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Less Weight May Mean Fewer Hot Flashes
 Women's Health Feature Story

Less Weight May Mean Fewer Hot Flashes
Menopausal women seem to reap added benefit from shedding pounds

Less Weight May Mean Fewer Hot Flashes (HealthDay News) -- Aside from the desire to look better, there's a laundry list of health benefits for women that come with weight loss, including less risk for heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

But the list just got a bit longer.

Researchers now say that middle-aged women who lose weight may have an easier time with the hot flashes that so often accompany menopause.

"We've known for some time that obesity affects hot flashes, but we didn't know if losing weight would have any effect," Dr. Alison Huang, who co-authored a study on the topic, told HealthDay. "Now there is good evidence losing weight can reduce hot flashes."

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, hot flashes may be related to changing estrogen levels that are a part of menopause. Symptoms associated with menopause can begin several years before a woman's last period -- when menopause occurs -- and can last for months or years after.

A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat in the upper part or all of the body. A woman's face and neck become flushed. Red blotches may appear on the chest, back and arms. Heavy sweating and cold shivering can follow. Flashes can be very mild or strong enough to wake you up if you're sleeping (called night sweats). Most hot flashes last from 30 seconds to 10 minutes.

Huang's study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, involved about 340 women who were recruited from a larger study of overweight and obese middle-aged women suffering from incontinence. They were not told the study was examining the effect of weight loss on hot flashes. Participants were part of a lifestyle-intervention program designed to help them lose 7 to 9 percent of their weight.

Part of the group met with experts in nutrition, exercise and behavior weekly for an hour and was encouraged to exercise at least 200 minutes every week and keep their daily calories to about 1,500. For comparison, the other women took part in monthly group classes for the first four months.

All of the women were asked at the beginning of the study and again six months later to describe how bothersome hot flashes were for them in the past month, using a five-point scale with answers ranging from "not at all" to "extremely."

When the study began, about half of both groups reported having hot flashes. After six months, 49 percent of the intervention group, compared with 41 percent of the others, reported improvement by "at least one category of bothersomeness," the study reported.

The women were also asked about their daily exercise, caloric intake and mental and physical functioning, Huang said. No correlation was found between any of these criteria and hot flashes, but "reduction in weight, body mass index [a ratio of height to weight] and abdominal circumference were each associated with improvements" in reducing hot flashes, she said

Huang, who's an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, said the findings could provide women with another reason to take control of their weight.

On the Web

To learn more about menopause, visit the U.S. National Women's Health Information Center. http://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause

SOURCES: HealthDay News;July 12, 2010, Archives of Internal Medicine; Alison Huang, M.D., assistant professor, medicine, University of California, San Francisco; U.S. National Institute on Aging (www.nia.nih.gov)

Author: Anne Thompson

Publication Date: July 31, 2011


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