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Menopause is not fun. Mood swings, insomnia, hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, low sex drive, loss of bladder control… it all adds up to a really unpleasant time.
That’s why a lot of women choose to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to counteract some of those symptoms. But HRT can have its own drawbacks, such as elevated risk of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers, as well as heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism.
But what if I told you there was an all-natural way to practically eliminate one of the most bothersome symptoms of menopause?
The vegan diet and hot flashes
About 80 percent of menopausal women suffer from vasomotor symptoms commonly known as hot flashes. They can occur during the day or night (or worse, both), interfering with sleep and quality of life.
Back in 2022, researchers looking for ways to counteract these uncomfortable symptoms conducted the Women’s Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms (WAVS). The study involved 84 women who reported having two or more moderate-to-severe hot flashes daily.
The women were randomly assigned to one of two groups: an intervention group asked to follow a low-fat vegan diet that included a half cup of cooked soybeans a day, or a control group that continued their usual diets for 12 weeks.
The results were remarkable. The vegan diet…
- Decreased overall hot flashes by 95 percent
- Eliminated severe hot flashes
- Led to a 96 percent decrease in moderate-to-severe hot flashes
- Reduced daytime and nighttime hot flashes by 96 and 94 percent, respectively
As if that weren’t enough, participants following the vegan diet lost 6.4 pounds on average.
“We do not fully understand yet why this combination works but it seems that these three elements are key — avoiding animal products, reducing fat, and adding a serving of soybeans,” explains lead researcher Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee and adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine.
“Our results mirror the diets of places in the world, like pre-Westernized Japan and modern-day Yucatán Peninsula, where a low-fat, plant-based diet including soybeans is more prevalent and where postmenopausal women experience fewer symptoms.”
But to get more insight into how a vegan diet affected these changes, the researchers conducted a secondary analysis of the WAVS data — and have recently released their findings…
Changes to the gut microbiome made all the difference
The researchers discovered something unusual in the gut microbiomes of the women that could account for the relief provided by the vegan diet…
When comparing stool samples from a subset of 11 participants at the start of the study and again after 12 weeks on a vegan diet, they found changes in the amount of several types of gut bacteria.
They saw an association between decreased severe daytime hot flashes and a reduction in the abundance of Porphyromonas and Prevotella corporis bacteria. Prevotella corporis has also been found in the gut of rheumatoid arthritis patients and appears to have pro-inflammatory properties.
In addition, a decrease in Clostridium asparagiforme was linked with a reduction in total severe and severe nighttime hot flashes. This bacteria has been shown to produce trimethylamine-N-oxide, a compound associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Therefore, a reduced abundance of Clostridium asparagiforme could partly explain the benefits of a plant-based diet for cardiovascular health. It could also provide a possible link between hot flashes and cardiovascular disease. For women, the risk of heart disease begins to climb during menopause and skyrockets in the years following.
The researchers also found changes in the levels of other bacteria could play a role in alleviating hot flashes by stabilizing estrogen levels, reducing inflammation and increasing satiety.
“Women who want to fight hot flashes should feed the bacteria in their gut a vegan diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and beans, which also leads to weight loss and protects against heart disease and type 2 diabetes,” says study co-author Dr. Hana Kahleova, director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
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2. A dietary intervention for postmenopausal hot flashes: A potential role of gut microbiome. An exploratory analysis — Complementary Therapies in Medicine
3. Hot flashes — Mayo Clinic