Posts made in September, 2008

I’ll take menopause for $100

Posted by on Sep 30, 2008 in women's health | 5 comments


Did you know that women can actually discern symptoms of menopause from the natural symptoms of aging?!

Evidently, study results released at the North American Menopause Society’s annual meeting this week suggest that 91% of women can correctly define menopause and that 99% and 96% of women, respectively, know that menopause causes night sweats and mood swings.

Any of you who’ve experienced one or both of these symptoms won’t find these results surprising. I certainly didn’t.

Sarcasm aside, there are some overlaps you should be aware of. In the survey, 84%, 72%, and 77% of respondents associated vaginal dryness, urinary stress incontinence and weight gain, respectively, strictly with menopause, even though they can also be caused by aging as well.

So, why should you care?

Knowing the reasons behind the symptoms can help drive informed health decisions about the best strategies and steps you can take to combat them. What’s more, because it can be difficult to tease apart the effects of aging and the effects of menopause, NAMS can use these survey results as a call to action for more funding and research.

All in all, a good thing, right?

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Posted by on Sep 29, 2008 in weight gain | 2 comments


Midsection weight gain is a hard pill to swallow, especially when you’re doing all the things that experts keep telling you to do, like watching your diet, exercising and limiting indulgences. In fact, it’s been reported that women in their midlife years gain as much as 1.1 pounds yearly over a five-year period, which places the odds of gaining weight about twice the average rate.  So what gives?

Last week, I wrote a post on the importance of moving your body. Several experts chimed in and added that regular weight training and a change in how and what you eat might help to stave off those pounds. In the particular report cited above, researchers wrote that the one pound a year weight gain equated with only an extra 10 calories a day and suggested that small, sustained changes in daily physical activity and diet can prevent further weight gain. Okay, that sounds reasonable, right?

Another study, published last year in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, showed that weight gain and changes in waist circumference in midlife are associated with both regular aging and  changes in ovarian function.  The good news in this study was that while waist circumference increased over a 6-year period, the rate of increase slowed one year after the final menstrual period.

BTW, the reason for the buildup of fatty of tissue has to do with balance. That is, as estrogen production declines, the body starts to rely on secondary production sites, such as body fat and skin. So, fatty tissue starts function like an endocrine organ instead of simply a passive vessel for energy storage. The body also struggles to hold onto bone mass and may compensate for its loss by holding on to extra body fat longer.

The news isn’t all bad however.

That ‘Old Black Magic’ has struck again!

Results of an animal study in the journal Maturitas show that black cohosh extract attenuates body weight gain and accumulation of intrabdominal fat and also lowers glucose levels to the same extent as estrogen. The effect on blood fats in this study was a bit more complex; black cohosh extract was associated with higher LDL-cholesterol levels and lower triglyceride levels and estrogen, the exact opposite. The researchers remain uncertain how these effects ultimately influence weight gain as well as associated health risks, such as the metabolic syndrome.

These study results undoubtedly need to be replicated in humans. But they do suggest a potentially viable strategy to battle weight gain: black cohosh.

So, perhaps the trifecta in overcoming menopausal weight gain is diet, exercise and black cohosh. Only time will tell.

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Seeds of the Change

Posted by on Sep 27, 2008 in heart disease, hot flash | 0 comments

Flaxseed evidently has the potential to reduce the frequency and potential of hot flashes associated with menopause.

Last Summer, researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN reported results of a small trial enrolling 29 postmenopausal women who were experiencing at least 14 hot flashes weekly for a month. None of the study participants were taking estrogen or herbal preparations for their symptoms, but for six weeks, ingested 40 grams (~2.8 tbs) daily of crushed flaxseed.

Not only did the frequency of hot flashes decline by 50%, but overall severity of hot flashes decreased by 57%. Study participants also reported improvements in their mood, joint or muscle pain, chills and sweating, all of which significantly improved their quality of life.

The researchers concluded that flaxseed is potentially an effective treatment for hot flashes and imparts overall health and psychological benefits.

The downside? 50% of women experienced mild or moderate bloating and 29%, mild diarrhea.

Flaxseed is a plant-based estrogen source (photoestrogen)  that contains antioxidants with weak estrogen properties (lignans) and omega-3 fatty acids. It is also an excellent source of fiber. Various studies have not only touted its benefits for heart disease prevention but also suggest that it might boost the effects of conventional breast cancer therapies.

Most health experts recommend ground flaxseed over whole because it is more easily digestible in this form. It should be taken with ample amounts of water to avoid any gastrointestinal blockage. Flaxseed can also inhibit the ability of the blood to clot after injury so if you’re taking any heart medications or planning surgery, you might want to speak to your doctor before trying it. Additionally, it may exacerbate the effects of herbs that interfere with clotting such as:

  • Danshen
  • Devil’s Claw
  • Eeuthero
  • Garlic
  • Ginger (in large amounts)
  • Ginkgo
  • Horse Chestnut
  • Panax Ginseng
  • Papain
  • Red Clover
  • Saw Palmetto

Personally, I don’t care for the taste of flaxseed.  However, it can be baked or added to other foods. In fact, some of these recipes look pretty tasty.

Do you take flaxseed? How has it helped your menopausal symptoms? Any recipes you’d like to share?

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And now for something completely different…

Posted by on Sep 25, 2008 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Cleaner water means longer life….and more hot flashes.

Seriously though, did you now that the World Health Organization estimates that unsafe water and inadequate sanitation kills some two million people annually, mostly children under the age of five? What’s more, over a billion people worldwide don’t have access to safe drinking water?

Chlorination of drinking water here in the U.S. is one of the most significant public health advances, says the Centers for Disease Control. Not only has it virtually wiped out waterborne diseases but it’s also extended Americans’ life expectancy from 47 years of age in 1900, to 78 years of age in 2006.

In honor of the American Chemistry Association’s 100th Anniversary celebration of chlorination, let’s raise a clean glass and say cheers! And then maybe give ’em a few jeers; afterall, an increase in life expectancy means we’re all living longer (and longer through those menopausal years)!

Seriously though, we’re pretty lucky to have clean drinking water. Even when we’re sweating and swinging.

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You’re getting veerry sleeepy…

Posted by on Sep 25, 2008 in hot flash, mind-body therapy | 0 comments

Baylor University researchers report that hypnosis might represent an effective intervention for hot flashes in women with breast cancer.

Makes one wonder if mind-body treatments might represent a viable alternative for all menopausal women?

In the study, which appears in the online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, 60 breast cancer survivors with hot flashes received 5 weekly hypnosis sessions or no treatment.

The women who received hypnosis reported a 68% decline in hot flash scores. Significant improvements were also observed in anxiety levels, depression, the degree to which hot flashes interrupted daily activities and sleep.

One topic which I’ve not yet addressed on Flashfree is the association between breast cancer treatments and menopause. Indeed, adjuvant therapy, which is a term used to characterize chemotherapy and/or hormonal treatments after breast cancer surgery, often launches as many as 10 to 50 percent of women younger than 40 and in 50 to 94 percent of women over 40 into early menopause. In fact, treatments for breast cancer can cause women to go into menopause in a matter of days.

The reason is that chemotherapy can damage the ovaries and affect their ability to produce normal levels of estrogen. Depending on the type of agent used and a woman’s age, it is possible for regular ovarian function to return. But for some women, early menopause may be permanent. Importantly, hormone replacement is not an option in breast cancer survivors due to an increased risk of recurrence. This makes alternatives even more important.

The results of this specific study resulted in a $2.6 million grant to Baylor from the National Institutes of Health to fund a broader study. According to Baylor, this is the largest grant ever awarded by NIH for this particular type of research.

The larger trial will enroll 180 women who entered menopause naturally and who are experiencing hot flashes. It will compare hypnotic relaxation therapy plus self-hypnosis techniques to another type of mind-body treatment.

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