This week I’m playing hooky from the office to attend The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Annual National Conference. There, the foremost experts in midlife health present the latest research and share information with more than 1,500 healthcare professionals and researchers from around the world. NAMS is recognized as the preeminent resource on all aspects of menopause for both healthcare providers and the public. And, I’m a big fan of anyone that’s focusing on the woman over 50. The overall message of day 1 was prevention.
Here’s an overview of Thursday’s events:
The morning started with a symposium on breast cancer by Dr. Laura Esserman, a researcher from the University of California, who discussed the complexities and controversies of mammography. She emphasized that the best way to decrease breast cancer is to focus on assessing and reducing risk. So having a mammogram every 2 years actually does make sense for women between the ages of 50 and 75 who are at low risk for breast cancer. Plus, women should be aware of the benefit of medications such as tamoxifene and raloxifene.
The afternoon lectures focused on osteoporosis. Of the 40% of women who have a fracture as a result of low bone density, two thirds occur after age 75. The message? The best way to avoid a life altering or life threatening fracture in your 80s is by making sure you are doing everything right in your 50s. This includes eating right, not smoking, taking adequate calcium and vitamin D and maintaining an active lifestyle.
An entire session was spent discussing the importance of determining osteoporosis risk using more than just your bone density results, but by calculating your FRAX score - a computer generated number based on risk factors such as smoking, age, and bone density.
It was also reassuring to hear the most recent information on bisphosphanate safety. Many women stop taking the drug at the 5 year mark to avoid what is know as “rotting jaw.” But the risk of osteonecrosis of the jaw is only 0.007%. And data shows that for women with severe osteoporosis it’s best not to take a “drug holiday.” Think about it: 40% of women are destined to have a serious fracture that could be prevented by medication, yet many women stop their medication because they’re concerned about a complication that occurs less frequently than being struck by lightening.
The afternoon concluded with an update on the causes and consequences of sleep disturbances in menopausal women. Any 50-year-old who has written an e-mail at 3 a.m. when unable to sleep and had all of her 50-year-old friends immediately respond will not be shocked to hear that 95% of menopausal women suffer from sleep difficulties. Dr. John Winkelman from Harvard revealed that most insomnia is not hormonal. Instead, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea and midlife depression all contribute to nightly tossing and turning. Even when insomnia is hormonal, it’s a myth that hot flashes are always the cause. In fact, sleep studies show that a hot flash precedes waking up only 50% of the time.
Restless Leg Syndrome is a treatable problem that affects 1 in 5 women with insomnia, occurs twice as often in women and increases with age. RLS is also associated with an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease. The most important risk factors are family history and iron deficiency.
And finally, Dr. Jennifer Blake from Toronto emphasized that the greatest predictor of longevity is not genetics, but your current health status. Studies confirm that aging is significantly delayed in healthy non-smokers of normal weight who exercise regularly. According to Dr. Blake, in healthy women, 60 is the new 40!
Check back tomorrow for the latest research presented at NAMS on hormones and sex!
For more, check out the NAMS website, which is always scientific, up to date and totally free of commercial bias.