A major review has found that while menopause does not cause weight gain, it does increase belly fat.
According to research by the International Menopause Society, the hormonal changes during menopause are associated with a change in the the way that fat is distributed, leading to more belly (abdominal) fat.
As a woman's estrogen levels drop, so her body shape will change from hour-glass to apple.
According to review leader, Professor Susan Davis of Monash University, Australia, it's a myth that the menopause causes a woman to gain weight.
Davis said: "Environmental factors and ageing which cause that. But there is no doubt that the new spare tyre many women complain of after menopause is real, and not a consequence of any changes they have made. Rather this is the body’s response to the fall in estrogen at menopause: a shift of fat storage from the hips to the waist”.
"Exercise is absolutely critical," says Susan Moores, a registered dietician. Exercise can be a powerful sleep aid, combating the sleep disturbances many women complain about. It has been shown to improve the whole gamut of menopause symptoms from hot flashes to mood swings. She says not to just focus on aerobic exercise, but also try strength training and relaxation techniques, such as yoga.
"Flaxseed falls in the same camp as soy for the phytoestrogens," says Susan Moores, a registered dietician. One study by the Mayo Clinic found the incidence of hot flashes was reduced as much as 50 percent by consuming flaxseed. It is also thought to be very promising because, along with phytoestrogens, it also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can aid in mood stabilization. According to A.D.A.M., an online health content provider, when compared to hormone replacement therapy, 40 grams of flaxseed was reported to be equally as effective in reducing hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood disturbances.
Two German studies have shown black cohosh to be effective in reducing hot flashes, according to A.D.A.M. One study in particular showed 80 percent of women saw a decrease in hot flashes while using black cohosh. However, no long-term studies have been done and there have been reports of side-effects including upset stomach and low blood pressure, caution the experts at Harvard Medical School.
This over-the-counter cure uses progesterone or progesterone-like compounds as the active ingredient. "Natural progesterone is a hormone and it works," says Dr. Marcie Richardson, obstetrician and gynecologist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. "Skin creams that contain extracts of Mexican wild yams have been widely promoted for natural menopause relief for years," says Harvard Medical School. However, because of variation among products and the individual nature of skin's responsiveness, this method is not recommended by the North American Menopause Society, says Harvard. There's no safety data on this hormone, Dr. Richardson cautions. Learn more about the risks and benefits here.
Red clover is often used to reduce vaginal dryness and decrease hot flashes. The effectiveness of red clover is thought to be due to a plant-chemical, isoflavones, which has an estrogen-like effect in the body. However, according to Harvard Medical School, research results have been disappointing. Two studies published in the journal 'Menopause' found that women fared no better with red clover than a placebo for both hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Learn more about red clover here.
Fish isn't just delicious; it contains a valuable ingredient that may help stabilize your mood swings too -- omega-3 fatty acids. There have been some good studies to attest that omega-3 can help improve mood, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. There's also growing research that omega-3 fatty acids help fight heart disease. The best way to add this key ingredient to your diet is by eating fatty fish like salmon, tuna and trout.
You wouldn't necessarily think that sticking needles in your body would be a helpful way to cure menopause symptoms, but when combined with other treatments, it can be helpful. Some controlled studies have shown some effectiveness in some woman for hot flashes, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. According to A.D.A.M., "both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan" for many illnesses, including menopausal symptoms.
There has been a study, which showed a slight effect in decreasing hot flashes for women using vitamin E, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. Along with reducing hot flashes vitamin E may carry with it extra benefits, such as fending off macular degeneration, lowering blood pressure, and slowing the aging of cells and tissues according to A.D.A.M.
Who hasn't felt the negative effects of drinking too much alcohol, such as trouble sleeping or feeling flushed? This goes double for women during menopause. The thing about alcohol is: women metabolize it worse than men and we metabolize it worse as we age, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. According to Harvard Medical School, alcohol can act as a trigger for hot flashes. And if that wasn't enough to ward you off the bottle, studies show that consuming alcohol regularly ups your risk for other conditions like breast cancer and stroke.
Other new research focused on the symptoms of menopause has found that two in five older women admit that their sex lives are suffering.
Nearly half of older women surveyed said they suffer from vaginal atrophy, which causes decreased lubrication, itching or discomfort, and 41% admitted that sex was painful because of it.
The authors of the research said there are beneficial effects of oestrogen therapy but British women are 50% less likely to receive treatment compared with their counterparts in Europe and North America.
The data, compiled from information given by 8,000 women, formed part of the Clarifying Vaginal Atrophy's Impact On Sex and Relationships (Closer) study.
"The Closer study offers the first opportunity to examine the real impact that vaginal atrophy is having on the intimate lives of post-menopausal women and their partners," said Dr Heather Currie, associate specialist gynaecologist and honorary secretary of the British Menopause Society.
"Most people have not heard of this condition, but vaginal atrophy is one of the most common symptoms of the menopause, and also the simplest to treat.
"The challenge remains that vaginal health in older women is still a taboo subject, and even doctors find it difficult to talk to their patients about it."