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Book Review: The Smart Woman’s Guide To Midlife & Beyond – A No-Nonsense Approach To Staying Healthy After 50 by Janet Horn and Robin Miller

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Physicians Janet Horn and Robin H. Miller have written a book dedicated to women going through the changes mid-life brings, and it’s a welcome addition to the self-help market. As the authors make clear, the book is not aimed at keeping one forever youthful, but rather at enjoying the age one is. They lay out health information and advice in clear well laid out chapters, and I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of alternative and complementary health therapies, as well as differing viewpoints on controversial subjects like hormone therapy.

Horn and Miller have been friends for over twenty years, and one of the charms of the book is their running conversation on different medical issues and little anecdotes on how they’ve misinterpreted symptoms in themselves over the years. They also share stories of various patients with different ailments (names changed, of course), and the result is a manual full of medical advice that is nevertheless easy to read.

The authors focus on helping the reader understand how various body parts and systems work and what may happen as they age. Their idea is that this understanding will help women with prevention of illness and early detection when something is wrong. The book covers the conditions most common in mid-life women, particularly those conditions about which there isn’t a lot of information readily available. Such medical hot topics as breast cancer, heart conditions and dementia are not neglected, however. And, though the authors say they wanted to — and did — produce a book that gave more information than “lose weight, quit smoking and get active,” that advice permeates the book as well. There’s no skimping on common sense.

The topics range from understanding such critical systems as the brain, the lungs, and the GI tract to addressing what happens to the skin as we age and the various methods available to reverse signs of aging. Dr. Miller has a fellowship in complementary and alternative medical therapies and suggestions about helpful supplements or therapies like acupuncture are not only included for each health topic, they rate a chapter of their own. I found the list of supplements and vitamins and how they may be used to be one of the most helpful sections of the book, particularly since a discussion of what studies have been done to prove efficacy is included. A reference that discusses both standard medical practice and possible alternative treatments for various conditions fills a useful spot on my bookshelf!

An extract from the section on the herb astragalus gives the flavor of how the complementary medicine is discussed:

For what conditions has astragalus been used? It was originally used to promote endurance, lower blood pressure, and improve urination. More recently, it has been found to improve immunity in those with composed immune systems due to chemotherapy for colorectal cancer (Taixian, Munro and Guanjian 2205). It may also help in the general strengthening of normal immune systems (Tan and Vanitha 2004). I take it, instead of Echinacea, when I feel a cold starting, and suggested it to friends who travel a lot. One friend, who used to have colds and upper respiratory infections all winter, has not had even one cold since he’s been taking astragalus.

The book is just as thorough in giving the standard medical treatments for various diseases and emphasizes the role taking care of ourselves plays in good health. The need for exercise and wise food choices have their own chapter, and this area is one dear to the authors’ hearts, as they have published an article on the value of movement.

The Smart Woman’s Guide ends with a chapter giving a roadmap for taking care of oneself and feeling good. It covers topics like self-medicating through substances like alcohol and cigarettes, lifestyle changes, depression and anxiety disorders, sleep issues, and domestic violence. The discussion on stopping smoking is comprehensive, but the other issues are more of an overview, given how complex these topics are. The roadmap includes a very practical list of screening checkups and tests we should all have on our schedule and the final chapter has a recommended reading list, including websites and useful phone numbers, to learn more.

I think this guide fills a need in the marketplace and I recommend it to any woman with questions about what to expect as mid-life approaches. It will be published September 1, 2008 by New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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