Soy Nuts May Dampen Hot Flashes

Combined with exercise, they benefit menopausal women

FRIDAY, May 7, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Looking to throw some cold water on hot flashes? Head to the health-food section of your supermarket.

New research suggests soy nuts, coupled with exercise, might be a good treatment for women struggling with those troubling side effects of menopause.

Daily hot flashes fell by nearly half in women who ate a half cup of roasted soy nuts each day and exercised more than 4.5 hours a week. Hot flashes dropped by 27 percent in women who consumed the same amount of soy and exercised just 30 to 90 minutes a week, the researchers found.

The findings were presented May 7 at the American Heart Association's annual conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology in San Francisco.

The study is the first to show a combined benefit of soy consumption and exercise, said co-author Dr. Francine Welty, director of cardiovascular care for women at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Soy may be a good option for women who are worried about taking estrogen supplements, she added.

"Now that we know that estrogen increases the risk of stroke, women are looking for alternatives to treat their hot flashes. This is a potentially good alternative," she said.

Welty and a colleague enrolled 60 postmenopausal women in their study and put them on a diet low in saturated fat. For eight weeks, half the women ate soy nuts each day, while the other half did not. Then the two groups switched regimens for another eight weeks.

Before the study, the women reported having an average of five hot flashes a day.

Seventy percent of the women in the study didn't exercise vigorously, but instead took part in activities such as walking. Hot flashes dropped by 46 percent in women who exercised four or more days a week, and 25 percent among those who exercised between one and 2.5 days a week.

The link between soy and postmenopausal health isn't new. Researchers have investigated the connection since they noticed hot flashes are rare among Asian women who eat a lot of soy products, Welty said. The female hormone estrogen is a part of soy and may explain its effects, she said.

An estimated 40 percent to 70 percent of menopausal and postmenopausal women experience hot flashes, said Jodi Anne Flaws, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the University of Maryland.

While they typically contribute to problems such as fatigue and irritability, there are signs that hot flashes may be linked to Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis and depression, Flaws said.

Doctors don't fully understand hot flashes or why some women have them and some don't, although some experts suspect hormonal changes disrupt the brain's body temperature regulation system. Hot flashes begin at menopause in many women and can plague them at high levels for two to three years, Welty said. Typically, they end within five years.

"I've had some patients tell me if they need to give a presentation at work, they may turn beet red [during a hot flash]," Welty said. "It appears that stress aggravates them. Their clothes can become wet, and night sweats can cause them to change their nightgowns and sheets."

Welty suggests women eat soy nuts throughout the day to spread their benefits around. The women in the study ate nuts four times daily and stuck to a healthier, low-salt, dry-roasted brand.

She also cautioned that soy didn't help every woman in the study.

Flaws, the University of Maryland professor, said the study findings are promising but must be confirmed by additional research. She added that better understanding of hot flashes could lead to more effective ways to prevent them.

More information

Learn more about hot flashes and other aspects of menopause from the National Institutes of Health or the American Academy of Family Physicians.

SOURCES: Francine Welty, M.D., Ph.D., director, cardiovascular care for women, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and associate professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, both in Boston; Jodi Anne Flaws, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore; May 7, 2004, presentation, American Heart Association Conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, San Francisco
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