Woman eating salad, vegetarian or plant-based diet and healthy lifestyle concept

Woman eating a salad (© Prostock-studio - stock.adobe.com)

WASHINGTON — Menopausal women usually turn to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to reduce undesirable symptoms like hot flashes. However, the therapy does come with some drawbacks, such as increased risks of ovarian and breast cancers. Luckily, the Women’s Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms (WAVS) trial reveals that a plant-based diet with ample amounts of soy can reduce hot flashes by a staggering 88 percent while also aiding significantly in weight loss.

“We do not fully understand yet why this combination works but it seems that these three elements are key—avoiding animal products, reducing fat, and adding a serving of soybeans,” says lead researcher Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee and an adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine, in a media release. “Our results mirror the diets of places in the world, like pre-Westernized Japan and modern-day Yucatán Peninsula, where a low-fat, plant-based diet including soybeans is more prevalent and where postmenopausal women experience fewer symptoms.”

The team recruited 84 postmenopausal women that reported having episodes of hot flashes two or more times per day. They were then randomly assigned to either an intervention group that was on a low-fat vegan diet consuming half a cup of cooked soybeans daily, or a control group with no dietary changes for 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, they found that among those on the vegan diet, moderate to severe hot flashes went down by 88 percent and participants lost an average of eight pounds. This is about the same success rate as HRT, which is usually 70 to 90 percent effective against hot flashes. The key difference is that making dietary changes is much simpler and comes with significantly less risk of medical complications.

Older woman stressed, possibly from menopause
Stressed older woman (© fizkes – stock.adobe.com)

The trial was split into two parts, with the first being published in October 2021. It successfully addressed the point that there may be positive changes seen in menopause relief due to seasonal temperature variations. Women who started participating in the study during the spring had comparable benefits to women who did this during the fall, demonstrating that effects are still notable even after adjusting for temperatures.

Dr. Barnard and the team agree that their results not only support putting diet and lifestyle at the forefront of the conversation with hot flash relief during menopause but also for other common complications such as weight gain and chronic disease implications.

“This study demonstrates the effectiveness of a dietary intervention for menopausal symptoms,” Dr. Barnard explains. “As well, it is precisely the diet that would be expected to reduce the health concerns of many women reaching menopause: an increasing risk of heart disease, breast cancer, and memory problems.”

The findings are published in the journal Menopause.

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About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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