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Low-Fat, Plant-Based Diet May Help Reduce Hot Flashes, Study Shows

Plant-based protein options including soybeans

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Key Takeaways

  • Hot flashes are an uncomfortable symptom for many postmenopausal women.
  • A new study shows that a low-fat, plant-based diet including soybeans helps reduce hot flashes.
  • A low-fat, plant-based diet may be difficult for some women to plan, follow, and stick with for the long term.

A new study published in the journal Menopause found that a low-fat, plant-based vegan diet that includes soybeans was associated with fewer hot flashes in postmenopausal women.

Menopause is diagnosed when menstrual periods have stopped for at least a year, and ovaries no longer produce high levels of estrogen.

All women vary in menopausal symptoms. Some will remain symptom-free, while others may experience hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, and other symptoms. More than 80% of women experience hot flashes during menopause, which are sensations of heat, flushing, and anxiety that last between one and five minutes.

Since hot flashes are a common symptom, researchers are interested in ways to alleviate them. In the past, different studies have looked at dietary patterns or particular foods that work to decrease these uncomfortable moments.

Some studies show that vegetarian or plant-based diets may help reduce hot flashes. Other studies show that low-fat diets may be beneficial. Additionally, a handful of studies have indicated that eating more soybeans can help reduce hot flashes.

What Was Studied?

For this study, the researchers recruited post-menopausal women who reported having moderate to severe hot flashes at least twice a day and were willing to follow a low-fat, vegan diet for 12 weeks.

Researchers collected information on diet, weight, height, medical history, activity level, medication use, and menopausal symptoms for the 38 women who met the study criteria.  

Participants were randomly assigned to a diet group. The control group followed their regular diet.

The intervention group followed a vegan diet and was asked to minimize fat, including oils, nuts, and avocado. Information was provided on meal planning, shopping, and food preparation.

Participants were also provided with non-GMO soybeans and were asked to eat a half-cup per day. 

What Did the Study Find?

The researchers found that:

  • The frequency of total hot flashes decreased 79% in the intervention group and 49% in the control group.
  • Moderate-to-severe hot flashes decreased 84% in the intervention group and 42% in the control group.

“The diet change had a dramatic effect on hot flashes, reducing moderate-to-severe hot flashes by 84%, and allowing many women to finally be able to sleep through the night and feel like themselves again,” says Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC, President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, author of "Your Body In Balance," and one of the researchers on this study.

Barnard believes that the combination of low-fat, plant-based, and soy is what helped reduce hot flashes.

“We have long known that a low-fat vegan diet has hormone-balancing effects,” says Barnard. In this case, the plant-based diet promotes a healthier gut microbiome and, in turn, that health microbiome activates the beneficial isoflavone in soybeans.”

Decline in Hot Flashes

Dietitian Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, co-author of "The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health, and Happiness" notes that both groups had fewer and less severe hot flashes, despite their diet. 

"It begs the question: was it actually the diet intervention or was it being involved in a study that produced these results?" asks Ward. "I have to wonder, given the fact that the women who made no diet changes for 12 weeks also suffered from fewer and less frequent hot flashes. I'm slightly surprised at how both groups saw results." 

The researchers explain that this may be due to the natural decline in symptoms after menopause; cooler temperatures approaching the study conclusion in December; or control group participants’ awareness of the vegan dietary intervention and their eagerness to implement it, despite being asked not to.

Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC

The diet change had a dramatic effect on hot flashes, reducing moderate-to-severe hot flashes by 84%, and allowing many women to finally be able to sleep through the night and feel like themselves again.

— Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC

The Low-Fat, Plant-Based Diet

The researchers specifically wanted the intervention diet to be both plant-based and low in fat.

“We used this approach because prior investigations have shown that hot flashes were rarest in populations whose diets were very low in fat and mostly plant-based,” says Barnard “And it turns out that a low-fat diet promotes a healthier gut microbiome, and also facilitates weight loss—both of these seem to help with hot flashes.”

Depending on your current diet, switching to a low-fat AND plant-based diet might be an abrupt change. Barnard says “going vegan is easy, but avoiding added fat takes a bit of thinking.” Those who enjoy meat, fish, dairy, and eggs may not agree with the ease of a vegan diet. “The diet described in the study is a big change from the way many women eat and may not be easy to follow in the long run,” says Ward.

Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN

The diet described in the study is a big change from the way many women eat and may not be easy to follow in the long run.

— Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN

Ward adds that women must consult a professional to ensure they get all the nutrients they need when they cut out all animal foods, such as omega-3 fats, and vitamins B12 and D, and sufficient calories.

“That can be hard on a very low fat, high fiber diet," says Ward. If you're looking to help ease pain you're experiencing and need help beginning this diet, seeing a dietician may be helpful.

What This Means For You

If you suffer from postmenopausal hot flashes, you can try a low-fat diet, a plant-based diet, or eat soy daily. You can also try all three approaches at once if it’s an eating plan that’s enjoyable and achievable for your lifestyle.

 

  

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Article Sources
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