My family and I were recently in South Korea visiting my daughter Jessica who is teaching K-12 English in a private school outside of Seoul. In eight days Jess showed us what she’s discovered in the eight months she’s been there – from the high-tech towers, designer galleries, and uber-trendy coffee houses of this booming city, to it’s gorgeous ancient palaces and thousand-year-old temples.
We all slept and ate on the floor of a traditional Korean ‘hanok’ for seven nights, spent another in a hotel with our own private karaoke ‘singing room’, explored the old villages, visited the Buddha in his temple late at night and drank plum tea in the ‘garden of morning calm.’ It was a trip.
But of the many images I came away with, one that stands out in my mind was the sight of so many older women on the sidewalks of Seoul hobbling hunch-backed over their canes. It seemed to me that nearly every one of them, old, and not so much older than me had bent spines, bowlegs or both! It was painful to watch these frail figures picking their way across the crowded streets and intersections: How is she going to make it to the other side?? OMG what a difference a few supplements could make!
Evidently the traditional Korean diet of fish, rice, seaweed and fermented ‘kimchi’ cabbage of every sort
though healthy in many respects (and I never saw an obese person the whole time I was there) has also been seriously lacking in a few basic nutrients: like calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin D for starters. But as greater affluence creates greater awareness of healthy living the situation is improving.
Meanwhile, dismaying as it was to witness the stark effects of malnutrition among my post-menopausal Asian counterparts, the ravages of osteoporosis are by no means a Korean problem; indeed it is still an all too common, and preventable, disease of aging in the US, not only in women (just the other day here in Portland, a friend’s mom, a woman in her mid-fifties, fell at the airport and broke her femur) but in men as well. Roughly a third of hip fractures occur in midlife men (but I’ll leave that one for the MENopause blog)….
Blame it on poor diet, sedentary living, chronic stress, hormone imbalance, or menopause, the cause of brittle bones on the streets of Seoul or at home in my own neighborhood boils down to a lack of the essential ingredients of balance. Take vitamin D-deficiency for example. Some experts say it’s epidemic especially in gray, rainy climates like the Pacific Northwest where I live, or for that matter anywhere people don’t get enough sunlight. That’s significant because a lack of vitamin D is not just about childhood rickets but is now known to be a major risk factor for obesity, heart disease, and breast cancer.
Apparently most people can’t get enough of this vital vitamin (which isn’t really a vitamin at all but a hormone made by the action of sunlight upon chemicals in the skin) either because we’re afraid of getting skin cancer
or, let’s face it, because we don’t get outside much – by some estimates we spend about 90% of our lives indoors. Fewer and fewer elementary or middle schools have recess or playgrounds anymore, and most of us work or play inside in front of laptops, I-pads, I-pods, smart phones, gameboys and Facebook. In the winter months the sun’s rays aren’t strong enough to provide sufficient D anyway, and even in the ‘sunshine state’ where the so-called sunshine vitamin should be readily available, Florida physicians say patients are surprisingly deficient. Clearly it doesn’t matter where you live but how you live that makes the difference.
Turning awareness into action is a work in progress but progress is being made. I would be remiss not to mention that younger Koreans are undoubtedly taller and straighter-legged than their elders as food and supplemental sources of calcium, vitamin D and other necessary nutrients (though still pretty expensive) have become more widely available.
One woman I met even revealed that her mother takes estrogen “for her bones”. That really pricked up my ears and I couldn’t resist asking if she was also taking natural progesterone…. but, alas, that question was met with a blank stare. Should I have been surprised? No, probably not. The concept of hormone balance vs. imbalance and the growing preference for bioidentical, natural hormones in this country only began to shift less than 10 years ago now when the Women’s Health Initiative reported its major findings in 2003 ( JAMA 2002 Jul 17;288(3):321-33.) about the definitive dangers of HRT.
Sometimes we have to learn the slow, hard way from those who have gone before us – the women with the bent spines and flaking bones are the lesson – and we are learning from them. You can’t push the river, but you can learn to practice balance one day at a time.
If you are a woman in the menopause zone, your hormone levels are fluctuating and your nutritional needs are increasing with each passing day. Now is when the adrenal glands have to take over all hormone production from aging ovaries. Now more than ever we need to practice the essentials of balance: adequate nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress relief (with emphasis upon the people, places, and pursuits that give us pleasure in life) and, last but not least, bio-identical hormones when and as needed. As the days get shorter and darker one of the first steps you can take is to test your vitamin D and hormone levels (www.zrtlab.com) to detect and correct imbalances that impact not only the health of your bones but of your whole body, heart, and mind. Want to jump in and join the conversation? Please do, leave us a comment!
This is our number one essential truth: Hormones in harmony and living in balance is an attainable goal.