Menopause begins naturally when the ovaries start making less estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate menstruation. The process usually begins in a woman's late 30s. By that time, fewer potential eggs for fertilization are found in the ovaries each month, and ovulation is less predictable. Progesterone (the hormone that prepares the body for pregnancy) levels drop and fertility declines. These changes are more pronounced in the 40s, as are changes in menstrual patterns. The woman's period may become longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and more or less frequent. Eventually, the ovaries cease to function and there are no more periods. It is possible, but very unusual, to menstruate every month right up to the last egg is released, although a gradual tapering off is more common. Symptoms associated with menopause include hot flashes and/or night sweats; trouble sleeping; vaginal dryness; mood swings; trouble focusing and, less commonly, hair loss on the head but increased hair on the face. About 85 percent of women experiencing menopause will have hot flashes.
In a new study, researchers analyzed data on 17,473 postmenopausal women 50-79 years-old from the Women's Health Initiative Dietary Modification trial to evaluate the effects of a low fat diet rich in whole grains and fruit and weight loss on menopausal symptoms, such as night sweats and hot flashes. None of the women included were taking hormone therapy.
The researchers found that women maintaining a diet low in fat and high in whole grains and fruit were significantly more likely to eliminate menopausal symptoms when compared to a control group. Furthermore, women who lost at least 10 pounds or 10 percent of their body weight were significantly more likely to eliminate menopausal symptoms when compared to those who did not lose weight.
The authors concluded that losing weight while on a low-fat diet rich in whole grains and fruit may reduce menopausal symptoms. Additional research is warranted.
Many integrative therapies have been studied for their effects on menopausal symptoms. Foods rich in phytoestrogens may help alleviate symptoms of menopause, such as vaginal dryness, burning, itching, painful intercourse and decreased interest in sex. Additionally, black cohosh is a popular alternative to prescription hormonal therapy for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. Initial human research suggests that black cohosh may improve some symptoms for up to six months. However, the current evidence is mixed and more studies are needed to make a strong conclusion.
For more information about integrative therapies menopausal symptoms, please visit Natural Standard's Comparative Effectiveness Database.
For more information about low fat diets, please visit Natural Standard's Health & Wellness Database.