Posts made in September, 2008

Wednesday Bubble: No Pain, No!

Posted by on Sep 24, 2008 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Does menopause increase lower back pain?

Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical. when I read this So, I dug a little deeper to see if data support recent findings that suggest that lower back back is more common before than after menopause.

In the study, which was published in the September 4 advanced online edition of the journal Menopause. Australian researchers estimated the prevalence of back pain, as well as its intensity and related degree of disability in 506 local women via questionnaire. Demographic data  (i.e. menopause, relationship and employment status) were also collected.

The findings showed that more that 90% of participants had experienced low back pain, either during the previous 12 months (~75%) or at the time they filled out the questionnaire (~22%). Compared to pre- and perimenopausal women, 73% of postmenopausal women reported having high-intensity pain and 84%, a high level of disability.  A high body mass index and current pain were factors that were significant predictors of both.

In another study, published in the Clinical Journal of Pain, researchers examined the association between self-reported menopausal status and musculoskeletal pain in 2,218 women participating in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. Not only did they find that 1 in 6 participants reported daily pain symptoms, but, postmenopausal women reported significantly more aches and pains that premenopausal women, even after adjusting for risk factors.

The reason? Estrogen, of course!

In a large study published in the journal Spine in 2006, researchers from the Netherlands evaluated information collected from 11,428 women, ages 20 to 59. Their goal was to examine how hormonal and reproductive factors might influence chronic lower back and upper extremity pain.

Results showed that factors relating to increased estrogen levels were especially likely to increase the risk of chronic lower back pain in particular. These factors included past pregnancy, young maternal age at first birth, duration of oral contraceptive use and use of estrogens during menopause. Importantly, these findings remained even after adjusting for age, education, working status, smoking, and overweight.

Steps you can take now

Exercise, stretching and core conditioning have all be shown to improve and keep back muscles strong. I plan on devoting another post to back strengthening exercises as I believe that it’s a topic worthy of full consideration. But in the interim, the North American Spine Society has an excellent overview of back strengthening strategies.

Of course, always check with a health professional before undertaking any major activity or change in regular routine, especially if you are already experiencing pain.

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New Flash! In the Pipeline: Hot Flashes!

Posted by on Sep 22, 2008 in hot flash | 1 comment

Listen up!

A consortium of five research centers in the Boston Area are dedicating their time to researching remedies for hot flashes and night sweats. The National Institutes of Health is sponsoring the five-year, $22 million initiative.

Harvard Medical School Researchers Dr. Lee Cohen and Dr. Hadine Joffe are leading the effort, which is focusing on both low-dose hormones and most importantly, alternative approaches.  Randomized studies will be exploring the following therapies:

  • antidepressants
  • yoga
  • relaxation breathing
  • exercise
  • low-dose estradiol patches and gel

Other clinical trials are also underway. If you’re interested in learning more or volunteering for a study, here’s a complete listing of those that are actively recruiting volunteers.

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The Great Pretender

Posted by on Sep 20, 2008 in herbal medicine | 2 comments


Back in June, I wrote a post about the dangers of buying herbs for menopause right off the shelves. is now reporting that testing shows great variation in the amount and quality of herbal menopausal products., including supplements containing black cohosh, soy isoflavones, red clover isoflavones and also, progesterone creams.

For example:

  • One supplement contained only 30% isoflavones despite a guarantee and another, only 65% of a specific type.
  • Two products failed to comply with FDA labeling that require detailed information on plant parts used as ingredients.
  • Lead contamination was found in one product.

On a more positive note, ConsumerLab found that seven soy isoflavone products met their quality standards and provided at least 50 mg to 70 mg total soy isoflavones, which is the amount research has associated with relieving hot flashes.  Additionally,

  • Two red clover isoflavone products contained the correct amount (40 mg) associated with hot flash reduction.
  • Six black cohosh products met quality standards.
  • The progesterone creams tests provided the listed amount of progesterone, which ranged from 15 to 21 mg per gm.

You can read more about the tests at the company website.

So, what’s the take-away message from this research?

As Ellen Stern mentioned during our interview a few months ago, it’s critical to look for standardized herbs, meaning that they have undergone rigorous manufacturing practice and protocols to insure quality. She also recommended that search for “standardized x extract” on the American Botanical Council website. Finally a simple rule of thumb is that the least expensive product is not always going to be the best choice.

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Move Your Body

Posted by on Sep 19, 2008 in weight gain | 6 comments


30 minutes of exercise a day will keep the menopause weight away.

Evidently, this may be  a dream. In fact, it turns out that you may need a lot more than 30 minutes of physical activity to maintain your desired weight.

Current guidelines specify that most folks need about 30 minutes a day for at least 5 times a week. That averages out to 150 minutes of exercise a week. However, keeping the weight off may require at least 55 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity five days week on top of normal activities, or 275 minutes a week.

Yikes! Who has time?

A recent study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, suggests that this amount of exercise, in combination with daily intake of about 1,200 to 1,500 calories, is important for sustaining weight loss of more than 10%. Now granted, the women in this study were overweight and obese to begin with, which is why I’m encouraging you to check out the abstract for more study details.

However, this begs the question, is the 55 minutes daily activity requirement relevant for women of normal weight?

I did a deeper dive into this issue to see if I could uncover some answers.

According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 (this report is published once every 10 years), adults need at least 60 to 90 minutes of daily physical activity to maintain normal weight (while, at the same time, not increasing caloric intake).

More specifically, you may need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily to stave off gradual, unhealthy body weight. 30 minutes daily can help prevent chronic diseases.  To achieve optimal physical fitness, the recommendations suggest that you incorporate cardiovascular conditioning, weight training, and resistance exercise to improve strength and endurance.

Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

I’ve asked a few physical fitness experts to weigh in on this post so be sure to check the comments section. And I’d love to hear your questions as well – this is an important dialogue.

In the meantime, guess it’s time to get moving.

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Wednesday Bubble: Rub-a-dub-dub

Posted by on Sep 17, 2008 in appearance, estrogen | 2 comments

Is a youthful appearance only a rub-a-dub-dub away?

I ran across an interesting article in the UK’s Daily Telegraph on topical estrogen. Evidently, applying estrogen to the skin can stimulate collagen production and provide a more youthful appearance.

Seems like a great post for a Wednesday Bubble, right?

A closer read of the study on which the article was based suggests that it’s not quite that easy….or accurate.

Here’s what you need to know:

A University of Michigan research team evaluated the effects of applying various strengths of topical estrogen (estradiol) to the hip, forearm and face. Study participants comprised 40 postmenopausal women and 30 men (average age ~75 years). The cream, which varied in strength between 0.01% and 2.5%, was applied three times daily for two weeks. In addition to comparisons between the cream strengths, comparisons were also made to a placebo cream.

The results showed that topical estrogen applied to areas protected from the sun (i.e. the hip) increased production of procollagen I and III, and collagen I protein levels. For your information, pro-collagen type 1 is the precursor of collagen type 1, the most abundant form of collagen found in the body. Pro-collagen type III the precursor to the main component of the fibers that are found alongside the collagen.

However, no significant changes were observed in the photoaged skin of the forearm or the face, even though estrogen receptors were stimulated.

So, what’s the bottom line?

The study results suggest that while topical estrogen can stimulate collagen production in sun-protected areas, it does not affect the appearance of photo-aged skin, (i.e. skin that has been exposed to the sun or other elements).

In other words, topical estrogen is not yet a panacea for aging skin.

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