This Diet May Help with Bothersome Hot Flashes in Menopause
Moving toward a plant-based diet has many health benefits for women, including potential relief from some of menopause’s worse side effects.
Today, many people, even those that do not consider themselves vegetarian, are moving toward a more plant-based diet – limiting meat and including more grains, fruits and vegetables. There are many good reasons to eat more plants, most notably weight control and prevention of chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
Women, you also have another reason to focus on a plant-based diet: relief from menopause symptoms. An analysis of more than 60 studies suggest that vegetarian diets are associated with a reduction in the frequency of hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
Taulant Muka MD PhD of Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands led the study which included data from more than 6600 women. Phytoestrogens (beneficial plant-based nutrients) were associated with the improvement of menopausal symptoms.
Soy, in particular, was associated with positive results due to its high isoflavone content (a typical 3-oz portion of tofu contains about 23 mg isoflavones). Soy is often used as a meat substitute in vegetarian diets as it is a good source of protein.
"There may be a plausible biological argument for these associations of phytoestrogen with improved symptoms," the authors wrote. "The two major subtypes of phytoestrogen, isoflavones and lignans, have a chemical structure similar to that of estradiol ... and therefore also appear to have estrogen-like properties."
The study also reviewed other natural remedies for hot flashes, but didn’t see the same positive effect in all treatments. For example, black cohosh, frequently marketed for menopause symptom relief, did not show a positive link to improvement in hot flashes.
"There has been a lack of clarity regarding the identity of its active compounds and its mechanisms of action, as well as concerns about possible adverse effects," write the authors. "Beyond these existing uncertainties, the lack of beneficial results in the current meta-analysis does not support the use of black cososh to reduce menopausal symptoms."
If you aren’t ready to give up meat quite yet, you may be tempted to try phytoestrogen supplements, but this isn’t a good idea says soy researcher Gregory Burke of Wake Forest University (not involved in this study). “We don’t know (if they are safe),” he says. “We don’t have evidence suggesting they’re not safe. But I’m concerned that it’s easier for people who take pills to get larger dosages, which may put them at higher risk.”
For most of us, just a conscious effort to limit meat and animal protein and bump up the plants should be enough to see great benefit. Try these tips from Emaxhealth reporter Deborah Mitchell:
• Try making one meal per day plant-based. Or, dedicate an entire day to being meatless (such as Meatless Monday).
• Make simple substitutions in favorite recipes. Try a plant-based ground meat alternative in a casserole, chili or spaghetti sauce.
• Google a new recipe for the family to try that does not center on meat. Some of my personal favorite vegetarian recipes can be found here.
Taulant Muka, MD, PhD et al. Use of Plant-Based Therapies and Menopausal Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.JAMA, June 2016 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2016.8012
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