Plant-based diets with a sufficient amount of soy can reduce hot flashes while also aiding weight loss, according to the Women’s Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms (WAVS) trial.
A study published by the North American Menopause Society in the journal Menopause found that a diet intervention is about as effective as hormone replacement therapy for reducing menopausal hot flashes, without the associated health risks.
“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,” explained lead researcher Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee and adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine.
“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.”
To conduct the study, researchers recruited 84 postmenopausal women that reported episodes of hot flashes two or more times per day.
Participants were randomly assigned into two groups. One group was an intervention group that was on a low-fat vegan diet consuming half a cup of cooked soybeans daily, while the other was a control group with no dietary changes for 12 weeks.
After 12 weeks, researchers found that those on a vegan diet had a 88 per cent decrease in moderate to severe hot flashes and had lost an average of eight pounds. This is about the same success rate as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is usually 70 to 90 per cent effective against hot flashes.
The trial was split into two parts, the first being published in 2021 and the second being published this year. It successfully addressed the point that there may be positive changes seen in menopause relief due to seasonal temperature variations.
The first trial, which was conducted during the autumn season raised the question of whether this symptomatic improvement might have been attributed to cooler temperatures. But women who began the study as the weather warmed up in the spring had the same benefit, ruling out the effect of the temperature outside.
“These new results suggest that a diet change should be considered as a first-line treatment for troublesome vasomotor symptoms, including night sweats and hot flashes,” explains Dr Barnard.
Dr Barnard and the team agree said 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 said. “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.