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”.
<a href="http://skincarebyroxy.blogspot.com/2010/08/menopause-and-treatment.html">"Exercise is absolutely critical,"</a> 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 <a href="http://body.aol.com/fitness/yoga" target="_hplink">yoga</a>.
"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 href="http://body.aol.com/alternative-medicine/flaxseed" target="_hplink">A.D.A.M.</a>, 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 href="http://body.aol.com/alternative-medicine/black-cohosh" target="_hplink">A.D.A.M.</a> 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 <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/treating-menopausal-symptoms/herbal-products" target="_hplink">Harvard Medical School</a>.
This over-the-counter cure uses progesterone or progesterone-like compounds as the active ingredient. "Natural progesterone is a hormone and it works," says <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/specialist/marcie-richardson/index.aspx">Dr. Marcie Richardson,</a> 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 <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/treating-menopausal-symptoms/over-the-counter-products" target="_hplink">Harvard Medical School</a>. However, because of variation among products and the individual nature of skin's responsiveness, this method is not recommended by the <a href="http://www.menopause.org/" target="_hplink">North American Menopause Society</a>, says Harvard. There's no safety data on this hormone, Dr. Richardson cautions. Learn more about the risks and benefits <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/treating-menopausal-symptoms/over-the-counter-products" target="_hplink">here</a>.
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 <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/treating-menopausal-symptoms/herbal-products" target="_hplink">Harvard Medical School</a>, 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 <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/treating-menopausal-symptoms/herbal-products" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish isn't just delicious; it contains a valuable ingredient that may help stabilize your mood swings too -- <a href="http://body.aol.com/alternative-medicine/omega-3-fatty-acids" target="_hplink">omega-3 fatty acids</a>. There have been some good studies to attest that omega-3 can help improve mood, says <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/specialist/marcie-richardson/index.aspx">Dr. Marcie Richardson.</a> There's also growing research that omega-3 fatty acids help fight <a href="http://body.aol.com/condition-center/heart-disease" target="_hplink">heart disease</a>. 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 <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/specialist/marcie-richardson/index.aspx">Dr. Marcie Richardson.</a> According to <a href="http://body.aol.com/alternative-medicine/acupuncture" target="_hplink">A.D.A.M.</a>, "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. <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/specialist/marcie-richardson/index.aspx">Marcie Richardson.</a> Along with reducing hot flashes vitamin E may carry with it extra benefits, such as fending off <a href="http://body.aol.com/conditions/age-related-macular-degeneration/topic-overview" target="_hplink">macular degeneration</a>, lowering blood pressure, and slowing the aging of cells and tissues according to <a href="http://body.aol.com/alternative-medicine/vitamin-e" target="_hplink">A.D.A.M</a>.
Cutting Down On Alcohol
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 <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/specialist/marcie-richardson/index.aspx">Dr. Marcie Richardson.</a> According to <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/menopause-and-healthy-living/alcohol" target="_hplink">Harvard Medical School</a>, 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<a href="http://body.aol.com/condition-center/breast-cancer" target="_hplink"> breast cancer</a> and <a href="http://body.aol.com/condition-center/stroke" target="_hplink">stroke</a>.
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."
Also on HuffPost:
"Medications that are prescribed for stroke issues and heart issues can have devastating effects on sexual functioning," explains Dr. Janice Epp of the Institute of Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. In addition, researchers have found that a family of <a href="http://www.springerlink.com/content/0483x4276q80417q/" target="_hplink">antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) can take the winds right out of your sails</a>. These drugs include brand names such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil.
Fix: Talk To Your Doctor
Don't be shy -- talk to your doctor about how your prescriptions are affecting your sex drive. "There are a whole lot of new drugs that don't necessarily have those side effects, but it takes a lot of experimenting," says Dr. Epp. "Sometimes it takes three to four different tries to find the one that's best for you."
Culprit: Pain Or Discomfort
"People of both sexes can develop pain disorders as they get older, and that can have a big effect on sexuality," notes Patty Brisben, founder and chairwoman of Pure Romance, a company that specializes in selling sex toys and providing information on women's sexual health issues.
Fix: Mix It Up
Brisben suggests re-evaluating your definition of sex. "Being intimate does not necessarily mean having sex in the traditional sense," she says. Some solutions sensual touching and massages and mutual masturbation. Dr. Epp suggests looking into new positions. "Sit on a chair, try being in different positions," she says. "Side by side actually puts the least amount of stress on your joints."
Culprit: Lack Of Sleep
The <a href="http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need" target="_hplink">National Sleep Foundation</a> recommends getting seven to eight hours of shut eye a night. But with the stress of work, kids, bills and, oh yeah, your marriage, who can think about fitting in time to have sex, much less sleep?
Fix: Plan Sex Dates
For some couples the days of random romps may be behind them, and that's alright, says Dr. Epp. "Plan some sex dates around times that you know you feel more energetic -- it lets you look forward to it," she says. "Some people say, 'Sex should be spontaneous!' to which I say bullsh*t," she says, laughing. "You plan other things in your life and you don't complain about it. You can do the same with sex."
Waning libido and vaginal dryness are two unpleasant side effects of menopause. With increased longevity, "women can now expect to spend a third of their lives in post-menopausal years," Brisben said. "So understanding how you're being affected by those changing hormones is essential."
Fix: Creams And Lubricants
A dip in estrogen may lead to thinning vaginal walls and itchiness in the area. According to the Mayo Clinic, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vaginal-dryness/DS00550/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs" target="_hplink">treatments can include </a>vaginal estrogen creams such as Estrace and Premarin; a flexible estrogen ring that is inserted; or estrogen pills, patches or gels.
Culprit: Avoiding Frank Conversations About Sex
"I think if you're just now embracing this subject at or around age 50, you've got some catching up to do!" Brisben tells <em>Huff/Post50</em>. But it's never too late to start having a frank and honest conversation with your partner about what you want in bed.
Fixes: Accessories, Letters, Books, Therapy
"I recommend having these conversations out of the bedroom and when you have some alone time," Brisben says. "Be open, be receptive and be ready to listen." Don't be afraid to bring some playfulness to the discussion. "Shop online for intimacy products together," Brisben suggests. Or write your partner a letter: "Tell them what you'd like to introduce into your intimate relationship." Another tact: Read sexy books together and share what interests you and what doesn't. "If you find these conversations are still hard to have ... a sex therapist or counselor is trained to help," Brisben adds.
Culprit: Not Addressing Problems Down There
It's the one part of aging and sexuality that gets the most attention: erectile dysfunction, which is <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/erectile-dysfunction/DS00162/DSECTION=causes" target="_hplink">often rooted in some larger physical problem, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity</a>, according to the Mayo Clinic. Medications and drug and alcohol use can also play a role.
Fix: Prescriptions, Pumps And More
Ubiquitous ads promote the popular little blue pill to cure impotence, but there are <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/erectile-dysfunction/DS00162/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs" target="_hplink">other treatments as well, including vacuum pumps, implants and surgery</a>, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Culprit: Thinking You Have To Be 'In The Mood'
According to the movies or steamy prime time television shows, passion goes from 0 to 69 with a mere glance, a bitten lip or a bad pun. But "as we age, our bodies slow down and we have less energy," Dr. Epp tells <em>Huff/Post50</em>. "That's naturally occurring, but it can have an affect on our sexuality."
Fix: Learn The Difference Between Arousal And Desire
Rethink the connection between arousal and desire. Tell your partner if you need more than the <a href="http://www.womansday.com/sex-relationships/sex-tips/sex-by-the-numbers-103274" target="_hplink">average 20 minutes spent on foreplay</a>.