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For women worried about hormone replacement therapy, there’s now an alternative way to cope with menopausal symptoms?
You might not need your fan to cool those hot flashes anymore
But in the last few years, there’s been much confusion and fear about hormone replacement therapy and its link to breast cancer. Indeed, a recent Canadian study suggests that breast cancer rates among post-menopausal women in this country declined 10 per cent as use of the therapy dropped.
So what’s a hot-flashing, sweaty and insomniac post-menopausal woman to do?
Now, endocrinologist Dr. Jerilynn Prior at UBC has another option. Her research has found that the hormone progesterone may provide an alternative treatment option for symptoms of menopause.
“This is the very first time that progesterone has proven to be effective,” says Dr. Prior.
She and her colleagues followed 127 post-menopausal women seeking hormonal therapy for hot flashes and night sweats. The group was randomly assigned to take progesterone or a placebo.
While the exact cause of hot flashes is not known, research suggests the body’s thermostat is affected. It seems that simply having low estrogen levels does not explain the propensity to hot flashing.
According to Dr. Prior, “We know that progesterone helps sleep, we know that it decreases anxiety and the latest wild idea is that it works by decreasing the addiction that the brain of a hot-flashing person has to estrogen.”
The results showed the progesterone dose was more effective than the placebo at decreasing the intensity and number of symptoms.
The researchers say these findings are important for women who are concerned about taking estrogen and for those who have adverse effects to the hormone or who cannot take estrogen for other medical reasons.
As for the side effects of progesterone, Dr. Prior reports, “In the trial we had no serious adverse effects.”
The progesterone used in this trial was a natural molecularly “bio-identical” hormone that is synthesized from yam sources in a peanut-oil base that is available by prescription. Still, this is still a form of hormone replacement therapy, so studies on the long-term effects are needed.
The researchers have now been given funding to see if progesterone alone has similar effects during perimenopause, when women are similarly suffering but continue to have periods.
Other natural ways to help cut down on hot flashes include eating more soy-based foods, stopping smoking and cutting back on caffeinated beverages, as well as hot, spicy foods and alcohol. Losing weight and increasing exercise with aerobic activity are also helpful. When all else fails, there’s always the benefit of dressing in layers.
Fortunately, in most cases, having severe hot flashes is a short-lived phenomenon. If your hot flashes become particularly bothersome, talk to your health-care professional about your options.
Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.