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For the week of May 30 through June 5, 2001

Right to a rite of passage

Wellness Festival lecturer honors menopause

Express Staff Writer

Darcy Williamson, who taught a seminar called The Natural Approach to Menopause Saturday at the Wellness Festival, has a theory: "Menopause is a natural rite of passage and should not be treated as a disease."

There is a threefold aspect to her approach— body, mind and spirit.

It’s vital, Williamson maintains, to view "the Change" as the third stage of life rather than a disorder. Treating it as a time of freedom, focus and life—not as a loss—will help women cope.

In a world of upside-down priorities, the loss of "the curse" and the reproductive years has come to signify a negative.

Many women say they feel undervalued at this point, and invisible, while their counterparts, men, grow dignified with age, appearing more substantial in stature. An aging woman’s lot comes fraught with lack of respect and a neglectful medical community.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the accepted standard of treatment for women who have natural side effects to the changes their bodies are going through.

However, the Massachusetts Women’s Health Study has shown HRTs ineffective to treat depression or decreased sexual desire, or to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, aging of the skin, bladder and urinary problems or osteoporosis.

Forty percent of those on HRTs still experience symptoms, five percent experienced no relief at all and twenty percent never filled their prescriptions.

"Our nation is producing a nation of guinea pigs," Williamson said.

Elsewhere in the world, she added, that is not the norm. For instance, American women are three times as likely to have a hysterectomy as women in Great Britain. In Ireland, only two percent of menopausal women have sufficient symptoms to need hormone replacement.

As a so-called remedy for the unpleasant side effects of menopause, hysterectomies increase the risk of breast and uterine cancer.

It’s only over the last couple of generations that these risky changes have occurred.

"We can change this tide," Williamson cautions. "We have more tools than our mothers did, who started this side-effect issue. Our food is laced with hormones. Their mothers ate hormone-free food, nursed babies, had babies. Why didn’t our grandmothers have all these side effects?"

Williamson went on to warn that it will "trickle down to our daughters even more unless we do something now." Hormone replacement therapy drugs were invented in the 1960s. Williamson called them a "dangerous and controlling marketing ploy."

"We need to do our research. Don’t listen to physicians and drug companies who have profit margins as their motivation."

It’s no accident, Williamson contended, that women’s insurance skyrockets after age 50 in anticipation of surgeries and drugs. She said 80 percent of menopausal women are "convinced by their doctors" to take hormone replacement therapy or to have hysterectomies to rid their bodies of their supposedly useless uteruses.

Williamson offered an alternative plan, supported, she said, by numerous medical studies that show healthy older women who are physically active, have healthy diets, drink moderately and are not taking hormone drugs to be free of serious menopausal symptoms. Conversely, she said, junk food diets, high stress levels, pollution and toxins, both ingested and breathed, have produced women in need of intervention.

Her advice is to drink only spring water and herbal teas daily. Alternate drinks such as milk, which is laced with hormones beneficial to cow’s production but harmful to humans, she considers a junk drink. Soft drinks are also unacceptable--due to a high phosphorus content, they leach bones of calcium.

Williamson said that according to the American Journal of Epidemiology, more than three cups of coffee a day increases the risk of osteoporosis.

Though fruit juice is usually considered safe, she rejects it because of it increases risk of hypoglycemia and diabetes, both supposed symptoms of menopause.

Instead, Williamson recommends making tinctures of various herbs readily found outside our back doors, eating calcium-rich greens and doing moderate daily exercise. Those will not only extend a women’s life but decrease the symptoms of menopause.

Unfortunately, she points out, women who are already taking HRT will have a negative rebound effect in terms of bone density loss if they stop taking them.

Williamson, who can identify 628 herbs and plants, said individuals must decide what they need.

"Pick three or four herbs and learn to recognize and use those. Get over the fear of learning something new, and keep researching."

Her Web site,, lists herbs, tinctures, reference items, books, and classes available on the subject.

Part of the "mind" aspect to her approach includes learning new ways to naturally take care of ourselves, exercising our brains and making sacrifices.

"Women from the ‘60s and ‘70s don’t like to make sacrifices," she acknowledged.

We’ve always had insurance and doctors to fix what ails us.

"We need to be accountable now."

She notes that we must make sacrifices in our diet, and negate stress, as it reduces the output of the pineal gland, which produces beneficial melatonin, and the adrenals, which produce estrogen as we age.

As for the spirit, Williamson said, "It’s unfortunate that society has tried to squelch it, in not recognizing the rite of passage."

In the Peruvian jungle in a small village called San Miguel, Williamson witnessed a "gala of all women frolicking—free-spirited old women in their 80s and 90s kicking up the dust. It was something to see. That’s what we need over here."

"Age is a beautiful thing in most cultures, women with meat on her bones, and wrinkles are revered."




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