before bed. "The other thing people do, they surf the net right before they go to bed or they watch TV right before they go to bed and this excites the brain," she says. "You need to give yourself an hour before going to bed to get ready for sleep. A warm bath. A romance novel. ... Get the TV out of your bedroom."
Among the pills Lawana takes during her morning routine are blood pressure and weight loss medication. "I've got a variety of things that I've thought to try for weight, because in the last year I feel like my weight just keeps going up and up and up—no matter what I do."
Lawana also takes an anti-depressant. "My daughters have called it my anti-bitch pill," she says. "But here I am at 47, and if I didn't have these little pills right here, I guess I would fall apart."
Although many people feel they need to start their morning with a cup of coffee, Dr. Northrup says the pick-me-up has consequences. "But here's what happens. Your blood pressure rises very quickly so you feel better and it makes you feel more alert. And then, a couple hours later...the blood sugar plummets. You're worse off than when you started. But then so what do you do? You take another jolt of java to get you back up there again."
Dr. Northrup says that Lawana's eating habits—which involve skipping breakfast and eating most of her calories at night—could be the reason she has trouble losing weight. "Those go right to your hips and the insulin from the high blood sugar locks it in place and it can't get out," Dr. Northrup says.
To change Lawana's bad habits, Dr. Northrup advises that she starts eating breakfast in the morning. "An omelet would be great—make sure it's got protein in it. You need omega-3 fats—those help your nerves. They help your mood. You can get them as a supplement or the ground up flaxseed like Oprah takes. A teaspoon a day, and also you need a good multivitamin mineral."
In addition to eating right, Dr. Northrup advises Lawana to exercise. "Even a 10-minute walk will make a huge difference. You know those anti-bitch pills? Exercise is the anti-bitch activity."
As for Lawana's caffeine fix, Dr. Northrup knows it is a tough habit to break. "Am I gonna tell you to stop coffee?" Dr. Northrup says. "No, but at least maybe cut down."
Once the mind is ready, there is another sex organ that needs attention. "Less than 25 percent of women reach orgasm only through intercourse, and the reason is that the clitoris needs more attention than it gets during intercourse. The clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings, whose sole purpose is pleasure."
Dr. Northrup's five steps to better sex:
- Get hormonal support if you have vaginal dryness. "If you've had a hysterectomy with your ovaries removed, you may need some hormonal support."
- You can either be angry or have pleasure—not both. "If you are pissed off chronically, you can't get turned on because the blood won't go where it needs to go."
- Practice self-cultivation (Dr. Northrup's word for masturbation). "Every woman needs to practice self-cultivation so she learns what feels good, what doesn't and [how] you can learn to feel more."
- Update your own sexual image. "There's an exercise you can do. Think of a sexy woman. You can walk down the street thinking that sexy woman is plastered to the left side of your body and breathe her in. You can have that essence in you."
- Learn how to receive, surrender and give feedback. "You need to learn to receive and surrender to pleasure—this is a discipline."
In addition to Dr. Northrup's tips, make sure there isn't a deeper issue contributing to your low sex drive. "Perimenopause and menopause, there's nothing about it that decreases frequency of orgasm or libido in a lot of women. However, a lot of women experience decreased libido because they've put a lot of problems in the relationship under the rug and they also need some time alone to rediscover themselves."
Along with family history, Geniece is also worried that her hectic schedule as a single mother who works and volunteers is too overwhelming. As Geniece takes us along through her typical day, we see her daily stressors. Before 7 a.m, her troubles have already begun—her car won't start! "My heart's racing right now because I was not expecting my car not to start. The more out of control I am, the more my heart rate starts to flutter where I feel the irregular heartbeat."
Once Geniece reaches work, she explains the stress of her job. "I just recently started this job in May and so I'm always constantly [thinking], 'Am I doing a good job? Is my supervisor satisfied with my performance in this new job?'"
After work, Geniece drives directly two community meetings before she finally goes to bed at 10:30 p.m.—after 17 hours on the go.
After seeing how much Geniece gives in a typical day, Dr. Northrup says, "You're here to serve, but you're not supposed to be the main course. We all have to serve. The heart is about service. It's about love. It's about compassion. But you've gone overboard into self-sacrifice. And if you die early, you're not good to anyone, right?"
Dr. Northrup wants Geniece to realize that heart disease is not an inevitable condition. "Your grandmother died of heart disease. So did mine. So did everyone in my entire family, and we have the high cholesterol and all of it—and you know what? It doesn't apply to me and it doesn't need to apply to you either," Dr. Northrup says.
Dr. Northrup wants Geniece to focus on her environment, her thoughts and her emotions. "I want you to look in the mirror and say, 'I accept myself unconditionally. I am enough. I do enough. I have enough.'"
Dr. Northrup says Geniece should begin each day by meditating with her heart. "Smile into your heart. Think about your heart. Take yourself into your heart. Do two minutes of smiling into your heart with your eyes closed and see what you feel like doing from that moment. And if you're doing something only because you feel guilty if you don't do it, you can't do it. Okay? Except for taking care of your kids."
Oprah says her own health issues with her thyroid are now in balance, but she stresses the importance of prevention. "So many of us wait—we don't take the wake-up call. So use the example of all the other women who have broken down, me included, and use that. What will it take to bring yourself into balance? What will it take for you to care enough about yourself? Don't wait until you have caused harm to yourself before you realize that balance was what you needed to give to yourself."
"So this show is actually preventative medicine," Dr. Northrup says.
"Those things increase beta-endorphin in the brain," Dr. Northrup says. "It's the natural morphine-like substance and you absolutely need it for mood modulation. And if you don't get it naturally through meditation, exercise or sex, you will get it abnormally through drugs and alcohol and sugar. You're going to go for pleasure because your body needs to have pleasure. You need it. But I'd much rather have you get it deliberately in healthy doses."
Learn how to take care of yourself at any age.
Oprah's own story about menopause.