The Young Woman's Guide to Avoiding HRT; Get Your Diet and Lifestyle Right in Your Twenties and Thirties and You May Save Yourself from the Ravages of the Menopause

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Byline: PETA BEE

ONE in three women over 50 takes hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to control the symptoms of the menopause and guard against osteoporosis.

But last week a damning report revealed that women who take it run a greater risk of contracting cancer. It is the latest in a long line of scares linked to the treatment that has also been shown to raise the risk of strokes and Alzheimer's disease.

But what, if any, are the alternatives? Can women in their twenties and thirties plan ahead to prepare their bodies for the change of life without resorting to hormone medication? Here we list the lifestyle changes you can make now that just might help you to avoid HRT later ... Exercise is vital Regular exercise protects the cardiovascular system, helps to prevent the muscle degeneration that occurs with age and offsets the stress that often accompanies menopausal symptoms.

Many women also experience weight gain during the menopause, but a study at the University of Pittsburg involving more than 500 cases, found that those who don't exercise are twice as likely to gain an average of 5.2lb four years later. Those who jogged or walked didn't gain a thing.

Weight-bearing exercise, such as running and walking, protects bones against osteoporosis. Dr Joan Bassey of the University of Nottingham Medical School says: "The effect is achieved by increasing the number of muscle fibres that pull and tug on the bones they are attached to, causing them to become denser and heavier."

Soya - so good for you Eating a soya-based diet is known to lower the risk of breast cancer. Women should get into the habit of eating soya-rich foods as early as they can. "Soya contains isoflavones, which have an oestrogen-like action in the body and can provide a hormone boost after the menopause," says Dr Sarah Brewer, author of Menopause (Thorsons, [pounds sterling]5.99).

"In Japan where soy is a dietary staple, fewer than 25 per cent of menopausal women get hot flushes, compared with 85 per cent of American women.

Tofu, the curd made from soya beans, is one of the richest sources of isoflavones.

"You need between 2.25mg and 50mg of isoflavones a day," says Brewer.

Herbal alternatives

Women who are unable or unwilling to take HRT have found solace in herbal remedies. Dr Brewer suggests the herb black cohosh, which has been prescribed in Germany for years. "Several studies have shown that it is at least as effective as HRT in relieving hot flushes, vaginal thinning and dryness. And it outperformed HRT in relieving mood and anxiety."

She adds: "It doesn't protect against heart disease and osteoporosis, but it doesn't stimulate oestrogen-sensitive tumours, and so may be used in women with a history of breast cancer."

Red Clover, another herbal remedy, is also popular. …