Photo: Matthew Rolston
There's a theme running through my life right now: balance. You've heard me speak of it many times in this column. However, I didn't know how out of kilter I was until my friend Kate sent me the following e-mail, last July.
To: Oprah Winfrey
Kate: Have you had a blood analysis of your hormones by an expert? I feel like a new person—and I want the same for you.
Oprah: An analysis by a hormone specialist is exactly what I need. I've been having issues for two years that nobody can figure out. I keep asking my doctors because I highly suspect it is hormonal. Not enough doctors know or care enough about women's hormonal issues. So yes, I need a blood analysis.
Kate: I had issues for two years too—some noticeable and some vague. Lack of focus. No zest. No drive. I felt a veil of malaise. But I now have an individualized cocktail of hormone supplements that work. I feel good on every level. Before, I was even having difficulty reading!
Oprah: I have a stack of books 2 feet high to read for summer. Haven't cracked one yet.
Kate: Inability to read—both in terms of attention and joy—was the last straw for me!!! Okay, you're going to my doctor—he's a gynecologist who specializes in hormones and antiaging. He determines what hormonal levels are right for you. It is a process of discovery.
Oprah: What's amazing is, I didn't even think of lack of focus as a symptom. I thought my life force was being slowly drained. So just knowing there is a veil is a comfort.
That exchange was the beginning of my path to restoring balance—in my hormones and in every other area of my life.
When I visited the specialist Kate recommended, I came prepared, with all my blood tests from a year of thyroid exams. He took one look and said, "Your hormonal tank is empty. That is why you feel like your life force is being drained."
My eyes welled with tears. Finally someone understood and had a solution.
He gave me a prescription, then ordered more tests. And after one day on bioidentical estrogen, I felt the veil lift. [Traditional hormone therapy uses estrogen from the urine of pregnant horses. Bioidentical estrogen is chemically identical to that made by women's ovaries.] After three days, the sky was bluer, my brain was no longer fuzzy, my memory was sharper. I was literally singing and had a skip in my step.
For more than two years, I hadn't gotten a decent night's sleep. I'd had heart palpitations. These are symptoms of hyperthyroidism. But even after my thyroid was balanced, I was still having "surges"—like a rush of adrenaline throughout the night that kept me awake.
And equally important were the other, seemingly unrelated, symptoms.
I started talking to more friends in their 40s and 50s, and soon we were all aha'ing each other. This is what some described: Anxiety. Fatigue. Low-grade depression. Lack of confidence, curiosity, drive, ambition. A sense of being overwhelmed. Feeling flat and dead and afraid. A general feeling of malaise.
I share my story in hopes of opening the door to restoration and balance to women (and men) everywhere. I do so knowing that bioidentical hormone therapy is controversial and, to many people, confusing.
I encourage you to take charge of your health, read this month's story on menopause, and research the best doctors for you. Most important to me is getting past the sense of shame. As Kate later wrote, "I thought my symptoms were a failing in my character. I blamed myself—never knowing that these were real symptoms that indicate a hormonal imbalance."
To every woman who's ever felt the same: What you need to know for sure is that you're not alone.
Let's start the conversation—and lift the veil.
Read the full story on hormone therapy
From the February 2009 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!