Cheryl Ladd: From TV Angel to
Menopause Missionary

Female athletes are more likely to damage this crucial joint.

By Joanne Gallo

March 2006

Even such heavenly creatures as the former Charlie’s Angels star can be affected by “the change of life.” So much so that this ageless beauty has now made educating others about menopause part of her purpose in life. In this interview with ET, she shares her advice on how mature women can maintain optimal health and age gracefully.

To many people Cheryl Ladd will always be a glowing starlet in spandex pants, best known for replacing Farrah Fawcett in the groundbreaking ‘70s cop drama Charlie’s Angels. At the height of her fame in the disco era, she was the epitome of the young, sparkling California blonde—a paragon of beauty lusted after by men and admired by women.

Today at 54, it’s almost as if time hasn’t marched on for Ladd: She is as lovely and radiant as ever, starring in another hit TV show, Las Vegas. But one glance at Ladd’s accomplished resume proves that the years have passed—and she’s made the most of them. She has appeared in dozens of feature films and TV programs; recorded three albums; written a children’s book, The Adventures of Little Nettie Windship, with her husband of 25 years Brian Russell; starred on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun (2000) and devoutly pursued a passion for golf as she relates in her autobiographical book, Token Chick: A Woman’s Guide To Golfing With The Boys (Miramax), published last year. Ladd also made time for family, as mother of Jordan Ladd (from her first marriage to David Ladd), who’s an actress too, and stepmom to Lindsay Russell, an aspiring musician.

While life has been good to Cheryl Ladd, even she could not escape one of the more dreaded rites of female passage: the big “M,” or menopause. Instead of keeping mum about it to maintain her image, Ladd decided to share her personal tales of moodiness and night sweats with the public at large in an awareness-raising campaign called “Talking to Your Doctor.” By confronting her issues and working with her healthcare practitioner, Ladd found a way back to feeling like her old (young) self and making the most of her menopausal years.

Energy Times: When did you first notice that your body was going through changes?
Cheryl Ladd:
I was about 47. I started having very irregular periods: three in one month and then none at all. I said, “I’m not feeling right; my periods are weird. I feel weepy all the time.” My husband could hardly say anything to me. I wanted to sit on the edge of the bed and cry for three hours. I didn’t know what in the world was wrong with me. I thought I was going nuts.

ET: How long was it before you went to see your doctor?
Ladd:
About six to eight months. And probably in the back of my mind, like most women, I didn’t really want to think that I was starting to go into menopause. At that point, it wasn’t something that I was embracing. Especially in my industry, getting older is a big no-no—as if we have any choice.

ET: What happened once you eventually saw a doctor?
Ladd:
We had a long conversation and I was relieved to find out I was perimenopausal (pre-menopausal). We talked it through, about things that I could do for treatments or opting not to do any treatment. Luckily, I trust my endocrinologist very much. I’ve been with him for 15 years. He’s in his 70s now, but he’s one of those guys that reads every updated thing. I just felt very confident with him.

I make that clear when I go out and talk to women about menopause, that it is so important that they talk to their healthcare professional and get good information. They may not be a candidate for [some] kinds of treatments or they may be the perfect candidate, but that’s something for them to decide with their doctor.

In my case, my doctor and I work together constantly and make adjustments when necessary. Nothing is locked in; nothing is pushed. My husband and I also think it’s important to go in every year for a full physical and complete EKG, all the tests, to stay on top of any changes that might be happening. Genetic-ally speaking, as you get older, all of these dormant/latent things start to happen: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, things that you’ve never had before.

ET: What kinds of natural things do you do to take care of your health?
Ladd:
I never used to take pills, but now I take a multivitamin every day and extra calcium. I have osteoarthritis so I take a glucosamine supplement. I also exercise daily. I walk two miles straight up and down a hill near my house. But as I’ve learned, no treatment program is engraved in stone. That’s why I don’t like to talk about the kinds of things I do or things I take. I don’t want someone to do something just because I do it. There’s no one size fits all.

ET: Most people would probably be surprised to find out that you have high cholesterol.
Ladd:
So was I. That latent, dormant little gene that’s in my family just got triggered and now I’m battling high cholesterol. It has to be genetic because my diet is excellent. I eat right, I exercise, and it just happens. I have to be aware of it and I would never have known if I hadn’t gone for my physical and had my blood tests. We were very surprised that it shot up a lot of points; we were just amazed.

ET: Doesn’t that show how women need to get regular checkups during menopause to avoid the risk of other conditions worsening?
Ladd:
Yes, especially when it comes to bone loss. Within the first five to seven years of menopause, a woman can lose 20% of her bone mass. That’s an astonishing statistic, especially if, genetically, you have osteoporosis in your family. We have so many options to help ourselves, to keep our bones strong and watch our cholesterol, but if we don’t see our doctor and monitor our health we don’t even know that we need them.

ET: Did you think you would be at risk for osteoporosis?
Ladd:
I thought I would get an A+ when my doctor said he wanted to do a bone marrow density test on me. I laughed. I keep my weight down, I eat fruit and vegetables. I said, “It’s going to be perfect.” It wasn’t. I already had some slight bone loss in my left hip so I had to take calcium supplements and be aware of it. 

ET: Tell me why you got involved in the “Talking To Your Doctor” campaign.
Ladd:
Well, for one thing, these things need a face, someone to stand up and draw attention to them. The Women’s Health Initiative study found that there was a 30% drop in women going to their doctor to talk about menopause. These women were having issues: bone loss, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and not dealing with it. It’s important to get women to go and talk about it.

Menopause happens to all of us. If we’re women, we’re all going to go through it; we have no choice. But to be educated about the general health issues, to know about the treatment options that are available for us, it’s important that we’re the captain of our own ship. That’s why I love talking to women and getting it out of the closet. My grandmother whispered the word “menopause.” We never talked about “down there.” My mother talked about it more; she had a hysterectomy and shared more about it with me. It’s menopause—say it loud and say it proud.

Women never used to have to talk about it because they never lived through it, really. Centuries ago very few women got to menopause and survived it, and if they did, they only lived a few years. Half of them got locked up because they lost their minds and people didn’t understand what was going on. Imagine how far we’ve come. Women are living 20, 30 and 40 years past menopause. They want to live well. I don’t just want to be around—I want to be able to play a round of golf.

ET: What kind of response have you gotten to the campaign?
Ladd:
Part of being involved in this is interviewing women for a documentary called Menopause in America and exploring things like what do we know, how do we feel about it, how do we get information, do we share information…I can’t tell you how much fun it was to be in a room with hundreds of women and open it up for discussion. So many women are willing to talk about it—their fears, their concerns, the issues surrounding it. The conversation was so lively, and so needed.

ET: Do you think there are still a lot of misconceptions out there about menopause?
Ladd:
There’s so much confusion. Some women have all this information and don’t know what to make of it and how it applies to them. You need someone to sort through it. You’re not going to read every single book. Your doctor might not have every ounce of information, but if you have a dialogue with him or her you can sort through things together and find out the best approach for your health at this time in your life.

ET: A lot of women would listen to you because they feel like they know you. They also admire you because you look fabulous. How do you stay looking so young?
Ladd:
Obviously by taking care of myself. Also, I don’t live in the city. I live in the country, north of Los Angeles in the Santa Barbara area. That alone has lowered my stress. Driving in traffic and living in the city—there are a whole lot of issues there.

Outside of the cholesterol, I have great genes. Both of my parents were very vibrant until late in life. The reason I lost my father at 72 was because he smoked his whole life; it was a battle he never won and unfortunately it took its toll. We all know what we’re supposed to do but often getting it done is a completely different thing.

ET: Have you always led a very healthy lifestyle?
Ladd:
I used to smoke and I gave that up 11 years ago. That was the smartest thing I’ve ever done for myself. I didn’t even start smoking until I was 20. For five years I tried to quit. I would quit for a few months, start again—it was a five-year process of finally saying no more, and one day I finally did it. It’s hard when you’re younger because you want to belong. The older you get and the more you develop your own real character, the easier it is to become disciplined.

ET: It doesn’t seem like you ever had a problem with discipline.
Ladd:
There have been times in my life when I’ve been better at it than others, but yes, I was a dancer and a gymnast as a child, and that takes discipline. I learned very quickly that to get what I wanted I had to have discipline. I’m not always perfect at it, mind you. I had some rocky roads and went off track as young people tend to do upon occasion, but I think that part of the reason that I have a happy life is because I’ve been willing to discipline myself a bit.

ET: Do you find that you have to follow a rigid diet?
Ladd:
I do diet, but in a smart way. I don’t deny myself much. I love potatoes and cinnamon rolls; I’ll eat a baked potato occasionally and maybe have a cinnamon roll three times a year. But I have a negotiation with myself. If I have a big lunch then I eat a light dinner. I try not to drink or eat too much and if I do, I moderate the next day. It’s disciplining yet I don’t make myself suffer. I’ve lost the same five pounds a thousand times. When I hit that certain number on the scale, I say that’s it and I have to get serious.

ET: Do you follow any specific type of plan?
Ladd:
No. It’s mostly proportions and calories. I eat a little of everything. I try to eat the good fats: olive oil, fish oil. I don’t eat a lot of sugar or bad calories, but once in a while I’ll have an ice cream cone. I can’t live by veggies alone, but I love all fresh vegetables, as fresh as possible, organic. From green beans to broccoli to brussels spouts, if it’s green I love it. My husband loves to cook so we know what we’re consuming.

ET: What is your biggest beauty challenge at this point in your life?
Ladd:
Gravity—on every level. I don’t care how fit you are, your skin and your body just does not have the elasticity that it once had. You have to keep it in your head that as much as you don’t like it, it’s part of life. Embrace it. I don’t run around anymore in a bikini at the beach. I don’t need to, I don’t want to. No one sees my hiney but my honey. It’s a relief not to have to be the slimmest and the firmest and have the highest booty. It’s a prison, if you want to know the truth. I try to look good, but I want to look good for my age. I’m not competing with 22-year-old girls, and if any of us at this age are, we better go talk to some shrink and get it together because it’s not realistic. You can do nothing but fail.

ET: What things in your life keep you feeling young?
Ladd:
Playing golf with my husband. We’ve worked together and been parents together but we became buddies on the golf course. My longstanding friendship with my husband—we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year—has kept me young. It’s also helped me accept not being young. When you have someone in your life that thinks you’re beautiful just the way you are, that’s pretty nice. If I were a single woman out in the dating world, I might feel quite different about being 54.

ET: What is your biggest piece of advice for women on approaching menopause?
Ladd:
Embrace this time because truly, if we take care of ourselves now, we can have vital, fun-filled years. In many ways, this is the most wonderful time of my life. I know more, I’m more forgiving of myself and everyone else, I embrace my blessings in a way that was previously hard to see. I’m less ambitious but more appreciative. I laugh more and have more fun. I just enjoy my life much more.

ET: You hear that a lot, that although menopause is so feared, when women actually get there it turns out to be the best time of their lives in many ways.
Ladd:
There is something to be said for a lifetime of experience. We’re also more healthy and many of us are more financially secure, so we can have adventures and go try new things. Go learn how to paint or go to cooking school, do all kinds of things that you never had time to do before. It’s a fabulous time in our lives and if we’re lucky, we’re all going to get there—and live beyond it. I want to live beyond it in the most healthy and vibrant and blessed way that I can. A lot of that is up to me and how I take care of myself.

We’re in such a youth-driven society. It’s fine to be youthful and vibrant and try to look good, but do it in a realistic way. Don’t set yourself up for failure—set yourself up for joy. Why try to be someone you’re not? You might as well try to be the real thing.

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