Menopause: Making it the Best Years of Your Life (cont.)

MEMBER QUESTION:
Is interrupted sleep -- or needing less sleep -- a sign of menopause? It's becoming harder for me to stay asleep these days.

BOUCHEZ:
Oh definitely! In fact, for many women that is actually the first sign of perimenopause, when your hormones are just starting to "dance." Of course remaining asleep or having problems falling asleep can also be caused by stress, which can also impact how your hormones are "dancing".

If there is nothing going on in your life that might be causing you to have sleep problems, then it is very likely the first signs of perimenopause. Welcome to the club!

MEMBER QUESTION:
I can sit in front of the AC vent and still get hot flashes. I had one yesterday that a cold shower couldn't cool down. I have had the AC running in January and the heat running in August.

BOUCHEZ:
One of the things you may not realize is that sitting in front of the air conditioner or taking a cold shower may actually be making your flashes worse. Here's why: When you put the icy cold on your body, you confuse your temperature system even more. Since it's already out of whack -- due to hormones -- adding the icy cold can confuse your body even more.

The trick is moderation -- not icy cold, not overly hot. You may get more relief by taking a tepid shower, or by putting on the AC. But don't stand in front of it. You can put a cold pack on the back of your neck, the inside of your wrists or the inside of your elbows, which can also help, but try to stay away from extreme changes in temperature. It can make you feel good for the moment but may actually increase your hot flashes in the long run. Also, the direct blowing of the air from the AC or a fan on your skin can stimulate nerve endings and that may increase uncomfortable feelings when a flash does hit.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I'd like to know what you think about bioidentical hormones and are they as safe as some people say they are?

BOUCHEZ:
Well, it's a BIG topic right now, that is for sure. But I also think there is lots of confusion out there and I'd like to take a few minutes to explain some things you might need to know.

First, bioidentical hormones are not natural hormones; they are made in a lab just like traditional HRT and they are synthetic. However, what is natural about them is the end result -- they are identical to the hormones that the body produces.

Some folks believe that because they are the same as what the body produces, that the body will process and assimilate them better, and this may be true. However, what we don't know -- and this is a big one, so listen up -- what we don't know is whether or not simply assimilating a drug better is going to make a difference in terms of how it will react down the line. Will it cause the same kinds of problems we saw with traditional HRT? The reason we don't know that is because there has been no long-term testing or studies done on bioidentical hormones and until there is we have to exert the same kind of caution that we do with HRT.

Can it help some women? Definitely. But it should not be taken lightly or used without some thought as to potential problems.

MEMBER QUESTION:
HRT is very controversial. Who is and who isn't a good candidate for this treatment?

BOUCHEZ:
The first thing we all have to come to realize, I think, is that women, each of us, are different. We all come to menopause with a different health background, different genetics and different lifestyles. There is no "cookie-cutter menopause woman" -- thank goodness.

Because we are all different, we are all affected slightly differently by HRT. That said, there are some parameters that do impact many of us. And one of the things I try to do in my book is to walk each reader through her own personal situation to help her make that decision. In general, if you have a high risk of breast cancer in your family, you are probably not a good candidate. If, on the other hand you have no history of breast cancer, but you have a history of osteoporosis, or hip fractures at an early age -- you might be the best candidate. The idea here is to make personal assessments based on your needs, your family and personal health history and your current health status. It's a matter of balancing risks vs. benefits.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What can you tell us about natural treatments for menopause symptoms that we can use instead of HRT?

BOUCHEZ:
As far as natural, there are a number ways to go. One natural treatment that got a lot of attention was black cohosh. This is an herb that has been used for hundreds of years to help with menopause symptoms. The confusing thing about black cohosh is that when it was studied in clinical trials it was not found to have any greater effect than a placebo! But, if you talk to women who actually use it, on a one-to-one basis, it seems that it does help. So, not to confuse you, the idea here is that you can try it and you'll know right away, within a few weeks, if it does help you. If it does then you've found it! If it doesn't, then obviously don't take it, and move on to something else.

For many women -- many, many women -- a lot of help can be found in dietary means, particularly adding foods that are high in essentially fatty acids. This would include flax seed, flax seed oil and walnuts. All of these foods can have some very important effects on hormone levels and more importantly on helping your body to adjust to changing hormone levels. While they won't take the place of estrogen, for example, they can help your body cope with having less estrogen. Soy foods can also have a similar effect and may offer some help. Also, what many women don't realize is the power of dairy foods - low-fat dairy foods. Most of the time we think of them for our bones alone, and that is important, but there is some research to show that, overall, low-fat dairy products may help you simply feel better during menopause.

"You have to keep the vaginal tissue lubricated all the time because as your hormones are dropping you are losing the natural moisture in your V Zone."