Which Menopause Products Are Worth Buying?

More women experience menopause today than at any time in the nation's history, and there are an increasing numbers of products aimed at helping relieve the symptoms, from clothing to herbal supplements.

Most women experience menopause, the absence of menstruation for one year, in their late 40s or early 50s, but some start having menopausal symptoms earlier. Peri-menopause is used to describe the time period prior to menopause, which is on average, four to seven years.

The Good Housekeeping Institute tested and evaluated a variety of products aimed at menopausal women.

Sleepwear for Menopausal Women

The Good Housekeeping Institute tested two brands of sleepwear to help women who have night sweats, in which their clothing becomes soaked during the night, leading to shivering and difficulty sleeping, since women must get up to change clothes. Sleepwear styles range from nightgowns to shortie sets for summer. The clothes are made from the same lightweight polyester fabrics used in active wear, which are known for their ability to wick away moisture from the body.

The tested products, which claim to wick away moisture, are:

Sleepwear from Hot Mama: Comes in assorted bright and pastel colors. Hot Mama uses the fabric "Coolmax." Prices are $24 for separates, $50 for nightgown. (www.hotcoolwear.com)

Sleepwear from Wicking J. Sleepwear: Wicking J. uses the fabric "Intera." Prices: $62 for T-shirt/shortie sets, $54 for nightgown. ( www.wjsleepwear.com)

The institute's textiles department evaluated the wicking of the sleepwear before and after 20 washes and also evaluated pilling, shrinkage and appearance after 20 washes. An outside lab evaluated the drying time of the clothes and MVT (moisture vapor transmission), measuring the evaporative abilities of the fabric. Results: The sleepwear wicked away moisture faster and better than regular fabrics, especially cotton, though Wicking J performed better than Hot Mama. They also did well in the shrinkage and appearance-after-wash tests. Even after 20 washings, both brands dried twice as fast as cotton. Neither of the products did well in the pilling test (the test conditions simulated a year's wear or 1,000 rubs), but this is true of any polyester-based fabric.

Consumer Tests: The textiles department had seven menopausal staffers and patients of Dr. Michelle Warren (director of Tte Center for Menopause and Hormonal Disorders and Women's Health at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York) wear the clothes at night and rate them. Each tested one brand for one week.

Results: Five of the seven testers rated the sleepwear highly for their ability to keep them more comfortable during and after night sweats. All seven testers scored the sleepwear high for comfort and quality.

Menopause Supplements

Concerns about hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, have led many women in menopause to try over-the-counter menopause supplements. Most herbal remedies haven't been tested for long-term safety and efficacy. Herbal remedies are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Good Housekeeping Institute evaluated published literature on supplements such as black cohosh, soy isoflavones, evening primrose oil and kava and interviewed Dr. Laura Corio, attending physician in obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai in New York City and at New York University, and author of The Change Before The Change. The supplements claim to offer relief from hot flashes, night sweats or mood swings. Conclusion: Research shows that two supplements can lessen the side effects of menopause: black cohosh and soy isoflavones (from soybean or red clover sources). Corio suggests taking 40 milligrams of black cohosh daily for no more than six months at a time.

Women who haven't had a period for one year may find that taking soy isoflavones help reduce hot flashes. Corio suggests 50 milligrams a day. (Women who are at high risk for breast cancer or hormone-related cancers or have thyroid disease should use caution before taking soy isoflavones.)

The Good Housekeeping Institute does not recommend using kava supplements because of potential liver injury.

Here are some other findings:

1. Watch out for excessive dosages. The Good Housekeeping Institute found that one third of supplements in stores are sold in dosages exceeding Corio's recommended levels. For instance, the institute found black cohosh being sold in 1,000 milligrams and soy isoflavones available in 125 milligrams.

2. Herbal supplements can interact with other drugs, so talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. Be careful about taking supplements with mixtures of herbals. Many supplement makers have products that mix herbals, but you may not need some of the herbals in them.

3. Be skeptical of claims that seem outrageous. The institute found wording such as "guaranteed menopausal comfort." Manufacturers typically don't say how long the supplements should be taken.

At-Home Test Kits

Some women wonder if they are entering menopause if they miss a period or two. Now, there are two FDA-approved at-home tests that say they can tell you if you're entering menopause.

Menocheck ($19.97 for 2 tests) and Ru25 Plus ($24.95 plus $4.95 for shipping and handling) are urine tests that can detect an elevated FSH concentration (follicle-stimulating hormone).

FSH increases as a woman approaches menopause. FSH levels are normally under 12, but elevate during ovulation. In menopausal women, FHS levels are consistently high, 25 or higher. In peri-menopausal women, FHS levels fluctuate daily, sometimes hourly.

Menocheck is sold at Walgreens. A woman is supposed to take each of the tests in the kit one week apart. The woman checks her urine first thing in the morning to determine her FSH level.

Ru25 Plus is sold over the Internet. With this, a "positive" result is an FSH level over 25 and a "negative" result is a level lower than 25.

Good Housekeeping's Advice

In the Good Housekeeping Institute's opinion, a home test kit is not substitute for a full medical work-up, and doctors we consulted said that FSH levels could fluctuate, raising the possibility of an inaccurate test result. Although the kits may give you a correct reading, it you think you are in menopause or pre-menopause, the Good Housekeeping Institute advises you not to rely solely on a kit and see a doctor.

The makers of Ru25 Plus' FSH Menopause Test Kit disagreed with with the institute's opinion. It said the kits can detect elevated FSH levels, and that as with home pregnancy tests, the home FSH menopause tests are highly accurate (near 99.9 percent). "While it is true that follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels fluctuate in normal reproductive women, it is also true that women who are menopausal will have FSH levels that are significantly higher and will remain elevated," the statement said. "Each kit includes two tests. The first test is to check if one's FSH levels are elevated, and the second test is to determine if the FSH levels remain elevated, as is explained in our product directions."

Obstetrician/gynecologist Corio, who is a spokesperson for Menocheck, said the product, designed to detect menopause status early, has an accuracy rate of 99 percent and is approved by the FDA. Each package comes with two wand test devices, which are supposed to be used in a series.

"If both urine tests, taken a week apart, reveal positive results this woman is menopausal because there is no other time in a women's life other than menopause when FSH levels surge and remain elevated over time," Corio said in a letter to the Good Housekeeping Institute. She also said that Menocheck's packaging encourages women to check with their doctors for a formal diagnosis and to begin treatment.