Why Japanese Women are Cooler Than You
Since menopause hit you’re one hot mama, throwing off enough thermal energy to defrost a refrigerator faster than a 1000 watt blow dryer. But if recurrent hot flashes aren’t your idea of a fulfilling midlife hobby (refrigerator maintenance aside), it may be time to convert your savings to yen and book passage to Tokyo.
Why? Because when it comes to menopause, Japanese women seem to have a clear and comfortable advantage over the rest of us: In fact, hot flashes are so rare that there isn’t even a Japanese word for them. Maybe all those years of riding crowded subways have taught Japanese women to stay cool under the most extreme circumstances – or maybe, as experts believe, it’s something in the Japanese diet.
That something is soy, which the Japanese eat lots of in the form of tofu and tempeh. Foods made from soybeans are rich in a group of natural chemical compounds called phytoestrogens, says Wulf Utian, MD, PhD, executive director of the North American Menopause Society. During digestion, phytoestrogens are converted into hormone-like substances that the body can mistake for estrogen. Getting lots of these fake estrogens means that Japanese women don’t experience the sudden drop in hormone levels that American women do, making them less prone to hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.
How much soy do you have to eat to prevent hot flashes? Not much, says Sherwood Gorbach, MD, a professor at Tufts University Medical School in Boston and a leading phytochemical researcher. The average Japanese woman eats three to four ounces of soy foods a day. Have a daily serving or two of tofu, tempeh or soy milk, combined with a healthy low-fat, high-fiber diet, and you too may be able to keep your cool, Japanese-style.
Send Hot Flashes Down the Drain
As appealing as it might sound, you can’t keep a Mr. Turtle pool in your office and take cool dips whenever a hot flash strikes. But, what you can do is start the day with a soothing soak that just might keep hot flashes at bay, says Tori Hudson, ND, a naturopathic physician in Portland, Oregon who specializes in women’s health. Hydrotherapists call this a neutral bath – a leisurely dip in tepid water, just slightly cooler than body temperature. “Some women prevent hot flashes entirely by taking a coolish bath every morning,” says Dr. Hudson. Hang out in the tub for about 20 minutes, she suggests, adding warm water as needed to maintain a constant temperature. The neutral bath has a dilating effect on blood vessels, which might help release the heat of a hot flash.
An Herbal Chill Pill
You’ve always been famous for your ability to cope with irritating coworkers, demanding family members and slow lines at the grocery store. But lately it seems as though you’ve been worn down to your last good nerve…and everyone in the world is working it. One traditional remedy for menopausal tension and anxiety is the herb black cohosh, says Varro Tyler, PhD, professor of pharmacognosy at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Research shows that women who take the herb may have less tension – and fewer hot flashes – than those who don’t. Black cohosh is available in most health food stores, says Dr. Tyler. Follow the instructions on the label.
A Moisture Infusion
In a time when tampons are advertised on the back of buses and TV commercials offer advice for “that not-so-fresh feeling,” vaginal dryness is one of the few health topics we still whisper about. Lack of lubrication is common in menopause, and it makes sex about as comfortable as pantyhose on a sultry day in August. Luckily, a daily perineal wash can smooth things out, says Agatha Thrash, MD, codirector of Uchee Pines Institute, a natural healing center in Seale, Alabama. After going to the bathroom, rinse the area around the vagina with a quart of plain water while you’re still sitting on the toilet. A squirt bottle is ideal, or use a square container and pour from one corner. Hold the container in one hand and use the other hand to open the folds a bit. If you’re prone to yeast or urinary tract infections, add one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per quart of water.
Menopausal Relief that’s Easy to Swallow
In a perfect world, men would have to wear high heels to work every Monday and there would be a pill you could take to keep menopause symptoms at bay without the side effects of hormone replacement therapy. This miracle medicine would be cheap, safe and easy to get, something you could pick up at any drugstore.
Well…one out of two ain’t bad. As it turns out, this pill may already exist. Vitamin E – an antioxidant vitamin many women already take for its other health benefits – also seems to cut down on hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and even vaginal dryness, says Susan Lark, MD, director of the PMS and Menopause Self-Help Center in Los Altos, California. “Vitamin E is really an essential part of the supplemental program for women during the menopause years,” she says. To get the desired effect, you’ll need to take a fairly high dose: about 800 International Units a day. But vitamin E is nontoxic at this level, though women with diabetes or high blood pressure should get their doctor’s okay first.