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Diet Changes Can Dramatically Improve Menopause Symptoms

nutrition Jul 22, 2021

A plant-based, soy-rich diet can reduce hot flashes by 84 percent, a study shows.

By Selene Yeager

When it comes to symptoms, the average duration of menopause-related hot flashes and night sweats is lowest for Japanese American women at 4.8 years. Chinese American women can expect symptoms to last 5.4 years. According to research, both are quite a bit shorter than the average symptom duration of nearly 7 ½ years. Diet may be a major reason why, as a new study shows that adherence to an Asian style diet can dramatically reduce menopause symptoms. 

The research published in the journal Menopause, found a plant-based diet rich in soy reduces moderate-to-severe hot flashes by 84 percent, from nearly five per day to fewer than one per day. 

The WAVS trial study--the Women's Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms- was 100 percent diet-based. The women were not using hormones or isoflavone (plant estrogens from soy) extracts. 

To test the impact of dietary changes, the researchers recruited 38 postmenopausal women who reported having two or more hot flashes a day and had half of them eat their usual diet while the other half switched over to a low-fat, vegan diet that included ½ cup of cooked soybeans daily. Both groups were limited to one alcoholic drink per day and were provided a daily 100 mg vitamin B12 supplement (to ensure the vegan diet participants met the daily requirement, which can be challenging without eating fortified foods or using supplements).

After 12 weeks, total hot flashes decreased 79 percent in the plant-based diet intervention group and 49 percent in the usual diet, control group. Moderate-to-severe hot flashes decreased 84 percent in the intervention group and 42 percent in the control group. Nearly 60 percent of the women in the intervention group were free of moderate to severe hot flashes by the study’s end, a benefit none of the women in the control group experienced. 

The women in the diet intervention group also enjoyed improvements in other physical, psychosocial, and sexual menopause-related symptoms, according to their scores on The Menopause-Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire (MENQOL).

The diet intervention group also lost nearly 8 pounds over the course of the 12-week study, while the control group gained just under 2 pounds.(Though the research is inconclusive, there’s some evidence that weight loss may help with symptom management in some women.)

There’s a lot going on in this dietary intervention, obviously. But all the parts add up to symptom relief. Past research has found that eating more vegetables and fewer animal foods is associated with less bothersome menopause symptoms. Eating cruciferous vegetables specifically is linked to a compound called diindolylmethane (DIM), which positively affects your estrogen levels and may help with symptoms. Some research has found soy can help reduce hot flashes. Alcohol intake may also impact hot flashes. Moderate consumption (as was recommended for all the women in this study) has been linked to a reduction in severity and frequency of hot flashes, while heavier consumption can increase these vasomotor symptoms.

If you’re troubled by lots of hot flashes, centering your diet around plants, adding whole soy foods, and cutting back on booze could provide some relief while making you healthier to boot.

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