Wanted: Relief from hot flashes

A plant-based menu reduced moderate-to-intense hot flashes by a whopping 84 per cent, according to study.

Dave Yasvinski 3 minute read July 19, 2021
Woman in front of fan

The discomfort of hot flashes may be eased by a simple change of diet. GETTY

Dietary changes can have a profound effect on postmenopausal symptoms, according to a study that found a plant-based menu — combined with soybeans — reduces moderate-to-intense hot flashes by a whopping 84 per cent.

Almost 60 per cent of women who participated in the 12-week study, published in the journal Menopause, ended up completely free from these types of hot flashes, with the overall prevalence of the symptom — including mild episodes — dropping by 79 per cent.

“This is a game changer for women aged 45 and over, most of whom we now know can get prompt relief from the most severe and troubling menopause symptoms without drugs,” said Neal Barnard, lead researcher of the study, president of the Physicians Committee and adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine.

The study, referred to as the WAVS trial (Women’s Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms) explored the potential of reducing the most common symptoms of menopause, including night sweats, hot flashes and flushes, without the use of extracts, hormone medications or other drugs.

Roughly four out of five postmenopausal women experience hot flashes, a feeling of rising heat in the chest and neck that spreads outward, causing perspiration, chills and the inability to get a good night’s sleep. While estrogen-based treatments are commonly used to counter symptoms, studies have shown they raise the risk of cancer and other complications.

The study divided postmenopausal women who were experiencing at least two hot flashes per day into two groups: The intervention group received a low-fat vegan diet combined with half a cup of cooked soybeans per day while the control group adhered to their normal diet. An app was used to track the frequency and intensity of hot flashes and the Menopause Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire was used to monitor vasomotor, psychosocial, physical and sexual symptoms. Participants, who met virtually with researchers once a week, were given a digital scale to record their weight and half the group received an Instant Pot to cook their soybeans.

“Previous studies have shown that soy could be beneficial, so we decided to put a diet change to the test,” said Hana Kahleova, author of the study and director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee. “We believe that the combination is what is important. By the end of the study, the majority of women on a plant-based diet rich in soy reported that they no longer experienced moderate-to-extreme hot flashes at all and that they experienced significant improvements in their quality of life.”

The group that was given the new diet saw a 79 per cent decrease in total hot flashes with moderate-to-severe hot flashes falling by 84 per cent. By the study’s end, 59 per cent of the plant-based group were completely free of moderate or severe hot flashes — a variable that remained unchanged in the control group.

Researchers suspect the benefits of the diet are based in the isoflavones contained in soybeans. The chemical compound is metabolized by gut bacteria into equol, a nonsteroidal compound that alleviates or eliminates the prevalence and intensity of hot flashes. Vegetarian and vegan diets have also been shown to boost equol levels. The current study showed the two dietary changes in combination deliver a robust response that included improvements to sexual symptoms, energy levels and overall mood for some participants. Others experienced weight loss and improved digestion.

“This was basically a lifesaver for me,” one study participant told researchers. “I’ve got my quality of life back.”

“Before you jump to any kind of medication, I would try this route, because it’s easy,” another participant said. “Anybody can do it.”

Dave Yasvinski is a writer withHealthing.ca


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