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Can Weight Loss Cool Hot Flashes?

Women Who Lost Weight on Low-Fat Diet Had Fewer or No Hot Flashes, Researchers Find
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

senior woman with relaxed face

July 11, 2012 -- Losing excess weight by eating a low-fat diet filled with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains appears to help reduce or eliminate menopausal symptoms, according to new research.

"Women who lost weight on a low-fat diet reduced hot flashes and night sweats," says researcher Bette J. Caan, DrPH, senior research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

Even some women who followed the diet and didn't lose weight reported fewer menopausal symptoms, Caan tells WebMD, although she says that could be a chance finding.

"The biggest reduction in symptoms was in women who lost weight and were on the diet," she says.

The study is published in the journal Menopause.

Weight Loss & Hot Flash Relief

About 80% of women report hot flashes and night sweats as they progress through menopause, according to Caan. Up to half of them have moderate or severe symptoms. The others have mild symptoms.

The flashes and sweats are thought to result from dilation of the blood vessels close to the skin.

In other research, experts have found that women with a larger body size, including either a higher body mass index (BMI) or a higher percent of body fat, have more frequent or more severe menopausal symptoms.

For the new study, Caan and her team evaluated women who had taken part in the Women's Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial. That study included nearly 49,000 women, with 40% following a low-fat diet and the others serving as a comparison group.

The study was designed to look at the effect of a low-fat diet on heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, and fractures in postmenopausal women.

In all, Caan and her team focused on more than 17,000 women who had participated in the trial. At the start of the study, they were ages 50 to 79. None were on hormone therapy.

Those in the low-fat-diet group ate just 20% of their calories from fat, had five servings of fruits and vegetables, and had six servings of whole grains daily.

All the women reported on their menopausal symptoms, including how often they occurred and how severe they were.

The researchers classified the symptoms as:

  • Mild, not affecting usual activities
  • Moderate, affecting usual activities somewhat
  • Severe, affecting activities so that they could not be done

Low-Fat Diet, Hot Flash Relief Findings

In all, 26% of the women had hot flashes at the beginning of the study, with most reporting mild ones. Twenty-seven percent had night sweats, most of them mild.

After a year, those who followed a low-fat diet were three times more likely to lose weight -- defined as 5 pounds or more -- than those who did not lose weight.

The comparison group was more than two times as likely to gain weight as those following the low-fat diet.

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