HRT – Is it really worth the risk?

So, this week has seen the publication of a comprehensive world-wide study by Oxford University about the link between breast cancer and Hormone Replacement Therapy. And, shock-horror, they’ve found that the risk is greater than previously thought.

This isn’t new though, is it. The link between these two has been known about since the turn of this century. Since then, there has been so many conflicting studies, it’s not surprising women are confused and anxious about whether or not to use this method of alleviating symptoms of the menopause.

It’s no secret that my view is that there are many natural ways of dealing with the likes of hot flushes, brain fog, anxiety and so on, but of course the choice is up to the individual.

However, I’ve been so dismayed by the reporting of this latest finding, the down-playing, dismissing and miss-informing that’s going on, I’ve felt compelled to rant a little, and offer a balance of alternatives.

In one news report, I read that HRT was worth the risk because having breast cancer was hardly the death sentence it used to be! Really??? Tell that to the families of the two beautiful friends that I’ve lost in the last 5 years. Friends diagnosed with early stage 1 and 2 breast cancer in their 40’s – both with a better prognosis than me, both who dutifully took the drug tamoxifen that was the ‘gold standard highly researched’ drug that was supposed to help prevent it metastasizing. It didn’t.

Although rates are improving, in the UK, around 11,500 people die from breast cancer a year and 1 in 7 will be diagnosed with the condition in their lifetime. When I was diagnosed 9 years ago, that number was 1 in 10. That’s a rapid increase. Oh, and by the way, TREATMENT IS BLOODY AWFUL! It’s cruel, scary, debilitating and can be soul-destroying. So don’t let breast cancer be ‘normalised’. Just because it’s common and the ‘middle class cancer’ and is therefore high profile, it isn’t OK. You do not want to have to go through this.

Anyway, back to HRT. Marilyn Glenville PhD states in her book ‘Natural Solutions To Menopause’, ‘I believe that the menopause is a natural phase in every woman’s life and should not be medicalised by replacing hormones that should not be there at that stage’.

HRT also does not replace like with like either. The hormones in these drugs are synthetic and trigger oestrogen receptor sites in the breast, ovaries and womb – places these should not be triggered at this time. Hence the increased risk to, not only breast but ovarian and womb cancers too.

Other side effects have also been linked to HRT, e.g. weight gain/loss, bloating, depression, high blood pressure, skin rashes, hair loss… to name a few.

My friends that take HRT tell me how much better they feel – and maybe they do. There is no doubt that many symptoms can be alleviated by it and I would never judge anyone for choosing this path. My only advise to them, and anyone thinking of taking it is this – please think carefully. Is it really worth the risk? Are your symptoms SO unbearable? Have you tried other ways?

I guess it comes down to individual choice and there’s no doubt that for those experiencing early menopause, then HRT may be the right choice. But for those going through it at the right time of life, or like me, medically induced (and the right time!), you could choose to make changes to lifestyle, exercise, diet and mindset. All of these can make a huge difference, not just to the menopause but to life beyond it.

I’m now 58. My menopause experience was awful, it cost me my job and nearly my sanity. However, I gradually learned how to get my life back and have made changes that have drastically reduced my symptoms. Not only that, I am not on any medication. My BP, cholesterol and bones are fine. I don’t have any regular aches and pains and I feel calmer and happier than I’ve ever done.

I can’t blame HRT for my breast cancer experience – I was never on it (although I was on the Pill – another story). I believe that there are many factors that lead to any disease. Stress and mindset play a huge part. For me, it’s like pieces of a jigsaw being put together, and when all the pieces of lifestyle factors and mindset join up, disease (or dis-ease) is created. HRT is just a piece of the jigsaw – how significant, no one really knows, everyone’s jigsaw is different. That’s why the side-effects, including breast cancer are ‘risk factors’, not certainties.

So, lets end on a positive. Here are a few tips for natural ways to help with symptoms I mentioned in the podcast I did a few weeks ago.

  • Hydrate – drink plenty of water, especially in the morning. Symptoms of de-hydration are VERY similar to many menopausal ones.
  • Eat phytoestrogens such as lentils, beans, fermented soy, nuts and seeds (especially flaxseed) as part of a balanced diet
  • Adopt a traditional Mediterranean diet to balance hormones and protect bones, joints and heart.
  • Exercise every day. I’m no gym bunny but I walk miles – it’s what we’re meant to do.
  • Change your limiting beliefs about ageing and begin a gratitude journal to interrupt those negative thoughts that keep you grumbling.
  • Reduce stress by changing how you react to people and situations (you have a choice) and limit time with toxic people/in toxic environments and try a stress relieving routine such as meditation, yoga, gardening.
  • Get outside, be in nature and re-connect as often as you can, even in Winter.
  • Love yourself – and be thankful we live long enough to experience this phase of life!

Coming through the menopause: My Story.

When Irene from One Dream One Vision approached me in July and asked if I’d tell the story of my menopause experience in a podcast interview, I was delighted. I’d never done a podcast before but had enjoyed listening to many. I like the feeling of listening in to a conversation that is both entertaining and informative.

So, here was my chance to ‘go public’ with what happened to me during my enforced menopause, due to cancer treatment.

In the podcast I share my journey of discovery. From struggling with anxiety, losing my confidence, almost my sanity and walking away from a 22 year teaching career, to understanding that it doesn’t have to be that way and to a new and rewarding lifestyle.

Take a listen to how I made changes to nutrition and mindset to overcome many of the debilitating symptoms brought on by a combination of drugs, fear and imbalances in hormones. How I realised that although the menopause is a natural phase of life, the way we live it often isn’t! I learned that food really is medicine from nutritional experts such as Dr Marilyn Glenville https://www.marilynglenville.com/ and I learned to listen to my body and go with what it needed rather than fighting it and above all, I changed my mind.

I chose to come off and stay off medication, to find new habits, to stick to my core values and beliefs around health and to take action to change how I felt about myself, to nourish my mind and body and to enjoy this amazing and precious gift of life I have.

Healthy Homemade Hummus

I’ve been recommending making hummus for a long time now – to my clients, groups I speak to and on social media and so I thought it was about time I wrote about this fabulous, healthy snack, how to make it and why it’s such a great idea to do it yourself instead of buying those nasty little plastic pots of insipid beige stuff you get in the supermarkets! Believe me, once you’ve made this stuff, you’ll never want shop-bought again!

So here’s why – we’re all concerned about the amount of plastic in our environment and the damage it’s doing to our beautiful planet and it’s inhabitants. When you make you’re own hummus – and any other dips for that matter, all of your ingredients can come from fresh produce, tins or glass jars. It’s free from artificial preservatives and other ‘nasties’ we’re not meant to eat. It’s also cheaper in the long run and can be made in bulk and frozen. It’s easy and needs no cooking and the recipe can be adapted to suit your taste – more or less lemon, olive oil, garlic or tahini – it’s still hummus! If that’s not enough to convince you – take a look at the benefits of the lovely fresh ingredients.

Chickpeas – packed full of a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber that help to regulate blood sugar, aid digestion, help prevent high blood pressure and reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol, so supporting heart health. It also contains phytoestrogens that ease menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Because it’s so full of fibre, it helps to remove toxins, including excess ‘bad’ oestrogen.

Tahini – very high in protein and together with the chickpeas provides a ‘complete’ protein – ideal for vegans. The B vitamins boost energy and brain function and it helps protect against heart disease, strokes and cancer.

Garlic – the powerful anti-oxidants boosts the immune system. It’s anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory so can help recovery from most illnesses.

Olive Oil – high in omega 3 which supports brain function and is a powerful anti-oxidant. It therefore helps prevent heart disease, strokes and cancer.

Lemon juice – promotes hydration, high in vitamin C for immune function, aids digestion, kidney function and is great for the skin.

So, with all this, no wonder it’s been a staple food in parts of Europe and the middle East for many years.

Blend, mash or blitz together: 1 400g tin of chickpeas, the juice of 1 to 2 lemons (depending how lemony you like it), 1 to 2 cloves of garlic ( to suit you), 1 tablespoon tahini, a large glug of extra virgin olive oil (depending on your preferred texture), pinch of good salt.

To mix it up a bit, add other spices such as cumin or smoked paprika. Keep in the fridge or freeze when fresh. Enjoy!!