Study: Weight loss can help with hot flashes

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Re­search­ers are still un­sure what causes 70 per­cent of meno­pausal women to ex­pe­ri­ence the sud­den and prick­ling heat of a hot flash. How­ever, new re­search sug­gests that the fire fu­el­ing hot flashes can be par­tially ex­tin­guished through weight loss.

A Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh study re­leased Mon­day, which the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health through the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Aging sup­ported, showed that over­weight women who lost weight dur­ing meno­pause ex­pe­ri­enced a re­duc­tion in hot flashes com­pared with those who did not.

“This pi­lot study points to the im­por­tance of do­ing a larger study on this topic,” said Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D., Pitt as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try, psy­chol­ogy and ep­i­demi­ol­ogy. The study is pub­lished in this month’s is­sue of the jour­nal Meno­pause.

As part of the study 40 over­weight or obese women who ex­pe­ri­enced four or more hot flashes daily were ran­domly as­signed to a con­trol or a weight-loss group. Women in the weight-loss group fol­lowed a low-fat and low-cal­o­rie diet and kept a food di­ary in ad­di­tion to do­ing aero­bic ex­er­cise for five hours a week over 16 weeks. Those women lost an av­er­age of 19 pounds and about 10.7 per­cent of their body weight. Those in the weight-loss group ex­pe­ri­enced fewer hot flashes than those in the con­trol group, which saw lit­tle weight change.

“Fat acts as an ex­tra layer of in­su­la­tion, and elim­i­nat­ing it al­lows the body to re­lease heat more eas­ily,” said Margery Gaas, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for the North Amer­i­can Meno­pause So­ci­ety.

“We used to think body fat ac­tu­ally pro­tected women be­cause it se­cretes es­tro­gen, so we thought of it as a sup­ple­men­tal es­tro­gen source,” Ms. Thurston said. “It’s re­ally in the [past] 10 years that this kind of re­search has ex­ploded.”

Hor­mone re­place­ment ther­apy, usu­ally started as a woman en­tered meno­pause, which oc­curs a year af­ter her last men­strual cy­cle, was once the pre­mier weapon in the bat­tle against hot flashes and other meno­pausal symp­toms. How­ever, the Women’s Health Ini­tia­tive, a land­mark study on the use of com­bined es­tro­gen and pro­ges­tin ther­apy, was halted in 2002 af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined that HRT could in­stead in­crease the risk of heart dis­ease, stroke, blood clots and breast can­cer.

When those re­sults were an­nounced, many doc­tors stopped pre­scrib­ing HRT. This led to “a lot of hot-flash­ing women run­ning around with­out any other op­tions,” Ms. Thurston said.

In June 2013, the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proved the first non­hor­monal drug to treat hot flashes. Devel­oped by Noven Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, the new drug Bris­delle, con­sists of a low dose of par­ox­e­tine, which is used at higher doses in the an­ti­de­pres­sant Paxil. Bris­delle’‍s la­bel, how­ever, has a strong warn­ing that the drug can in­crease sui­cidal thoughts or sui­cidal be­hav­ior in ad­di­tion to other com­pli­ca­tions.

“We do not cur­rently have a great al­ter­na­tive from a drug stand­point,” Ms. Thurston said, “That is why I wanted to de­velop a be­hav­ioral strat­egy to man­age hot flashes.”

Using weight loss as a strat­egy to help con­trol hot flashes can also lead to myr­iad of other health ben­e­fits, such an im­prove­ment in car­dio­vas­cu­lar prob­lems and re­duc­tion of sleep ap­nea.

Ms. Thurston hopes to con­duct fur­ther study on the ef­fects of weight loss on a larger group of women to con­firm the ben­e­fits. She also wants to look at ways to con­trol hot flashes among women who are of nor­mal weight.

“Hot flashes are as­so­ci­ated with lots of neg­a­tive is­sues — ir­ri­ta­bil­ity, de­pressed mood, sleep dis­tur­bances,” Ms. Thurston said, “At the very least, im­prov­ing women’s hot flashes can help im­prove their qual­ity of life.”

Camp­bell North: cnorth@post-ga­ or 412-263-1613.

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