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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Slow Your Clock Down

Our pubic hair -- its appearance, what we do with it -- is so personal. We can shave it, wax it, depilate it, or just keep it clean. It tentatively makes its appearance as a fine, soft growth, and is often greeted with consternation by its 11-year-old owner. It won't be shamed or tamed, and continues to grow, thicken, curl as the insistent symbol of emerging womanhood.

Pubic hair is created by a marvelously intertwined maturation of centers in our brain, pituitary gland, adrenal glands, and ovaries. It grows after we produce male hormone (testosterone), and is then nourished by our female hormone, estrogen. Its appearance is governed by enzymes in our skin that metabolize testosterone in hair follicles, by genes that determine pigmentation, and by what we eat. And as these factors change with age, so does our pubic hair. It turns gray, becomes sparse and thin, and no longer presents an obstacle to bikini wear, at a time when most of us quit trying to fit into our bikinis.

Celia mourned the passage of her pubic hair. She found (and plucked) her first gray one in her early forties. She ruefully remarked, "It's the only part of my body that's gotten thin! I'm starting to look like my mother down there. God, I hate this aging stuff."

For most of us, diminished fertility, increased PMS, irregular bleeding, rearranged body fat, and the inevitability of menopause all make this pubic hair saga seem trivial by comparison. Yet all of these events occur as a result of the clock that rules our ovaries, and the cellular and molecular changes that occur throughout our bodies.

How can you deal with "this aging stuff"? Can you slow the clock by changing your nutrition or behavior? Can you prevent aging, disability, and mortality with herbs, vitamins, medications, surgery, religion, or inner peace?

Celia wanted her pubic hair back. You probably have different concerns: "Is it too late to have a baby?" "When can I stop worrying about birth control?" "Are 'hot flashes' inevitable?" "Can I put off sagging skin, and keep my figure firm?" "How can I feel good and stay healthy as long as possible -- and what should send me running to my doctor?"

Before I get to the "what can be done" part of this book, we'll have to go through the prerequisite "what you should know." Welcome to "Your Hormones and Reproductive Cycle 101." I'll keep it short and sweet.


Your body functions to the rhythm of two internal timekeepers -- one for reproduction, and one for hormones -- and they are not necessarily in sync. Each clock starts, ticks on, pauses, and stops at a different time. In fact, you'll pass through a veritable plethora of pauses: reproductive pause, premenopause, perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.

Your reproductive clock began running while you were still being "reproduced": as a five-month-old embryo. Your newly formed ovaries teemed with about five million pre-eggs, or oocytes. Most of these eggs died of "old age" before you were even born. At birth, that oocyte number dwindled to a lowly one or two million. As the clock ticked relentlessly, most continued to disintegrate (the medical term for this process is atresia), so by the time you began your first period (menarche), your oocyte count had plummeted to 400,000.

Over the next twenty-five years, within your ovaries, this cellular loss continues at a fairly steady pace, independent of monthly ovulation. During your reproductive life, each month one plucky oocyte matures inside its follicle and is released as a ripe egg -- which, for the next twenty-four hours, is capable of being penetrated by sperm deposited in the neighborhood. Most oocytes never get this chance; less than 0.001 percent of your ovaries' original oocytes are ever sent forth as eggs.

In your late thirties and early forties, the pace of egg death accelerates. As you enter the menopause, just a few thousand aging oocytes populate a shrinking ovarian platform, a tiny remnant of that bountiful original crop. This affects more than your fertility; vigorous oocytes are critical to your hormonal rhythms.

The Hormonal Clock
The steady ticking of your hormonal clock depends on the monthly march of your oocytes. To help you picture what's happening, here's a quick review of the turn-on and shut-off systems of the glands and organs that coordinate the production of your female hormones and menstrual cycles. Each month, the development of one dominant follicle (and the failed start of thousands of others) contributes to the estrogen (estradiol), progesterone, and intermediary hormones that define your cycle. These attach to receptors in just about every cell -- in skin, muscle, fat, brain, bone, and, of course, vagina, uterus, and breasts -- and modulate their development, function, and well-being. So when this flow of hormones fluctuates, slows, or stops altogether, the effect is far greater than the mere absence of a period.

Your brain's pituitary gland prompts these follicles into action by producing FSH, or follicular stimulating hormone, and LH, or luteinizing hormone. This gland, in turn, is under a higher command: an adjacent area of your brain called the hypothalamus, which secretes GnRH, or gonadotrophic releasing hormone.

I've often compared the brain, pituitary, and ovarian communication network to a circular control panel, with on and off switches. If levels of the end products -- estrogen and progesterone -- are high, the network shuts down production of GnRH, FSH, and LH (the ovary says "enough is enough"). But when levels of estrogen and progesterone are low, the system cranks up: GnRH is activated, causing the pituitary to release FSH, then LH, prodding the follicles to develop and release its hormones. The typical twenty-eight-day cycle (which can vary from twenty-one to thirty-five days) looks like this:

The End and the Beginning (Period)

This is the lowest point for estrogen and progesterone production, as the remains of the active follicle degenerate. These hormones are necessary for the growth and development of the glands lining the uterus (the endometrium).

Excerpted from

Slow Your Clock Down
The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You

Copyright © by Judith Reichman. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Buy this book at
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