According to a study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, overweight women who suffer from annoying hot flashes that accompany menopause—may be able to ease those symptoms by losing weight.
“If you’re a woman who is overweight or obese, you can substantially improve your hot flashes by losing weight through diet and exercise,” says Alison Huang, MD, the lead author of the study and a professor of internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
The women from the study who participated in a program that encouraged them to exercise more and eat less improved their hot flashes more than a group with little weight-loss coaching.
At least 2 out of 3 women in the United States suffer from hot flashes at some point during menopause, and studies have shown that heavier women get more severe and more frequent hot flashes, the study chief Dr. Alison Huang of the University of California, San Francisco and colleagues noted in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Two-thirds of the women in the study were put through a program that educated them on healthy weight-loss strategies. They were also given meal plans and were told to record their daily exercise. The other group went to a few educational sessions on weight loss and health.
About half of the women in both groups started the study complaining of hot flashes. At the beginning of the study and again after six months, these women were weighed and measured and they filled out questionnaires about their eating and exercise habits and about their recent hot flash symptoms.
Women in the weight-loss program dropped an average of more than 16 pounds and cut more than 2 inches off their waistlines over the six months, compared to about 4 pounds and 1 inch in the other group. And women who shed more pounds and waistline inches reported greater improvement in their hot flash symptoms.
The authors measured symptoms as “slightly,” “moderately,” “quite a bit,” and “extremely” bothersome, and most women who reported better or worse symptoms moved over one category over the course of the study.
For each 11 pounds that a woman lost, she was roughly one-third more likely than women who did not lose weight to experience a decline in the severity or frequency of hot flashes.
It is still unclear why overweight women seem to suffer more from hot flashes than those who are slimmer, the investigators noted in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It could be a result of “insulation” from the extra fat itself, or hot flashes could be related to lifestyle differences between overweight and non-overweight people, they suggest.
Hot flashes can be relieved with hormone therapy. But Huang said widely-publicized reports linking hormone therapy to an increased risk of heart disease and breast and ovarian cancer in some women have left many women “very reluctant to take hormone therapy. That has really left a big hole in our treatment regimen.”
“We hope what this study will do is help give women some motivation if they’re overweight … that the efforts that they make through diet and exercise can have immediate benefits,” she said.
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