Feel Your Best After 50
It once seemed like such a simple solution to the inevitable discomforts of menopause: hormone replacement. A pill a day could cool your hot flashes, while reducing your risk of heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis, and memory problems—and even keep you looking young and feeling sexy. For decades, doctors confidently recommended hormone therapy to women, making it sound sensible, modern, and harmless.
But the pretty party came to a shocking end in July 2002, when the Women's Health Initiative released its initial results, finding that synthetic estrogen and progesterone actually brought higher risks of heart attacks, strokes, and breast cancer.
Women jettisoned their hormones en masse, but the dream did not die. Now, on the 10th anniversary of WHI, many doctors are reevaluating the landscape. Low-dose hormones, they say, can be used responsibly by most women with debilitating symptoms if taken for a few years at the time of menopause. But hormones have FDA approval for just four uses: hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and the prevention of osteoporosis. And they're not even the best solution for osteoporosis, since bone loss resumes once you stop taking them.
Yet an entire industry has sprung up to promote hormones as veritable time-travel pills to transport women back to their supple sexy youth, complete with sounder sleep, sharper memory, smoother skin, steadier mood, and a sleeker silhouette. Some women do report feeling better on hormone therapy, but the scientific evidence for most of these benefits is meager. And in any case, doctors do not endorse open-ended use of hormones.
So what's a menopausal woman to do? The alternative remedies outlined below may not be perfect, but they can offer substantial relief—without the side effects of hormones. "The anti-aging medicine people want you to spend all your time trying not to get older," says Christiane Northrup, MD, author ofThe Wisdom of Menopause. Instead, she advises, focus on living well. "Once you recover from the self-talk that you're too old, the whole ball game changes," she says. "To me, 50 is the beginning of where life gets interesting—in a really good way."
Lace up your sneakers
Promotes:bone strength, heart health, smoother skin, higher energy.
Exercise may be the closest thing to a panacea that exists for the problems of menopause and aging. When researchers in Sweden surveyed 793 women who had reached natural menopause, only 5% of those who exercised more than 2 hours a week had severe hot flashes, compared with 14 to 16% of those who did few or no weekly workouts.
In addition, exercise helps build bones and improves mood. It reduces blood pressure, along with the risks of heart attack and stroke. It eases tension and promotes restful sleep, which in turn helps relieve the brain fog that many women experience at menopause. It can even boost energy. Interval training—alternating short bursts of intense activity with steady-state cardio—can double your number of mitochondria (the energy-producing "power plants" of cells) in just 6 weeks, says Melinda Ring, MD, medical director of Northwestern Integrative Medicine and coauthor ofThe Natural Menopause Solution. Workouts even offer cosmetic benefits. "After exercise, blood rushes to the skin, bringing with it extra nutrients and increasing the collagen content," says Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, a nonprofit women's health organization.
MORE: How To Run The Right Way
Promotes:heart health, better mood.
Reduces: hot flashes
A diet that's good for your heart and brain also turns out to be good for quelling menopausal symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids—found in fish such as sardines and salmon--can reduce hot-flash frequency by 55%, according to a study in the journalMenopause. Other studies have also found that omega-3s reduce the risk of heart disease and depression. Aim for at least two servings a week. If you don't love fish, you can get omega-3s in walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil. But many people need supplements to get enough. Doctors usually recommend a gram a day.
Find joy in soy
Soy contains plant estrogens, known as phytoestrogens, which lock into your body's estrogen receptors, giving similar, though weaker, effects as the human hormone. An analysis of 17 studies in the journalMenopauseconcluded that two daily servings of soy can reduce hot-flash frequency by 21% and lessen severity by 26%. But be cautious about soy supplements, which deliver concentrated doses of these estrogen-like compounds. Some scientists worry that, like human estrogen, they could promote breast cancer. Real soy is much safer. So are other beans, such as lentils and chickpeas, which also contain phytoestrogens, though at lower levels. As a bonus, they are good sources of protein, fiber, and folate.
MORE: 14 Natural Remedies For Hot Flashes
Seek herbal relief
Brain science may be discovering why black cohosh has such enduring popularity, even though rigorous trials have failed to prove its benefits for hot flashes. "Researchers have found that black cohosh affects neurotransmitters in the brain that might lift mood," says Tieraona Low Dog, MD, an expert in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona and a member ofPrevention'sadvisory board. Some women, she speculates, may feel better and tolerate hot flashes better when they take the herb, even if it doesn't reduce the number or intensity of those episodes.
Get the point of acupuncture
Reduces:stress, anxiety, pain, hot flashes
"Some of the most exciting research to me is for acupuncture," Dr. Low Dog says. "A number of studies show that for women with breast cancer who cannot take hormones, acupuncture can be highly effective at reducing hot flashes." A 2010 study of breast cancer survivors, conducted by Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, randomly assigned 50 participants to acupuncture or the antidepressant Effexor, which has been shown to help women with hot flashes and depression. The treatments were equally effective at reducing hot-flash frequency, but the women given acupuncture reported no side effects and an increased sex drive. Other studies find that acupuncture also reduces stress, anxiety, and pain.
MORE:20 Mind-Body Treatments That Actually Work
Reduces:stress, blood pressure, hot flashes
Stress is a hot-flash trigger, but you can dial it back and also reduce blood pressure with something as simple as your own breathing. Three well-designed studies have shown that taking slow, deep breaths (six or fewer a minute) can slash hot flashes by 50%. Try it when a hot flash hits to reduce length and severity.
MORE: 13 Ways To Lower Blood Pressure Naturally
Just say om
Promotes:better mood, heart health, balance, flexibility.
Yoga may also help by reducing stress. A pilot study at the University of Washington found that women who took regular classes had fewer complaints about hot flashes and experienced fewer sleep disturbances from night sweats. Two larger studies, both funded by the National Institutes of Health, are under way to see if the effects hold up. Yoga also releases brain substances that act as natural antidepressants. It lowers heart rate and improves balance and flexibility.
Video: This is 40 | Look and Feel Your Best at Any Age
Red Wine Sausages with Puy Lentils Recipe
The Truth About Nitrates: 5 Facts to Know
Best Sagittarius Tattoos – Our Top 10
This Is the 1 Shoe Style of the Year (So Far)
Black, White Blush Pink Wedding Inspiration
34 Surprising Plaid Pieces Your Fall Wardrobe Is Yearningfor
Upgrade Your Squat With The Anti-Aging Squat Jump
TidySquares Inc Demure Design 69W Closet System RI.O.69.3
Police Put Out Arrest Warrant For Phil The Groundhog