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Think 'natural' for a smooth transition

Menopause is sometimes referred to as the "change of life." Between the ages of 40 and 50, many women find that not only do their bodies change, but their personal and professional lives change as well.

Annoying symptoms, like insomnia or hot flashes, frequently come at the onset of menopause. They vary in intensity and gradually subside.

"Clearly not all women experience menopause alike," says registered pharmacist Constance Grauds of San Rafael, California. "While 75 to 80 percent of menopausal women experience one or more physical symptoms, only 10 to 35 percent are affected strongly enough to see their doctor."

In addition, potentially life-threatening conditions, like osteoporosis and heart disease, arc waiting to ambush you. Some women choose to take hormones as a way to reduce these dangers. Others look for different ways to ease the transition because of side effects from HRT.

Hot flashes. Not every woman finds those sudden "power surges" uncomfortable. Grauds says, "If hot flashes are not bothersome to you, relax and enjoy the warmth, as they are not innately harmful to the body." But if you wish to avoid them, Grauds recommends eating lots of foods rich in calcium. Also include plenty of vitamin E from whole grains, cold-pressed oils, green leafy vegetables, and some nuts -- almonds, for example. You may also want to avoid anything that heats up the body, like coffee, alcohol, and hot spices. And if you smoke, give that up, too. A recent study at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that women who smoke have significantly more hot flashes than nonsmokers.

Excess water. If you avoid salty foods and drink more liquids, you may be able to prevent the bloating, tenderness, and depression that can come with water retention. Also, eat foods high in water content, such as melons, celery, and fruits. Drink natural herbal teas of cornsilk or dandelion leaf for their diuretic effect.

Vaginal dryness. Some women experience this problem for a year or so at the onset of menopause. It can be painful if the vaginal lining becomes inflamed. "You can help yourself naturally," says Grauds, "by eating foods high in vitamin E and drinking lots of liquids."

Insomnia. You can choose from a number of herbs to soothe yourself into slumber. For example, you might relax with a cup of valerian or passion flower tea. "Some women get relief from their insomnia with hops, chamomile, lemon balm, oat straw, catnip -- even St. John's wort," says Grauds. You can find these as dried herbs, tinctures, or capsules.

Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that possibly began when you were a teenager. During those adolescent years, you set yourself up for the quality of bone density you would have as a mature adult. Consider yourself fortunate if your mother made you drink lots of milk. That means stronger bones and a better chance of evading the crippling effects of osteoporosis. However, even if you didn't grow tip drinking a lot of milk, all is not lost. You can begin strengthening your bones today. The key word is calcium.

The National Research Council has determined that a healthy pre- menopausal woman needs 1,000 to 1,200mg of calcium a day. If you're postmenopausal, you need up to 1,500mg of this bone- strengthening mineral. That's a lot of calcium for anyone. Of course, it's best to get it from natural sources: dairy foods, seafood such as oysters and sardines, and vegetables like kale and beet greens. But if you don't feel you can eat that much calcium, you can turn to supplements. Because of the decrease in estrogen during menopause, you are probably going to gain weight. It's a sad fact for most women but simply your body's reaction to the change in hormones. Being more physically active will help you avoid this problem. Be careful about dieting at this time though. At least one study has shown that weight loss in postmenopausal women significantly increases bone loss, and that means a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Heart disease. During and after menopause, you are more at risk of developing heart disease than at any other time in your life. But by adjusting your diet, you can say goodbye to this concern and really enjoy your golden years.

Heart-healthy eating is simple - low far, high fiber. But one study has shown that this advice probably should be modified for postmenopausal women. It seems that a high-carbohydrate, low-far diet increases risk factors for heart disease in these women. Replacing saturated fat with the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated kind found in olive, canola, vegetable, and soybean oils may actually work better than adding more carbohydrates to your diet.


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