A U.S. task force is once again recommending postmenopausal women avoid hormone replacement therapy (HRT) -- roughly a decade after its original findings suggested HRT posed significant health risks, including stroke and breast cancer. Monday’s announcement in the Annals of Internal Medicine follows a recent report in the British Medical Journal suggesting HRT offers certain health benefits.

The use of HRT to prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease, dementia and osteoporosis dropped sharply a decade ago, following the results of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study. Since that time, the task force analyzed 51 reports from nine different trials published between January 2002 and November 2011. The panel confirmed its earlier findings, noting that the risks of the therapies outweigh benefits. Estrogen plus progestin and estrogen alone moderately reduced the risk for bone fractures but increased the risk for stroke, thromboembolic events (deep vein blood clots), gallbladder disease and urinary incontinence. Estrogen plus progestin increased the risk for breast cancer and dementia, while estrogen alone decreased the risk for breast cancer.

The recommendations apply to average-risk women who have undergone menopause, and not to the use of hormone therapy to treat symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes.

The report conflicts with a recent study in the British Medical Journal, which suggest that age may play a role in the effects of HRT. In their study of more than 1,000 Danish women who had recently entered menopause, researchers found that women treated with long-term HRT early after menopause "had significantly reduced risk of mortality, heart failure, or myocardial infarction [heart attack], without any apparent increase of cancer, venous thromboembolisms [DVT] or stroke." However, they stress that "due to the potential time lag longer time may be necessary to take more definite conclusions."

In its statement Monday, the U.S. task force noted that its findings are based on trials enrolling older women who were years past menopause, and more research is needed involving women who are transitioning through menopause or who are immediately postmenopausal.

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  • Exercise

    <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

    "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.

  • Black Cohosh

    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>.

  • Natural Progesterone

    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

    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.

  • Acupuncture

    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.

  • Vitamin E

    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>.

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