A very small study suggests hot flashes (also called hot flushes) may be less severe if women participate in an intensive healthy lifestyle and behavioral change program.
Hot flashes can be particularly bothersome during and after menopause. Hormonal therapy treatments for breast cancer also can cause hot flashes. Other research suggests overweight or obese women are more likely to be bothered by hot flashes. People are classified as overweight or obese based on body mass index (BMI), a reliable indicator of body fat.
The study on hot flashes was done on a small group of women who were participating in the PRIDE study (Program to Reduce Incontinence by Diet and Exercise). The PRIDE study was designed to see if women having bladder control problems would benefit from an intense weight loss program.
Among the 338 women in the PRIDE study, 154 women said they also had bothersome hot flashes. So the researchers decided to see if the weight loss program would have any effect on the hot flashes.
About 66% of the women participated in the intense diet and lifestyle education and counseling program for 6 months. The program included meal management and exercise coaching; the goal was to lose 7% to 9% of body weight. The women were encouraged to do at least 200 minutes of physical activity per week. The rest of the women went to classes about weight loss, physical activity, healthy eating, and how to adopt a healthy lifestyle. The classes were held once a month for 4 months, so these women went to a total of four classes.
All the women were asked about their hot flashes at the start of the study and 6 months later, after the weight loss program ended. Still, the women were asked only one question about how bothersome the hot flashes were, rating them using system called a Likert scale that had five levels and ranged from "not at all bothersome" to "extremely bothersome."
Women in the weight loss program were more than twice as likely to report that their hot flashes improved by at least one category compared to women who only went to the four classes.
Weight loss wasn't the only reason for the greater likelihood of hot flash improvement among the women in the weight loss program. Some women in the program didn't lose much weight but still reported less bothersome hot flashes. This means that specific parts of the program, such as the exercise coaching or the counseling experience, may have helped ease the hot flashes.
While these results suggest an intense program to lose weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle may help ease hot flashes, it's important to know that the study had some weaknesses:
- it wasn't specifically designed to look at how weight loss could help manage hot flashes (the focus was on bladder control problems)
- only a small number of women participated
- hot flashes were judged by only one question at the beginning and end of the study
Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, anxiety, and sleep problems can dramatically reduce some women's quality of life. For these women -- no matter what they weigh -- a variety of diet and lifestyle changes may offer some relief. Learn more about more about menopause and steps you can take to ease bothersome symptoms on the Breastcancer.org Managing Menopausal Symptoms pages.
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