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Health Capsules
January 2006
Treatments for Menopause Symptoms

Many women and their health care providers are considering complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) as a result of potential health problems recent studies have uncovered with prolonged hormone therapy, the course of synthetic hormones often used to treat menopausal symptoms. Hot flashes, night sweats and difficulty sleeping are among the troublesome symptoms that can accompany menopause. In March 2005, NIH gathered an independent panel of health professionals to examine the available treatment options, including CAM therapies, for these symptoms.

The panel reviewed the available research on black cohosh, red clover, dong quai, ginseng, kava, soy and DHEA. They found that there’s very little scientific evidence thus far supporting these CAM therapies and concluded that more, better-designed studies are needed to resolve whether they’re safe and effective. A number of NIH Institutes and Centers, including the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), are currently sponsoring many such studies around the country.

The panel did cite three CAM therapies for further study: exercise, paced respiration (or paced breathing, a technique of slow breathing using the stomach muscles) and education about menopause. They noted that these therapies are also relatively safe.

If you’re considering or are already using CAM—including over-the-counter supplements such as herbal formulas—talk to your health care provider to make sure the therapy is safe, particularly when combined with other medicines and therapies you might be taking.

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Definitions iconDefinitions
A molecule sent through the bloodstream to signal another part of the body to grow or react a certain way.

A harmless substitute with no effect, used to compare how well an experimental treatment works.

  Trust and Fear In the Brain  

A brain chemical recently found to boost trust reduces activity in the brain’s fear hub, the amygdala, according to a new brain imaging study at NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The finding not only provides new insight into emotion and the brain, but also suggests new approaches for treating diseases that involve social fear.

Inspired by Swiss scientists who reported last summer that a hormone called oxytocin increased trust in humans, NIMH researcher Dr. Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg and his colleagues set out to explore how this works at the level of brain circuitry. British researchers had earlier linked increased amygdala activity to decreased trust, so Meyer-Lindenberg thought that oxytocin might work by affecting the amygdala.

The researchers asked 15 healthy men to sniff oxytocin or a placebo prior to undergoing a scan that reveals brain activity. While in the scanner, the men performed tasks known to activate the amygdala—matching angry or fearful faces and threatening scenes. The threatening pictures strongly activated the amygdala during the placebo scan, but oxytocin lessened the effect. The difference was especially pronounced in response to threatening faces, suggesting a pivotal role for oxytocin in regulating social fear. Oxytocin also dampened the amygdala’s communication with areas in the upper brainstem that telegraph the fear response to other parts of the body.

This effect of oxytocin suggests possible new approaches for treating diseases thought to involve amygdala dysfunction and social fear, such as social phobia, autism and possibly schizophrenia.

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Eye Disease Simulations

Eye disease is a major public health problem in the U.S., causing significant suffering, disability, loss of productivity and diminished quality of life for millions of people. See samples of a scene as it might be seen by someone with age-related macular degeneration, a cataract, glaucoma or several other eye diseases. From NIH’s National Eye Institute.

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