Menopausal women who lose weight eating a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables could reduce or eliminate their hot flashes and night sweats, a large new study suggests. One reason the researchers looked at weight loss as a way of dealing with menopausal symptoms was because of long-standing research linking hormone-replacement therapy to heart disease and breast cancer. "We wanted to see if this could be an alternative to hormone therapy," said lead researcher Candyce Kroenke, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente's Northern California Division of Research in Oakland. "Indeed, women who lost weight in the context of this healthier diet -- decreasing fat, increasing whole grains, fruits and vegetables -- were significantly more likely to reduce or eliminate symptoms," she added. Reduced hot flashes and night sweats, the key menopausal symptoms, were seen in both overweight and normal-weight women who lost weight, Kroenke noted. And the reason for that is fairly simple, she said: Fat tends to retain heat and losing weight helps the body dissipate heat more easily.
The report, which was published July 11 in the online edition of Menopause, involved data on more than 17,000 women who took part in the Women's Health Initiative study. The women with menopausal symptoms who were on a low-fat diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, who were not taking hormone-replacement therapy and who lost at least 10 pounds in a year were more likely to see night sweats and hot flashes reduced or disappear after a year than did women who maintained their weight (the "control" group), the researchers found. Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, commented that "this definitely goes along with the idea that good diet and exercise and losing weight contribute to general health." And, she added, "It's a quick and easy fix for hot flashes and night sweats." Wu noted that doctors are still reluctant to offer hormone-replacement therapy even though it works. "This is a low-risk fix," she said. "I think it will work for some patients, and patients may only get a partial relief of their symptoms, but any help is good," Wu pointed out. "Diet and weight loss is a healthy habit that will hopefully help menopausal symptoms. There is very little downside to doing it," she added.
Another expert agreed. "Adopting a healthy diet is always a good idea," said Samantha Heller, a nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn. "Healthy foods, including vegetables, soy, whole grains, legumes, nuts and fruits, decrease the risk of many chronic diseases and can improve health and well-being considerably. In this case, along with weight loss of 10 pounds or 10 percent of body weight, women who made healthy dietary changes tended to have decreased symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats," Heller noted. "This study also highlights the positive effect of ongoing nutrition education by registered dietitians," she added. "Women in the intervention group, who were counseled by registered dietitians, were three times more likely to lose weight than women in the control group.
A big factor in unsuccessful weight loss attempts is people not knowing how or where to begin. Nutrition counseling takes the guesswork out of creating a healthy lifestyle and helps motivate and empower people to stay on track." The research was published just days after a coalition of leading medical groups concluded in a joint statement that hormone-replacement therapy can be useful and safe for many women suffering from the symptoms of menopause. The coalition includes 15 medical groups, including the North American Menopause Society, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Endocrine Society and the American Academy of Family Physicians. SOURCES: Candyce Kroenke, Sc.D., M.P.H., research scientist, Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, Oakland, Calif.; Jennifer Wu, M.D., obstetrician/gynecologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., exercise physiologist, clinical nutrition coordinator, Center for Cancer Care, Griffin Hospital, Derby, Conn.; July 11, 2010, Menopause, online