The cooler days of fall are officially upon us, but for many women, there’s little relief from the heat! For those experiencing menopause, the sudden onset of heat and sweating, known as hot flashes, can make even the coolest room feel like an oven! According to T. Colin Campbell, American biochemist well known author of The China Study, “about 40 percent of North American women seek treatment for menopausal symptoms,” with hot flashes being the number one complaint. Often accompanied by an increase in heart rate, nausea, dizziness, anxiety or weakness; when the hot flashes occur at night, they can lead to insomnia, fatigue, irritability and loss of concentration or memory. While doctors are quick to prescribe hormone replacement therapies (HRT’s) as the answer, evidence suggests that other lifestyle factors, such as diet, may hold the key to turning down the heat. For instance, the hot flashes appear to be significantly less common in Asian countries where less intake of meat and dairy and higher consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables and grains are common.
While it’s estimated that up to 80% of American women suffer from the hot flashes, only 10% of women in Japan report experiencing this condition.Though HRT’s have been shown to provide some relief for the symptoms, they have also been linked to some very serious side effects. The Woman’s Health Initiative, a study launched by the National Institutes of Health, concluded that women who took HRT for several years had an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and blood clots. A safer and more effective way to control the hot flashes is through adopting a healthy, plant-based diet. A study published in the journal Menopause found that “a low-fat diet consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helped postmenopausal women both lose weight and manage night sweats and hot flashes.” One reason, women whose diets are low in fat and high in fresh fruits, vegetables and grains have a tendency to lose more weight, which leads to a decrease in symptoms. Additionally, a plant-based diet is higher in phytoestrogens, a substance found in plant foods that exhibits estrogen like properties and can help offset many of the complications related to menopause. A study entitled, Phytoestrogens in postmenopausal indications, reported that phytoestrogens “could play a role in the prevention of other estrogen-related conditions, namely, cardiovascular diseases, menopausal symptoms, postmenopausal osteoporosis, neuroprotective effects, and hormone-dependent cancers (breast and endometrium cancer).” Some great sources of phytoestrogens are whole grains, chick peas, green beans and black beans. Almonds, peanuts, cashews and walnuts are also high in phytoestrogens, as are winter squash, broccoli, green beans, collards, and onions. Apricots, dates, prunes, peaches, berries and seeds (particularly pumpkin, sunflower and sesame) are also good choices when trying to incorporate more phytoestrogens into your diet. So if you are one of the millions of women experiencing the symptoms of menopause, before you turn to HRT’s, first try a diet low in fat and rich in these plant foods. While it can't turn back the clock, it could help you turn down your internal thermostat and look and feel years younger in the process!
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