Updated: Oct 29, 2021
Recently, I started a podcast about making the most of life’s transitions. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to take my deepest coaching interests and marry them to my love for chatting people up and calling it a show.
I decided to begin with a season on menopause because I’m 48, and until September, I knew virtually NOTHING about perimenopause and menopause.
Making up for lost time -- in the last 2 months, I’ve interviewed numerous experts on women’s health and aging -- medical doctors, acupuncturists, fitness coaches, intimacy coaches, and other healers -- as well as women provide "expert" accounts of their own menopausal experiences. So far, I have recorded 18 hours of incredible conversations with women -- and you’ll get to hear many of them on this podcast.
One of these conversations was with a truly remarkable human being, Dr. Teresa Diaz. Dr. Diaz has an undergraduate degree in psychology from San Francisco State, a medical degree from Rutgers University, and is an accomplished ob-gyn surgeon. She's certified in age management medicine, a member of the Institute for Functional Medicine, and studied holistic nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She's also been through menopause, and she knows her stuff. But what sets Dr. Diaz apart from other doctors, is her incredible story. From growing up in the Bronx to attending medical school at age 35 to ditching it all and traveling the world, Dr. Diaz has a unique perspective on the aging process. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
You are actually the first functional medicine doctor that I've been able to talk to about menopause... And I'd love to begin with a question that I'm asking all of the guests, which is how old are you? And where are you in relation to perimenopause and menopause?
I am 62, about to be 63 in January, and I am in menopause. Technically, I have been on hormone therapy for 20 years. So I have not had to go through menopausal symptoms. Because I actually watched enough of my own patients do it that I was pretty clear. I didn't want to do it.
What clued you in that was time for you to start with hormone therapy?
Well, in my 40s, I started going through perimenopause --and being a gynecologist, I knew what it was. I knew that my ovarian function was starting to wax and wane. And so, I started to bleed a lot more than I was used to bleeding during my periods. And I had periods more frequently. And at the time, I was a surgeon and sometimes in the operating room for six, seven hours -- and I didn't want to be bleeding through my clothes. And so, my first thing was to start with progesterone so that I could limit the amount of bleeding I was doing. Progesterone is what helped me do that because that's what was deficient.
I think that one of the myths, certainly one of the myths that I held, was that as we approach perimenopause, our periods would gradually decline like we would see just fewer and lighter periods, but I hear from a lot of women who are experiencing heavier and heavier periods like you just described,
Yes. And it's really disruptive… It's a whole 10-year period where women's lives are disrupted by this intense bleeding. And sometimes, I have even had to give women blood transfusions during that time.
So with the progesterone, I'm just replacing the deficiency during that perimenopausal time, to ease that time. Which is what I do with myself -- because the bleeding was too much, and I didn't want to become anemic
So if you are on that hormone therapy, do you still have periods?
No, no. Once I started hormones, I stopped having any periods. So, I don't know exactly when I actually shifted over into menopause, other than to test my own follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). But when I got to be around 50, I just decided to replace my estrogen.
Our hormones do so much for us. I'm starting to understand that…
Right? So there's a lot of mixed messaging around the effects. Well, actually, hormones are protective of our heart, you know, so there's a lot of mixed messaging and lots of misinformation I'm learning. But hormones are protective of our heart. They are protective of so many things: protective of our vaginal health, protective of our bones, protective of our skin elasticity, right? So hormones are so protective -- which is why everyone is like, wow, you're 62?! My energy, it protects my energy, right?
So I hear women saying, “I feel so fatigued, and I feel hot flashes and, you know, vaginal dryness, and I have low libido.” And all of that indicates a deficiency of these hormones.
And there are brain shifts that happen as our hormones fluctuate, too, right? I mean, that's a huge part of it.
So what conventional medicine often doesn't recognize is that it isn't just about our uterus and our vaginas. It's also about our brains. It's also about our sugar metabolism. Another thing that people don't recognize even before perimenopause and menopause is the effect our diets have on our hormone balance… If I have a woman walk in during the pre-menopausal stage from our teens to early 40s and she's not ovulating regularly, then I know it's really about changing lifestyle and diet.
Can we change that lifestyle and diet at any point and see results? I ask this because... from the age of 18 to 22, I lived off of jelly beans and Twizzlers. And, and sometimes I wonder, did I do irreparable damage to myself? So for those of us who have not always been healthy or have not always had a nutrition-rich diet --
Yes, I love this. This is why I do menopause. I get women right around 40 to 50 - and it's not just about hormones… I'm definitely about changing lifestyle.
So I was 300 pounds in my 40s, in medical school, 300 pounds... I was studying non-stop, and I had a six-month-old baby, right? And my husband died during medical school. So-- a lot of stress. And I had grown up responding to stress with sugar. I had also quit smoking, like, ten years prior. So all of that combination eventually led me to be about 300 pounds. And so, I had to look at my own diet, and I had to turn to functional medicine to begin to understand how I could be healthy.
You know, I started to notice that probably 80% of people who walk into a hospital didn't have to walk into a hospital if they could change their lifestyle. And when that realization hit me, I was like, wow, I need to do that for me, too.
The bird's eye view I have as a physician is that I see women at every age, from birth until they're 100 years old. And I see the outcome of what the 20-year-old is doing in my 80-year-olds. I began to see the big picture in a way that, you know, not everybody gets to see.
I want to share what I'm seeing. What I'm seeing is that the 40s and 50s are a great time to turn around your lifestyle… In our 40s and 50s, not only do we lose our hormones, but all of a sudden [we see] the impact of the last 20 years of mistreatment of our body... It's the way we've been conditioned. We're conditioned to eat fast food. And we're conditioned to eat things that are processed and manmade and not natural.
By the time we hit our 40s, we had thought we were getting away with it, but it's catching up with us now. So it's a perfect time to work with women.
I do think it is a transformational time. So it's wonderful to hear that on the medical side as well. Yeah, that there's hope...
Listen to the entire Pause to Go podcast episode, where Dr. Diaz:
Discusses the advantages of bioidentical hormones
Describes the impact of orgasmic meditation on her personal and professional journey
Explains the differences between functional medicine and conventional medicine
Shares the one thing she wants every woman to know in this time of transition
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