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Prevention and self-management

Prevention and self-management
  • Fortunately, many of the signs and symptoms associated with women's hormonal imbalances are temporary. Take these steps to help reduce or prevent the unwanted symptoms of menopause.
  • Decreasing hot flashes: Hot Flashes are caused by rapid decreases in estrogen levels. Unfortunately hot flashes cannot be prevented. However, they can be helped and made less uncomfortable. Techniques that can help individuals deal with hot flashes include: wearing loose clothing and dressing in layers so the layers of clothing can be peeled off during a hot flash; wearing fabrics that absorb moisture and dry quickly; avoiding foods that may trigger hot flashes, such as hot drinks and spicy foods; splashing the face with cool water at the start of a flash; and avoiding stress.
  • Decreasing vaginal discomfort: Using over-the-counter (OTC) water-based vaginal lubricants (Astroglide®, K-Y®) or moisturizers (Replens®, Vagisil®) can help relieve vaginal dryness associated with low estrogen levels such as in menopause. Staying sexually active also helps with dryness.
  • Optimizing sleep: Healthcare professionals recommend avoiding caffeine, especially in the evening and at night. Exercise (during the day) can also help improve sleep. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation, can be very helpful.
  • Strengthening pelvic muscles: Pelvic floor muscle exercises, called Kegel exercises, can improve some forms of urinary incontinence. The exercises consist of the regular clenching and unclenching of the sex muscles that form part of the pelvic floor (sometimes called the "Kegel muscles").
  • Eating well: Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and that limits saturated fats, oils, and sugars is recommended by healthcare professionals. It is also recommended to consume 1,200-1,500 milligrams of elemental calcium and 800 I.U. (international units) of vitamin D a day. Eating smaller, more frequent meals each day may reduce bloating and the sensation of fullness.
  • A high protein diet or high coffee consumption increases calcium excretion and may increase the calcium needs for the body. Fiber, oxalates (in rhubarb, spinach, beets, celery, greens, berries, nuts, tea, cocoa), and high zinc foods (such as oysters and red meats) decrease absorption, requiring more calcium as a dietary supplement. The plant estrogens found in soy help maintain bone density and may reduce the risk of fractures, particularly in the first 10 years after menopause.
  • It is recommended to limit salt and salty foods to reduce bloating and fluid retention, choose foods high in complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and choose foods rich in calcium. If the woman cannot tolerate dairy products or is not getting adequate calcium in the diet, a daily calcium supplement may be needed.
  • Excessive alcohol has been associated with osteoporosis due to the degenerative metabolic effects of alcohol. Alcohol excess may inhibit calcium absorption and bone formation.
  • Weight control: Being underweight is a risk factor for osteoporosis. Staying within a healthy weight is important for individuals experiencing menopause.
  • Smoking cessation: Smoking increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, cancer, and a range of other health problems. It may also increase hot flashes and bring on earlier menopause. It is never too late to benefit from stopping smoking. Smokers lose bone more rapidly than nonsmokers. Among 80 year olds, smokers have up to 10% lower bone mineral density, which translates into twice the risk of spinal fractures and a 50% increase in risk of hip fracture. Fractures heal slower in smokers, and are more apt to heal improperly.
  • Regular exercise: It is recommended by healthcare professionals to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days to protect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other conditions associated with aging in women. More vigorous exercise for longer periods may provide further benefit and is particularly important if the individual is trying to lose weight. Exercise can also help reduce stress.
  • Regular checkups: A doctor can advise the individual about mammograms, Pap tests, lipid level (cholesterol and triglyceride) testing, and other screening tests.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.