Menopause is something I rarely think about. My take is that
there’s no reason to anticipate and fret over life events that haven’t yet
happened. I’ll dream about my next vacation, even when it’s far off, because
it’s a nice respite, but with menopause I’ll deal only when it comes.
But new research I just read makes me think that there
might be some merit to planning for this life transition. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked
at the connection between hot flashes and what women eat, and offers further
support to the notion that diet can relieve these very annoying symptoms.
What’s a hot flash? They say that — much like becoming a
parent to a newborn — until you get one, you don’t understand what it’s really
like. It’s described as a feeling of increased skin temperature and profuse
sweating, sometimes accompanied by facial flushing and a rapid heart rate. It’s
not dangerous, and it’s extremely common, but when it happens at night it
interrupts good sleep, which is the cornerstone
of health and well-being, in my opinion.
Veggies and Fruit Protective,
Fat and Sugar a Risk
The Australian study included about 6,000 middle-aged women,
who were followed for nine years. The women were asked about night sweats and hot
flashes, and about their food habits.
After adjustment for confounders such as education level, smoking,
obesity, physical activity etc., two food patterns were associated with fewer
hot flashes: high fruit intake and Mediterranean-style diet (veggies, garlic,
red wine, tomatoes). On the other hand, high-fat and high-sugar diets were
associated with high rates of reported hot flashes.
What does food have to do with hot flashes? The exact cause
of hot flashes is unknown, but it is thought that estrogen withdrawal, which
happens during menopause, disrupts our body’s thermostat. Hormone replacement is one of the most
effective treatments for severe symptoms, but hormonal therapy does carry some
risk, therefore lifestyle modifications that can offer relief are in high
Foods for Hot Flashes
Some women recognize that certain foods trigger hot flashes for
them. General food triggers include caffeine, alcohol and spicy food.
Several years ago, soy products were heavily favored for the
prevention of hot flashes. Soy has plant estrogens (phytoestrogens), which were
believed to provide natural estrogen replacement. Asian women, who live in
countries where soy is a big part of the diet, also report fewer hot flashes
than women in Western countries (there are of course many lifestyle differences
that can explain this phenomenon, and complaining might be cultural, too). The
effectiveness of soy for hot flashes still remains controversial, though, with
some studies showing benefits,
and others showing none.
Can a more plant-based diet affect the incidence of hot
flashes? There are many mechanisms that can provide a logical explanation for
why that might be a real connection. Foods affect estrogen metabolism; sugar
metabolism and blood glucose levels might affect blood vessel dilation and
contraction, for example. The authors of this study say theirs is the first
ever study to look at dietary patterns and hot flashes, and it would be
interesting to see if further research can confirm these findings.
As a woman, though, if you needed another reason to eat your
plants and move away from high-fat and high-sugar foods, here it is.
For more by Ayala Laufer-Cahana, M.D., click here.
For more on diet and nutrition, click here.