Posts made in February, 2010

Hope for hops: hot flashes and night sweats

Posted by on Feb 26, 2010 in estrogen, herbal medicine, hot flash, menopause, nightsweats | 4 comments

Do you remember last August’s post about beer and bone health? If not, research suggests that beer boosts bone density, or more specifically, a certain component in hops — namely female flowers — have high estrogen properties that help bone formation. More recently, researchers have been evaluating a standardized hop extract (8-prenylnaringenin) for the treatment of menopausal hot flashes. Among the many phytoestrogens contained in the female hop flowers, 8-prenylnaringen has been associated in laboratory studies with the highest estrogenic potency compared to others.

In a small, randomized, scientifically-sound study, researchers assigned menopausal women to either a hops extract 8-prenylnaringenin for eight weeks or placebo for 8 weeks; then they switched. Although both groups showed modest reductions in mild vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats) during the first 8-week period, only women taking the hops extract after first taking placebo experienced higher average reductions in their flashes and sweats. Although these changes were not considered “significant” they did lead the researchers to conclude that preparations containing 8-prenylnaringenin might offer an alternative to hormones for women who experience mild vasomotor symptoms.

Are hops completely safe?

Most people do not experience side effects when taking hops. However, like any herb or drug, reactions are individual. In some people, hops can cause allergic skin reactions (e.g. rash) when handled. Hops can also cause  mild drowsiness, which is why hop extracts shouldn’t be taken with sedatives. In some cases, hops has been shown to lower blood sugar levels. And of course, as a phytoestrogen, it should not be used at the same time as hormone replacement and only under doctor supervision if you’ve had breast cancer.

So, it’s too soon to tell. But indeed, there’s hope for hops!

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Wednesday Bubble: easy does it…with chamomile

Posted by on Feb 24, 2010 in anxiety, herbal medicine | 4 comments

Love love love this week’s Bubble because I don’t have to burst it. Writing in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers say that chamomile is effective for mild to moderate anxiety. What’s more, this is the first time that the herb, which has long been known for its relaxation properties, has been subjected to rigorous, scientific study.

Anxiety is an integral part of the menopause experience, with many women experiencing mild nervousness or nervousness with depression, or full-blown anxiety attacks. Much of this anxiety is believed to be due to hormonal changes, and in fact, nearly half if not more of midlife women reportedly experience anxiety symptoms. Tension, depression and stress can all exacerbate persistent irritability, nervousness and mood swings. Moreover, having anxiety during the menopause transition has been linked to an increased risk for bothersome hot flashes.

In this latest study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of German chamomile extract capsules (229 mg, up to five daily) compared to placebo in 57 women with mild to moderate anxiety. Dosing was individualized and based on each woman’s ability to tolerate the chamomile and its effect.  After 8 weeks, researchers observed a significant change in total anxiety rating scores in women taking the chamomile; these women also showed improvements in overall well being scores. The chamomile was well-tolerated.

Again, this is the first time that chamomile has been shown scientifically to improve mild to moderate anxiety symptoms. Obviously, a study with a larger group of women is needed to truly prove the effectiveness of chamomile, especially in women undergoing the menopause transition.

Chamomile – is it safe?

Chamomile, a member of the Asteraceae plant family, has been used in herbal remedies for thousands of years. In Europe, it is commonly used for digestive disorders. However, chamomile may cause allergic reactions that result in abdominal cramps, itching, skin rashes, and even throat swelling (anaphylaxis). Chamomile can also interfere with blood thinning medications such as Warfarin (an anticoagulant). Individuals who are allergic to  other plants in the Asteraceae family, including aster, chrysanthemum, mugwort, ragweed, and ragwort should avoid chamomile. Additionally, there have been reports of cross reactions celery, chrysanthemum, feverfew, tansy, and birch pollen.

Like any drug, speak to a licensed practitioner before trying chamomile to insure that you are a proper candidate and that you take the correct dosage for your problems.

Meanwhile, how wonderful to know that for women who can tolerate chamomile, there is a safe, scientifically proven alternative strategy to ease menopausal symptoms and irritability!

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Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Posted by on Feb 22, 2010 in Early menopause, women's health | 2 comments

Actually, you may not have a choice! Did you know that a woman’s egg supply peaks as early as 20 weeks after conception? While still in the womb, a female will develop several million eggs. Up until age 14, the eggs will continue in number and then they steadily decrease until menopause (around age 50 or 51).

Using computer modeling of data taken from about 325 women, researchers determined that by the age of 30, 95% of women will only have 12% of their egg reserves remaining. By age 40, only 3% remain.  What’s more, age remains the primary influencer of the number of eggs up until about age 25. Then as a women grows older, other factors, including smoking, body mass index, stress and previous pregnancies start to play more important roles.

Why is this important? Afte rall, most readers of this blog are of the age where pregnancy is no longer a consideration and our number of eggs in reserve, pretty irrelevant. However, by establishing how the ovarian reserve of eggs is established and then diminished, researchers hope to be better able to predict when menopause will start individual women. By having a better idea of when menopause will start, you may be able to take appropriate steps in a timely fashion to both stave off vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats and maintain body weight and physical health. What’s more, imagine the possibilities in terms of mood swings and depression. The potential rewards are endless.

According to the researchers, they might also be able to predict which women treated for cancer are at highest risk for early menopause as the result of treatment. Since many of these women are young, this might provide opportunities for proactive family planning.

So, all those eggs in one basket? You might not be able to control how many but you may be able to control certain outcomes. Nice!

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Osteoporosis: what’s the 411?

Posted by on Feb 19, 2010 in bone health, osteoporosis | 0 comments

Osteoporosis and low bone mineral density are well-known issues for menopausal women. As women enter the early stages of menopause, their bones lose their ability to retain their mass and manufacture new bone tissue, resulting in bone loss and increasing the risk for osteoporosis and its deleterious effects. What’s more, experts estimate that by the time a woman reaches the age of 50, she has a 40% risk of suffering a fracture due to osteoporosis for the rest of her lifetime. Besides the discomfort, hip fractures in women lead to a loss of mobility, a need for long-term care and even death. No bones about it; osteoporosis is no laughing matter.

Risk factors that contribute to a loss of bone mineral density are varied and include age, genetics, low calcium/vitamin D intake, body weight and menopause status. However, osteoporosis is a mixed bag and there are several underlying conditions that can also contribute to its severity:

  • Medications (e.g. heparin, anticonvulsants, progesterone, chemotherapy agents)
  • Parathyroid hormone (which regulates  how calcium is used in the body – released in urine, absorbed in diet and stored in bones)
  • Calcium imbalance due to excessive calcium excretion, aka “hypercalciuria,” Vitamin D deficiencies

Before I move into the land of boredom, there is a reason why I’m sharing some of the facts about osteoporosis, which BTW are readily available on the National Osteoporosis Foundation website (if you’ve not perused the site, I strongly encourage you to do so!): there is an indication that your practitioner might not be looking for these important secondary causes! Moreover, sometimes they are not even readily apparent.

Writing in the journal Menopause, researchers studying 204 menopausal women say that they’ve discovered that among the various factors that influence a woman’s risk for low bone density, several impact severity:

  • Low vitamin D levels (82% of women in this study had below optimal levels)
  • Elevated parathyroid hormone levels (35% of women in the study) — (leads to too much calcium in the blood and a loss of calcium from bones)
  • Unusually high calcium excretion (20% of women in the study)
  • High bone turnover rates (41% of women in the study) — (high bone turnover refers to an increase in  the breakdown, or resorption of bone without a compensation for the repair of bone, leading to compromised strength, thinning, brittleness and fractures)

There are a number of dietary and lifestyle strategies to prevent osteoporosis, including incorporating Vitamin D and calcium supplementation, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids into the diet, and increasing physical activity. More recent findings suggest that beer, onions and even flaxseed may be effective (although more research is needed). Meanwhile, if you’ve recently learnt that your bone mineral density is low (or that you’ve actually developed osteoporosis) you need to speak to your practitioner about some of these other markers. Knowledge is power and the more you know, the greater the likelihood that you can start incorporating treatment now to prevent further bone deterioration.

That’s the 411. No bones about it!

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Wednesday Bubble: Another nail in the coffin for HRT

Posted by on Feb 17, 2010 in heart disease, HRT | 2 comments

Still hearing that HRT can’t hurt your heart? Findings from yet another study, this time published in the February 16 edition of Annals of Internal Medicine, confirm the dangers that HRT poses to your heart, especially in the short-term.

In this latest analysis, researchers evaluated data derived from 16,608 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative trial who still had their uterus. The findings?

Compared to women who had never used hormone replacement therapy, those who had used it continuously over 10 years had more than twice the risk of developing heart disease over the first 2 years, and more than 1.5 times the risk over the subsequent 8 years. For women who started hormone therapy after 10 years of entering menopause, there was also a trend towards developing heart disease over the first 2 years. Of note, researchers did observe a possible protective effect after 6 years in the women who started therapy closer to menopause as risk did start to level off at this time.

The upshot is that the first two years of taking HRT can be a dangerous time for women regardless of whether they start hormones closer to menopause.

Another nail? Yes, I’d say so.

But don’t take my word for it. Knowledge is power. Educate yourselves. And if you’d like to learn more about heart disease and menopause, I’ve written about it numerous times on this blog. I also encourage you to visit the American Heart Association website. Finally, I’d love for you to take a stand. Don’t you think it’s time for the FDA to start paying attention? These drugs are dangerous for women. Yet, they remain on the market and are prescribed daily. Whose nail, whose coffin?

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