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Weight loss, low-fat diet may reverse menopausal symptoms

2 August, 2012

Natural Health News — Weight loss that occurs in conjunction with a low-fat, high fruit and vegetable diet may help to reduce or eliminate hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause.

Many women experience hot flashes at some point before or after menopause, as their estrogen levels naturally decline.

“While the mechanism is not completely understood, hot flashes and night sweats are thought to be caused by a complex interaction that involves fluctuating hormone levels, the hypothalamus region of the brain that regulates body temperature, brain chemicals and receptors, and the body’s blood vessels and sweat glands,” said Candyce Kroenke, ScD, MPH, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research and lead author of the study.

Taking the heat out of menopause

To find out more about how diet could influence menopausal symptoms researchers at California Kaiser Permanents used data from the the Women’s Health Initiative study of the health and lifestyles of 17,473 women. The results were published in the journal Menopause.

According to the scientists, women on a diet low in fat and high in whole grains, fruit and vegetables, who had menopausal symptoms, who were not taking hormone replacement therapy, and who lost weight (4.5 kg/10 lbs or more or 10% or more of their baseline body weight) were more likely to reduce or eliminate hot flashes and night sweats after one year, compared to those in a control group who maintained their weight.

Although previous research has shown that high body weight and weight gain are associated with hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause, this study, say the researchers, is the among the first — and the largest-to-date – to analyse whether weight loss on a diet designed to reduce fat and increase whole grains, fruit, and vegetable intake might ameliorate symptoms.

It is also among the first to examine the influence of a dietary change on symptoms that include hot flashes and night sweats and, say the researchers, this change alone may also benefit menopausal symptoms.

Losing ‘insulation’

“Since most women tend to gain weight with age, weight loss or weight gain prevention may offer a viable strategy to help eliminate hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause,” said Bette Caan, DrPH, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research and the senior author of the study.

She explained that greater body fat provides insulation that may hinder heat loss, and hot flashes and night sweats provide a way to dissipate that heat. Weight loss, then, is a straightforward way to alleviate hot flashes.

The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification trial enrolled a diverse group of 48,835 post-menopausal women between 1993 and 1998 at 40 US clinical centres to evaluate the effects of a low-fat dietary pattern on heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and fracture in postmenopausal women.

The dietary intervention was aimed at reducing fat intake and increasing fruit, vegetable, and whole grain intake. Although weight loss was not a goal, participants assigned to the intervention group lost on average 2 kg/4.5 lbs between baseline and year one, compared to the control group.