How to end hot flushes in menopause? Try a low-fat vegan diet with soybeans every day

How to end hot flushes in menopause? Try a low-fat vegan diet with soybeans every day

How to end hot flushes in menopause? Try a low-fat vegan diet with soybeans every day

After 12 weeks, half of the women on the diet reported no moderate or severe hot flushes at all, according to the study by George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington. The results were published in the medical journal Menopause.

Hot flushes during menopause can be debilitating. Photo: Shutterstock
“The diet was more powerful than we had predicted, equalling the effects of hormone replacement therapy. It also led to healthful weight loss, and the participants found it easy, enjoyable, and in some cases life-changing,” said lead researcher Professor Neal Barnard.

The women on the diet lost an average of 3.6kg (8lb) over the 12 weeks; those in the control group lost an average of 0.2kg.

Previous studies have shown that in Japan and other countries whose traditional diets are mainly based on plant-derived food such as rice, soybeans, and vegetables, hot flushes were rare.

But they became much more common when the diet was Westernised, with increasing consumption of dairy products and meat.

Professor Neal Barnard is studying the benefits of a plant-based, low-fat diet, with soybeans every day, on menopausal women. Photo: Elliott O’Donovan

Barnard set out to investigate a vegan diet’s impact on hot flushes after being contacted by a woman who had read his book Your Body in Balance, which explores the impact of diet on hormones and health.

“She said the approach in the book cured her hot flushes within a matter of days. That was actually a stronger effect than I had promised in the book, so I asked her how she had implemented the diet,” he says.

She had used a purely vegan diet, minimised oils, and added a half-cup of mature soybeans daily.

I got my quality of life back. I’m no longer dealing with the hot flushes hat were debilitating at one point. I’m more present with my four kids and my overall mental state is better

Sherri, study participant

Barnard and his team put exactly this version of the diet to the test in a randomised trial of 84 women who reported at least two moderate to severe hot flushes a day.

Half the women were put on a low-fat, vegan diet with half a cup of soybeans daily while the control group made no dietary changes. The women then recorded the frequency and severity of their hot flushes.

Study participant Sherri said the diet was a “lifesaver”.

The cover of Barnard’s book, Your Body In Balance. Photo: Amazon

“I got my quality of life back. I’m no longer dealing with the hot flushes that were debilitating at one point. I’m more present with my four kids and my overall mental state is better because I’m feeling good.”

Like many women, Sherri was concerned about taking hormone treatment, so a dietary change was a welcome solution.

“Before jumping to any medication, I would try this route because it is easy, it’s simple and has immediate results,” she added.

Barnard said the combination of a low-fat, plant-based diet with daily soybeans had the biggest impact on reducing hot flushes. This meant avoiding oily foods such as nuts, avocados, and vegetable oils.

Mature soybeans (back) contain higher levels of isoflavones than edamame (front left) soy milk, or tofu (front right). Photo: Shutterstock

“A vegan diet alone does not do a lot for hot flushes. Soybeans and soy extracts alone are not dramatically effective, either. But surprisingly enough, the combination of a vegan diet, reducing intake of fats and oils, and adding half a cup of cooked soybeans daily led to a dramatic reduction in hot flushes,” he said.

“We do not know exactly why but avoiding oily foods seemed to help, too. All three pieces seem to be important.”

The type of soy is important. In the hot flushes study, the diet incorporated mature soybeans, which contain higher levels of isoflavones than edamame – immature soybeans in the pod, soy milk, or tofu.
“We suspect that these isoflavones act like natural medicines to reduce hot flushes. But while edamame, soy milk, or tofu are all healthful foods, they would not be expected to have as strong an effect as mature soybeans,” Barnard says.
A soybean farmer in her field. The isoflavones contained in mature soybeans are believed to help reduce hot flushes, as well as lowering breast cancer risk. Photo: Shutterstock
Although the full explanation for the benefit of a plant-based diet has yet to be deciphered, Barnard believes high fibre and low fat play a role.
“We know that diets that are high in fibre and very low in fat tend to moderate the effects of oestrogens. We previously found that such a diet was effective for menstrual cramps.
“So we suspect that women on plant-based diets are more accustomed to lower oestrogen levels and have less of a change at menopause. Also, a plant-based diet causes weight loss, which reduces hot flushes.”

For study participant Marta there is no turning back.

“My hot flushes were very severe before the study. I had them almost every hour on the hour, and during nighttime I had night sweats. After starting my diet, I felt a lot more healthy and energetic. I was sleeping better at night and my hot flushes had diminished tremendously.

“I enjoy eating this diet and won’t go back to my American diet because I feel my hot flushes are now under control.”