THE QUESTION Hormone therapy may be the most effective way to ease menopause-related hot flashes, but because it comes with risks, women often seek other methods of relief. Might losing excess weight help?
THIS STUDY involved 40 women, all overweight or obese, who were experiencing at least four menopausal hot flashes a day; most had seven to nine daily. They were randomly assigned to a behavioral weight-loss program or to a waiting list for it. The weight-loss program included reducing calorie consumption, increasing physical activity, weigh-ins and weekly group sessions.
At various times, the women used one of three ways to note hot flashes: a hand-held electronic diary, a written questionnaire and an electronic monitor worn around the waist that automatically recorded hot flashes. In a six-month span, program participants lost an average of nearly 20 pounds (about 11 percent of their starting weight) and about 5 percent of their body fat, whereas the weight and body composition of those on the waiting list essentially did not change.
In general, women who lost weight experienced fewer and less severe hot flashes than those who didn’t lose weight. By one measure, the weight-loss group recorded four to five fewer hot flashes a day, on average. The more weight lost, the greater the reduction in hot flashes.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Women who are overweight and experiencing hot flashes caused by menopause. Hot flashes affect most women in menopause, although they range from mild to severe, occasional to frequent and lasting a few months to several years. Besides taking hormone therapy (estrogen, progesterone or both), other treatment options that women sometimes try include various prescription medications; lifestyle changes such as avoiding spicy foods, dressing in layers and quitting smoking; mind/body techniques such as relaxation and hypnosis; and alternative treatments such as acupuncture and black cohosh. Results, however, are mixed.
CAVEATS The study involved a small number of women. Some of the data on hot flash occurrences came from the women’s assessments and recollections.
FIND THIS STUDY online in the journal Menopause (search for “behavioral weight loss”).
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.