Magazine addresses major causes of bloating

Hormones aren't the only things that make your belly blow up like a balloon. Good Housekeeping's July issue uncovers major causes of bloating that can't be blamed on menstruation.

Stress, crash dieting, and even certain medications can disturb the digestive tract. Major reasons for bloating include:

· Hormone havoc. A rise in estrogen and progesterone during the last two weeks of the menstrual cycle triggers a buildup of water in the lower abdomen, explained Robert Barbieri, MD, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. These hormones also disrupt the regular movement of the digestive tract.

The article advises women to exercise for 30 minutes a day at least three times during the week before menstruation. Sleep disruption may elevate levels of stress hormones, which, in turn, can cause more water to accumulate in the body. Another tactic: Lay off salt during the week before the period, since it can cause water retention. Leslie Hartley Gise, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, suggests over-the-counter premenstrual syndrome medications, which contain mild diuretics that draw excess water out of the body.

· Dieting don'ts. In a 1996 study, more than 45% of women who said they routinely went on strict diets and had irregular eating habits suffered from frequent bloating. How much food you eat helps set the pace of the digestive tract, notes study head Dean Krahn, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine in Fargo. When the body is deprived of food, the movement of the digestive tract slows drastically because of a lack of stimulation.

Dieters should aim to lose the pounds gradually by cutting back only 250 to 500 calories a day.

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Doctors have a new approach to treating migraines: a holistic program that includes medications, stress relief, and natural remedies, reports the August issue of McCall's.

Excedrin Migraine, also marketed as Excedrin Extra Strength, is the first over-the-counter remedy proved to bring relief. Prescription drugs may ease the pain more quickly. Imitrex and dihydroergotamine - once sold only as injectable drugs - just became available as nasal sprays. But an estimated 20% aren't helped by prescription drugs.

Alternative treatments can often ease the pain of people not helped by drugs alone and even more importantly, help prevent migraine attacks from occurring. Any woman can benefit from adding stress-reducing techniques to her regimen, the article says.

Natural headache healers, which are available in health food stores and drugstores, include riboflavin (vitamin B2) and magnesium. Women should consult their doctors before taking them. Stress-reducing techniques such as biofeedback, exercise, guided imagery, yoga, and meditation, may also help prevent attacks.

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Certain habits may make women more vulnerable to ovarian cancer, according to Redbook's July issue.

A 1997 study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that women who dusted their genital area with any of a variety of powders - especially such beauty aids as talcum and bath/body powders - had a 60% higher risk of ovarian cancer. Feminine deodorant sprays may be even more dangerous - nearly doubling women's risk according to the study. Some experts think these products can send potentially cancer-causing substances through the uterus and fallopian tubes to the ovary.

When taken for five years, oral contraceptives cut chances for developing ovarian cancer in half in the near term and possibly for a lifetime, reported Carmel J. Cohen, MD, director of gynecologic oncology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Having one or two children reduces chances of developing ovarian cancer by 30%, the article says. Likewise, breast-feeding can be beneficial because it causes a drop in estrogen levels, which block ovulation. Tubal ligation decreases the risk of ovarian cancer by 70%. Oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) cuts the risk by 75 to 90%. n