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.
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.