“I love me a good hot flash,” said no one ever.
But still 73 percent of those of us in menopause suffer through these heat waves—flapping our arms like human hummingbirds and praying the next one doesn’t hit when we’re presenting at a board meeting or making a toast at our son’s wedding—without doing anything to curb them or any of the other menopause symptoms.
A plant-based diet rich in soy reduces moderate-to-severe hot flashes by 84 percent.
Why do we endure these (sometimes debilitating) side effects of menopause when treatments are at hand? Maybe it’s because we’re never told about the options. Indeed, only nine percent of women speak to their mothers about their menopause symptoms, according to a recent survey.
There are a host of ways to ease the suffering, including an astoundingly simple one for hot flashes. A new study, published in the journal Menopause, found that a plant-based diet rich in soy reduces moderate-to-severe hot flashes by 84 percent, from nearly five per day to fewer than one per day. During the 12-week study, nearly 60 percent of women became totally free of moderate-to-severe hot flashes. Overall hot flashes (including mild ones) decreased by 79 percent.
The Pharmacy in Your Fridge
These findings track with the famous quote from Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine.”
The study, called the WAVS trial—the Women’s Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms—shows that diet changes can be much more powerful for treating hot flashes than scientists had thought. (Vasomotor symptoms refer to night sweats, hot flashes, and flushes.)
The study used no hormone medications or extracts. Instead, the research team tested a combination of a low-fat plant-based diet plus one-half cup of ordinary soybeans added to a salad or soup each day.
“This is a game changer for women aged 45 and over, most of whom we now know can get prompt relief from the most severe and troubling menopause symptoms without drugs,” says lead researcher Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee and adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine.
Treatments for Hot Flashes: Soy Joy
“Previous studies have shown that soy could be beneficial, so we decided to put a diet change to the test,” says study author Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee. “We believe that the combination is what is important. By the end of the study, the majority of women on a plant-based diet rich in soy reported that they no longer experienced moderate-to-extreme hot flashes at all and that they experienced significant improvements in their quality of life.”
Before you jump to any kind of medication, I would try this route, because it’s easy.
In previous randomized trials, soy products have been shown to modestly reduce the frequency of hot flashes. The researchers theorize that the effect may be a result of soy products containing isoflavones, which can be metabolized by gut bacteria into equol–a nonsteroidal compound that has been shown in some studies to reduce the incidence and severity of hot flashes. Previous studies have also shown that those following vegetarian or vegan diets produce higher levels of equol. The new study showed a more robust response, using the combination of a plant-based diet plus soy.
Many study participants also reported improvements in sexual symptoms, mood, and overall energy. “This was basically a lifesaver for me,” said one study participant. “I’ve got my quality of life back.” Another said, “I am sleeping better, and my hot flashes diminished tremendously.”
Several participants also noticed significant weight loss and better digestion. “Before you jump to any kind of medication, I would try this route, because it’s easy,” a study participant said. “Anybody can do it.”