The 3 Main Reasons Women Get Hot Flushes – and What to Do About It

August 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Womens Health

It seems that hot flashes are the bane of many women’s lives during menopause – and they have quite an effect on those around them too. Hot flashes come on without any warning and can range from being mildly uncomfortable to downright unbearable. Symptoms range from just a slight redness of the face to a full body sweat that leaves you wringing wet and generating enough heat to boil water. Plus the dreaded night sweats that can seriously disturb your sleep.

It’s estimated that around 30% of menopausal women will get some form of hot flashes. How affected you are will depend on several factors, including where you live and what you eat. Some lucky women never get them at all and they are certainly very much more common in the Western world. There is no word in Japanese for instance to cover this phenomenon because they do not seem to suffer from it – unless they have switched to a predominantly Western diet. If you are unlucky enough to suffer from hot flashes this article will help you learn why they occur. If you’re not yet a sufferer, then it will help you gauge whether or not you are likely to become one.

The Reasons Why
Although some lucky women escape completely, there are some very good reasons why we experience the heat that we associate with menopause:

1 – Blood Vessels
Hot flashes occur when the blood vessels below the skin dilate. This causes more blood to rush to the skin’s surface, and that is what makes you look red and flushed, and feel that tell-tale rise in temperature. The body’s normal response to this is to try and cool you down, and it does this by making you sweat. What is unique about hot flashes is that this mechanism kicks in when the outside temperature can be very low and you do not have any signs of fever.

2 – Fluctuating hormones
Well you know all about this during menopause, and in fact the changing levels of your hormones are the prime cause of hot flashes. When your hormone levels fluctuate they cause the temperature control mechanism in the body to be disturbed. The centre which controls this is in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and it seems that it is changing levels of oestrogen and FSH (follicular stimulating hormone) that can upset this delicate balance and cause hot flashes.

Women having hot flashes usually have decreased oestrogen levels and increased FSH levels, but it is important to remember that it is the changes and fluctuations in the hormone levels – rather than the actual amount of hormone being produced – that produces hot flashes.

3 – Surgical menopause
It is to be expected that menopause symptoms come naturally when a woman’s childbearing years are coming to a close and the menopause or perimenopause is under way. However, women who have a hysterectomy or their ovaries removed at an age when they would not normally be going through menopause are more likely to experience more severe and frequent hot flashes after the surgery than in a natural menopause transition.

Even if the ovaries are retained it is no guarantee that an early menopause will not occur, as their effectiveness at producing progesterone will be affected and will diminish over time.

What Can Help
Those are some of the reasons behind hot flashes, but you also need to know what can help.
Herbal help seems to be the most popular, particularly those that act as a natural oestrogen modulator to help regulate hormone levels.

Black Cohosh is a herb native to North America and which over the last 50 years has gained an excellent reputation amongst western herbalists for its efficacy at easing menopausal symptoms. Modern clinical trials have confirmed just how effective Black Cohosh is at balancing the hormones in menopausal women and subsequently reducing the associated side effects, when taken on a regular basis. A recent review of the different natural remedies available found the herb…, “the most effective botanical.”

Sage is also popular and anecdotal evidence from herbalists has found it particularly effective at helping to ease the sweating associated with hormonally induced over-heating, which makes it effective for women suffering from hot flashes and night sweats.

If you want more immediate relief then again many women turn to acupuncture as it seems to bring a quicker result, though you may need to have regular sessions. If you want other suggestions for dealing with hot flashes you will find them in my downloadable booklet at

Why Women On HRT Should Eat More Parsley and Celery

August 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Natural Medicine, Womens Health

A new study by the University of Missouri has found that a compound in parsley and other plant products can stop certain breast cancer tumor cells from multiplying and growing.

Why is this particularly relevant for women on HRT? Because of the well established research showing that certain synthetic hormones used in HRT (a progestin called medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) can accelerate breast tumor development. When tumor cells develop in the breast in response to MPA, they encourage new blood vessels to form within tumors and the blood vessels then supply needed the nutrients needed for the tumors to grow and multiply.

This study was published recently in Cancer Prevention Research and highlights the work of Salman Hyder, Professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center. This was not a human trial, but exposed rats with a certain type of breast cancer to apigenin, a common compound found in parsley and other plant products. The rats that were exposed to the apigenin developed fewer tumors and experienced significant delays in tumor formation compared to those rats that were not exposed to apigenin.

Hyder found that apigenin not only blocked new blood vessel formation, thereby delaying, and sometimes stopping, the development of the tumors but it also reduced the overall number of tumors. However, this is only an animal trial and while apigenin did delay tumor growth, it did not stop the initial formation of cancer cells within the breast.

If you want to be proactive around breast cancer risk, then there are some simple changes to your diet that can help.

So What Should You Eat?
Apigenin is most prevalent in parsley and celery, but can also be found in apples, oranges, nuts and other plant products. Because apigenin is not absorbed efficiently into the bloodstream at the present time scientists are unsure of how much can or should be taken as there are no specific dosage for humans yet. However, it appears that keeping a minimal level of apigenin in the bloodstream is important to delay the onset of breast cancer that progresses in response to progestins such as MPA so in which case crunch on some celery and start eating the parsley you have been decorating your dinner plates with!

Calcium Supplements Risk for Heart Problems

If you have been taking these to help your bones, there is a hidden danger that has been exposed by new research in the British Medical Journal which adds to mounting evidence that calcium supplements increase the risk of cardiovascular events, particularly heart attacks, in older women.

Nutritionists have been saying for some time that calcium supplements alone are not a good idea, but these new findings suggest that their use in managing osteoporosis should be re-assessed. They are often prescribed to older (postmenopausal) women to maintain bone health and sometimes they are combined with vitamin D, but there are a whole range of heart supplements that are needed, not just calcium alone.

A team of researchers, led by Professor Ian Reid at the University of Auckland, re-analysed a seven-year trial of over 36,000 women to provide the best current estimate of the effects of calcium supplements, with or without vitamin D, on the risk of cardiovascular events.

What they found was that the women who were not taking personal calcium supplements at the start of the trial but then were given a combined calcium and vitamin D supplement were at an increased risk of cardiovascular events, especially heart attack. By contrast, in women who were taking personal calcium supplements at the start of the trial, combined calcium and vitamin D supplements did not alter their cardiovascular risk.

The authors suspect that the abrupt change in blood calcium levels after taking a supplement causes the adverse effect, rather than it being related to the total amount of calcium consumed. High blood calcium levels are linked to calcification (hardening) of the arteries, which may also help to explain these results. The authors concluded that these data justify a reassessment of the use of calcium supplements in older people.

If you do want to keep your bones strong, and not impact your heart, then gentle regular weight bearing exercise is a start, and add plenty of black pepper to your diet as it contains four anti-osteoporosis compounds and boron, which is also good for bone health, is found in abundance in cabbage. Also healthy for bones are garlic, onions and eggs plus cod liver oil A which is a natural source of vitamins A and D3. If you do want to take a supplement look for one with a good mix of bone building nutrients including vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, silica and boron. Higher Nature make a good one called Osteo Food and the best natural way to build bone is to have good levels of progesterone as that is the first bone-building substance the body needs.

Infertility Linked to Cholesterol Gene in Women

July 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Health, Womens Health

This gene also affects progesterone production and may be the cause of infertility in a substantial number of cases of infertility. This breakthrough comes from a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US and published online in the journal Human Reproduction.

The gene responsible is the scavenger receptor class B type 1 gene (SCARB1) and this new research follows up studies in female mice that first linked a deficiency in these receptors for HDL — the so-called “good” or “healthy” cholesterol — and infertility. Now researchers report finding the same link in studies of women with a history of infertility when they analyzed ovarian cells and fluid collected from 274 women unable to become pregnant for various reasons and undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Endocrinologist Annabelle Rodriguez, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins in the USA said “Right now, the benefit of this research is in knowing that there might be a genetic reason for why some women have difficulty getting pregnant. In the future, we hope this knowledge can be translated into a cure for this type of infertility.” She believes the genetic variation could be present in 8 to 13 percent of the population and that means potentially being able to help a substantial number of women.

They researchers have also developed a simple blood test for this variation of the gene involved, but this knowledge has not so far led to any approved therapy though it would seem logical to ensure that a woman’s progesterone levels are healthy and balanced before looking to start a family.

If you want more information on natural progesterone you will find related articles at

Thyroid Drug Increases Risk of Bone Fractures in Women

June 14, 2011 by  
Filed under featured, Health, Womens Health

Many women suffer from underactive thyroid, but a common drug taken to relieve it can have serious effects on bone strength according to a recent study for the British Medical Journal.

Hypothyroidism is a fairly common disorder, caused by low levels of thyroid hormones. With the availability of either natural hormones taken from animals, or synthetic hormones (levothyroxine), doctors now treat the disorder by replacing the missing thyroid hormones. A found that elderly people with high levels of the artificial hormone may have an increased risk of bone fracture.

Hormones secreted by the thyroid gland are critically important to health because they affect the metabolism of every cell in the body. Thyroid hormones regulate the metabolism of glucose to release energy, as well as affecting protein synthesis and metabolism of fats.

Because the body creates thyroid hormones by using iodine, a healthy level of iodine in the diet is important because as well as being vital for general metabolism, there is also evidence that iodine in the diet can help in avoiding cancer.

The study was done at the Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto, where researchers looked at 213,500 people aged 70 or over. Patients in the study received at least one prescription for levothyroxine (the synthetic hormone) between 2002 and 2007. Results showed a significantly increased risk of fracture in people who were either taking or had recently taken levothyroxine.

As people grow older, there is a greater likelihood of diminished levels of thyroid hormones, with possibly as many as 20% of older people receiving treatment for hypothyroidism. But as doctors treat the disease by administering hormones, one of the possible side effects is a decrease in bone density. In some cases, bone density may reach the point that broken bones become more likely.

A researcher from the British Medical Journal study said that the condition needs more study, as not enough is known about the link between thyroid hormone and bone density in the elderly. A study published in 2010 on the link in elderly men did not find a decrease in bone density, but a study the same year in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism did find such a link in postmenopausal women. A 2010 review article looking at drug-induced osteoporosis also noted high doses of thyroxine as a possible cause of low bone density in postmenopausal women.

Patients who are receiving hormone therapy should have hormone levels checked regularly, to see that levels do not grow too high, or for that matter too low. Some patients may not wish to take hormones acquired from animals, but the synthetic form of the hormone, levothyroxine, like any artificial drug, has the potential for side effects.

If you are taking a thyroid supplement then discuss with your doctor as to whether you would benefit from taking a different form.

Why Dental Checks In Menopause Are Vital

May 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Health, Womens Health

When I was a girl, it was not unusual to see women in their 50s and above with false teeth — and if you want to avoid that fate then you need to take preventive action now.

There’s a lot of attention paid now to the whiteness of our teeth and how brilliant our smile is and frankly false teeth are not something anyone willingly seeks out. The expertise and technology of dentistry has improved hugely so that a full set of false teeth is less common than it used to be but there is a new warning for women who want to retain their own teeth throughout their life.

According to a new study from the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine and the Cleveland Clinic it appears that brushing, flossing and two checkups a year may not be enough to prevent tooth loss in postmenopausal women. The researchers found that two groups of postmenopausal had abnormally high levels of dental plaque, a film of bacteria, bacterial waste and food particles that sticks to teeth.

All of these women had carried out the standard advice on taking care of their teeth: brushing twice a day, flossing and having two dental checkups a year. In fact, in my experience, that is more than the average woman undertakes but it seems that even all of that was not sufficient to keep plaque in check.

Because plaque sticks to be teeth, it sets in motion the conditions that cause gum disease. This in turn is a process that can erode the sockets that anchor teeth and lead to tooth loss. There are some sensible precautions that you can take to avoid losing your teeth at or after the menopause, the first is never to finish any meal with a sweet or sugary substance without cleaning your teeth immediately afterwards.

The recommendation is that you actually increase your checkups to at least four a year and to make sure that they include deep periodontal cleaning to control plaque. Then you can happily smile your way through the menopause.

Natural Progesterone Helps Baby Blues and Reduces Risk of Premature Births by Half

May 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Womens Health

I was looking at a piece in the newspaper last week on some new research on women with post natal depression. There is a link between low levels of oxytocin during pregnancy and decreased ability to bond well with the baby and that has been shown as a factor in the ‘baby blues’. However, the suggestion that women who are likely to be more prone to this should be given oxytocin during their pregnancy as a ‘preventive’ doesn’t make much sense to me. If a woman is overdue then hospitals give oxytocin to start labour so that might give a women pause for thought over taking it during a pregnancy don’t you think? The risk of starting labour prematurely is a real one, and there is no need to take such action when there are alternatives available.

Previous research has confirmed that giving the hormone natural progesterone given during pregnancy, and afterwards, can help control post natal depression and also prevent miscarriage in the first trimester. If you know someone who is concerned about this then there are two excellent articles on dealing with post natal depression by Dr Tony Coope at

Premature Birth Risk Reduced by Half:
A new study published in the journal Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology has found that natural progesterone given to certain groups of pregnant women effectively reduced premature birth rates by 50 percent. Doctors working with natural hormones have for many years recommended natural progesterone to help women both before and during pregnancy and now this new study has identified pregnant women with a condition known as short cervix as being specifically lacking in progesterone.

Progesterone is an essential hormone released by the corpus luteum that stimulates the uterus to prepare for pregnancy, and provides optimum conditions in the body that are necessary for the furtherance of the pregnancy and the development of healthy babies.

For the study, Dr. Sonia S. Hassan and her team from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) assigned 458 pregnant women to either receive a once-daily dose of vaginal progesterone, or a once-daily dose of a placebo gel, during their second and third trimesters. While 16 percent of those in the placebo group gave birth before the 33rd week of pregnancy, only 8.9 percent in the progesterone group gave birth early.

Besides reducing the overall rate of preterm births, the progesterone also demonstrably reduced the rate of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), a breathing disorder linked to early births. Not only did the women themselves experience less cases of RDS as a result of taking progesterone, but so did their children. Infants whose mothers did not receive progesterone during their pregnancies were nearly three times more likely to develop RDS than children from mothers who took the hormone.

Dr. Roberto Romero, chief of the Perinatology Research Branch of NIH, said “The study … offers hope to women, families and children. Worldwide, more than 12 million premature babies — 500,000 of them in this country — are born each year, and the results are often tragic. Our clinical study clearly shows that it is possible to identify women at risk and reduce the rate of preterm delivery by nearly half, simply by treating women who have a short cervix with a natural hormone — progesterone.”

Although this study was done using progesterone gel, progesterone cream is a highly effective and rapid delivery method, as well as being cost effective, and I would like to see another study done using it.

Bump & Grind – A Survival Guide for Those Trying To Get Pregnant

May 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Health, Womens Health

You may wonder why my headline refers to “those trying to get pregnant” instead of just saying women but what is often forgotten is that the whole process involves two people and the other half is under just as much stress and strain as the potential mother. One of the quotes from a satisfied reader, Danielle, tells how her husband could not put the book down and admitted that he laughed a lot but that was only because he found it was so true.

After 18 months of trying to get pregnant without success, New Zealand lifestyle reporter and columnist Genevieve Morton was told over and over to ‘just relax!’ But she couldn’t and not being a woman who lives up easily she scoured fertility books hoping one would make her feel better about herself. Unfortunately, Instead they made her feel worse but fortunately for other pregnant women like her she decided to write her own book .

Bump & Grind is an honest and amusing A-Z survival guide for every woman trying to conceive and wondering if her sex life will ever be the same again. One of my favourite sections of the book is the “Everyone says” chapter where every cliche you’ve ever heard is trotted out from getting a puppy to just relaxing and having watched a friend going through the agony of trying to conceive for many years I have always been impressed she didn’t just hit people over the head when they trotted one of these perennials out.

The book is very simple in style, easy to read and filled with valuable advice on how to avoid nagging your partner to death (sound and wonderfully funny) and all the other vital topics such as what fertility-friendly foods to eat, how to cope with disappointments, when to dodge annoying questions from well-intentioned relatives and, of course, most important of all how to get pregnant.

There are plenty of quotes from women who have gone through or are in this process so there is a sense of community and that no woman has to be alone with it.

This is a fun and honest guide to coping with everyday life while trying to conceive and will help any woman coping with unexplained infertility and wondering if her sex life will ever be the same. Published by White Ladder Press you will find Bump & Grind on Amazon.

Increased Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence With Common Drugs

High blood pressure is increasingly common with more and more people on lifelong medication to control it. However, we need to remember that the human body doesn’t exist in separate, unconnected parts and that if you take a drug directed at one particular organ or problem, it doesn’t mean that medication will only zero in on one symptom or function.

It can, and often will, impact other processes, cells and organs or even the immune system and a disturbing example of this is the connection that has just been made between widely prescribed drugs commonly used to control high blood pressure and heart failure in women and breast cancer.

According to a new study by researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, ACE inhibitors and beta blockers (the most frequently prescribed drugs for high blood pressure and heart problems) appear to be linked with an increased risk of recurrence in women who have had breast cancer. Dr. Patricia Ganz, author of the study, used data from the Life After Cancer Epidemiology (LACE) study, which included patients diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, as the basis for the research. Her findings have led her to conclude that a much larger clinical database study is needed as she was both concerned and surprised at the negative effect of the ACE inhibitors on chances for breast cancer recurrence.

For me this confirms the belief that medicine needs to be dealing with the whole picture and not just looking at isolated conditions or symptoms. Many women will certainly need to be taking medication for high blood pressure if they have not managed to control it by other more natural means like diet and exercise but drugs never act in isolation.

Many years ago I was involved with the writing of a book called The Medicine Chest which looked at the interaction between prescription drugs, food and supplements and it was quite startling to me to realise the impact that so many drugs have well outside their original sphere of influence.

No woman who has experienced breast cancer ever wants to repeat the experience and therefore this research is a timely reminder that by taking care of your own health and asking questions about every medication you are prescribed you will improve your own chances for well-being and longevity.

A good doctor will always answer your questions about what contra indications come with the drug and if they do not — and you cannot change your doctor — then I’ve always found pharmacists to be extremely helpful and the Internet is always a backup research tool.

If you have had breast cancer and are taking medication for either heart problems or high blood pressure then please discuss this with your doctor, particularly if you are under any degree of stress. A study carried out in September 2010 concluded that chronic stress works as a “fertilizer” to feed breast cancer progression through inflammatory signaling, significantly spiking the spread of disease.

We know that inflammation appears to play an important role in breast cancer and different classes of drugs may influence different pathways of inflammation is so as well as adopting a healthier lifestyle dealing with stress is also a high priority.

What the Newspapers Don’t Tell You About Breast Cancer

March 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Health, Womens Health

I generally avoid items in the mainstream press, as they get a lot of coverage, but some things need an alternative response and the item that ran last Monday in the Daily Mail is certainly one of them.

It suggests that women at risk of breast cancer could be given daily dose of pills to ward off disease, and that recommendation comes from an expert review published in the journal Lancet Oncology. That recommends all women with a greater than 4 per cent above average risk of developing breast cancer in the next ten years should be offered preventative drugs and closer monitoring. At present there are 44,000 new cases of breast cancer every year but this new initiative would equate to one in ten women being offered drug treatment and could double the number of women over-50s advised to take preventative action. In reality this means the drug Tamoxifen which is already linked to serious health risks.

Of course any women at serious risk needs to take every precaution, but this new trend of ‘preventive’ health care which has also seen women prescribed HRT as a ‘preventive’ for symptoms of menopause is not one I can endorse. This sounds perilously like the policy that has seen the widespread prescription of statins to people who may be at risk of heart problems, but are certainly at risk of the side effects of being on a continuous drug regime for a condition they may not have.

Women with higher than average odds of breast tumours already have access to regular checks and some are given drugs to cut their chances of contracting the disease and in extreme cases are offer both mastectomies and hysterectomies. But these are extreme cases, and Tamoxifen in trials has shown that it may reduce the risk of the most common kind of breast cancer by around a third in women of the highest vulnerability. These women know the price they will pay for having breast cancer and that treatment may be appropriate for them but to extend out to less vulnerable women a drug that has raised doubts in many is not a good idea in my view

The known, serious side effects of tamoxifen are blood clots, strokes, uterine cancer, and cataracts and less serious side effects are similar to the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and vaginal discharge. Tamoxifen is licensed in the U.S., but is not widely used, mainly due to concern about potential side-effects, and an inability to predict cancer risk accurately.

A more natural approach includes using natural hormones such as progesterone which counteracts and balances oestrogens potentially carcinogenic effect, going on an anti-cancer diet, having a healthy weight and taking more exercise. Tony Coope, a doctor who works with natural hormones in his practice had this comment to make:

“There are several problems with this approach, part of a trend in medicine that I think is very counter-productive. Firstly, there is the focus on intervening at this level with drugs which have known and serious side effects, when there are bio-identical alternatives that perform this function more efficiently, at lower cost, and without harmful side effects.

Secondly, it distracts us from exploring the root cause of the problem, which is at the level of the Unconscious, the storehouse of beliefs and attitudes that create our perception of the world we live in, and drive the mutations and expression of our genes.

As Dr Vincent Felitti of San Diego has commented, a person unfamiliar with fire would be initially tempted to treat the smoke, – the most visible aspect of the problem. Fortunately for us our fire departments have learned to distinguish cause and effect long ago; if they hadn’t, they would be using fans instead of water hoses.

Unfortunately in modern medicine it seems that we are still often investing in fans.”

If you wish to read articles by Dr Coope and others who work in the field of natural hormones then please visit my women’s health website at

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