Elevate Difference

Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life: Achieving Optimal Health and Wellness through Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, and Western Science

Though I enjoy a good yoga session as much as any middle-class white woman my age, my natural state is one of tooth-chattering anxiety. Anyone who knows me well could tell you that my yin and yang are not harmonious, but now I have the endocrine profile to prove it—a set of chromosome repeats in my DNA that has manifested itself in serious hormonal disruption, a.k.a. premature ovarian failure, a.k.a. early menopause. Luckily, my family is complete, so my problem is not infertility but the addition of hot flashes and potential bone loss to my list of daily worries.

Enter Claudia Welch's Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, which promises I'll soon be “achieving optimal health and wellness through Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and Western science.” Welch applies the Chinese concepts of yin and yang to a woman's sex hormones and stress hormones, respectively. The typically revved-up Western woman's stress hormones tax her sex hormones, causing the Fred Astaire-like progesterone (Welch's analogy, not mine) to stumble, not waltz, with her Ginger Rogers-like estrogen. And once a woman's sex hormones get out of whack, she's dancing her way to ill health—or, to quote a chapter title, she's just “Feeling Crummy.”

To me, a woman whose hormonal problems are rooted in genetics and a not uniquely American malaise, the real balancing act in Welch's book is the eternal push-pull between Western science and Eastern wisdom. I know that Big Pharma has a vested interest in selling me hormone patches, yet there is evidence that hormone therapy is appropriate for women like me who are not undergoing the “change of life” as part of the natural aging process. Still, Welch's advice to adopt dietary and stress-reduction strategies as the first line of defense is rooted not only in Eastern philosophy but also in common sense. More quinoa, less coffee—I got it.

Things get really woolly in the chapters “Birth Control” and “Fertility and Conception,” making me extremely glad that my health concerns lay outside those areas. Asks Welch: “if older women increase their chances of breast cancer, heart attack, strokes, and dementia by consuming synthetic hormones for menopausal symptoms, why is it okay for younger women to take these drugs?” A good question, particularly in light of Welch's observation that hormonal contraceptive tests on men were halted when the subjects' testes shriveled up. “If women's ovaries were on the outside of our bodies, and the negative side effects were actually cosmetically visible,” Welch writes, “would we be less tolerant?”

Welch backs off the patriarchy all too soon, however. Two pages later she's advocating for Natural Family Planning, which she claims lacks the “inconvenient to tragic side effects of most other forms of birth control.” Just ask Michelle Duggar! Her balance must be flawless, because as Welch writes, “establishing reproductive health consists of regulating the cycle and the hormones, having good quality and quantity of yin in the diet and lifestyle, and good quality and quantity of exercise and mental activity to support healthy yang.” I don't watch 19 Kids and Counting, but I can guess that neither yin nor yang come up much.

The takeaway? This book is full of sensible advice for generally healthy (and Quiverfull) women wanting to stave off crumminess. Women with more serious health concerns should probably skip it—reading this book would freak out their yang, which even Welch knows should be strenuously avoided.

Written by: Shannon Drury, March 9th 2011