Another natural stage in life is the onset of menopause. In Britain, half a million women go through menopause every year. About a third of these suffer from exceedingly uncomfortable symptoms, including night sweats and hot flashes. Menopause and childbirth are the highest contributory factors to the advancement of osteoporosis, which is why it's important to include plenty of calcium and iron in your diet in the form of dairy products (alternatively fortified soy milk and soy products such as tofu), green leafy vegetables, fish, and dried fruits.
Once they reach fifty, many women believe their productive lives to be over. When they look in the mirror they see a body they think is either too fat or too scrawny, skin that has lost its luster, and dull or graying hair. But there are plenty of things you can do to combat this. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) -- or Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT) -- is a controversial subject, but I believe it to be the greatest gift to older women, as significant in its way as the contraceptive pill is to those of childbearing age. Taken in the correct dosage HRT can help bypass many of the problems of menopause. It can help you retain your zest for life and radically slow down the aging process and help in the battle against osteoporosis. It can also improve your sex life (see page 165).
In my opinion, HRT is the miracle drug. Although many doctors still pooh-pooh or condemn it completely, it can prevent brittle bones, increase energy levels, improve memory and concentration levels, and make dull skin glow again. As I have experienced myself, HRT can keep your bones as strong as they ever were. When I was performing in a play recently I had two bad falls backstage. Once, while running down some steps, I slipped and fell, taking my entire body weight on both knees. The other time I managed to fall up the steps, landing hard on my wrists and elbows. Because I have strong bones, I suffered nothing more serious than minor bruising and slight discomfort. However, the incidence of brittle bone disease in older women is truly terrifying. For some, a simple fall can mean several bones, particularly wrists and hips, are broken and they may never heal properly again. Other HRT supporters in the public eye include the Iron Lady herself, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, actress Cheryl Ladd and supermodel Lauren Hutton.
Among the other great benefits of HRT is that it replaces vitality and provides a renewed zest for life that the menopause can take away. Many women in their sixties and seventies on HRT have begun lucrative second careers, written their first novel, taken up painting, given talks to women's groups, and even learned to fly.
However, if HRT doesn't agree with you -- which unfortunately, is the case for some women -- there are other ways to prevent osteoporosis and to help with some of the less welcome effects of menopause. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D or a supplement, and regular weight-bearing exercise, like walking or dancing, will help to keep bones healthy. Many women swear by red clover, and linseed oil and vitamin E are both good for dry skin: all are available as supplements.