Study reports a reduction in symptoms of menopause without the use of drugs through a plant-based diet and whole soybeans.
In Western countries, up to 80% of postmenopausal women suffer from vasomotor symptoms, commonly referred to as hot flashes. Hot flashes cause peripheral vasodilation producing sensations of warmth in the face, neck, and chest, as well as sweating and flushing. Other symptoms of menopause include night sweats, low mood, difficulty sleeping, and problems with memory and concentration.
In randomized clinical trials, soy products have been associated with a reduction in the frequency of hot flashes.1 This could be because soy products contain isoflavones, which can be metabolized by gut bacteria into equol, a nonsteroidal compound that has been found to reduce the incidence and severity of hot flashes in some studies.2 Differences in diet affect gut bacterial populations; for instance, vegetarian or vegan diets produce higher levels of equol. Plant-based diets rapidly alter bacterial populations in the gut.
Benefits of a plant-based diet rich in soy
Research published by the North American Menopause Society3 investigated the effect of combining a low-fat plant-based diet and soybeans on the frequency and severity of menopausal hot flashes. This study, called the Women’s Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms (WAVS), was based on the book ‘Your Body in Balance’ by Dr. Neal Barnard.
Co-author Dr. Hana Kahleova explained, “Previous studies have shown that soy could be beneficial, so we decided to put a diet change to the test. We believe that the combination is what is important.” 4
Postmenopausal women were randomly assigned to a low-fat, vegan diet (with a daily intake of 86 grams of soybeans) or to no changes in diet for 12 weeks. The intervention group followed a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and avoided oils and fatty foods. The ½ cup of soybeans used in the study was expected to deliver 55-60 grams of isoflavones per day.
Participants were eligible if they were between the ages of 45 and 65 and experienced moderate-to-severe hot flashes at least twice per day. The frequency and intensity of hot flashes were recorded using a mobile application. Vasomotor, physical, psychosocial, and sexual symptoms were assessed using the Menopause-Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire (MENQOL).
Plant-based diet plus soy reduced symptoms of menopause
The study found that there was a reduction in troublesome menopausal symptoms without the use of drugs through a plant-based diet and whole soybeans. Overall hot flashes were significantly reduced by 79% in the intervention group and 49% in the control group.
Moderate-to-severe hot flashes were decreased by 84%, from nearly five per day to less than one per day in participants who were on a plant-based diet. Following the 12-week study, 59% of intervention-group participants were free of moderate and severe hot flashes, while the control group showed no differences.
There were additional improvements in overall energy, mood, and sexual symptoms in the plant-based diet plus soy group. Bodyweight also significantly decreased in this group by an average of 3.5 kilograms.
Dr. Kahleova stated, “By the end of the study, the majority of women on a plant-based diet rich in soy reported that they no longer experienced moderate-to-extreme hot flashes at all and that they experienced significant improvements in their quality of life.”
Comments from study participants about this new approach to reduce menopausal symptoms were extremely positive. One participant stated, “Before you jump to any kind of medication, I would try this route because it’s easy. Anybody can do it.” Another participant said, “This was basically a lifesaver for me. I’ve got my quality of life back.” Another response was that “I am sleeping better, and my hot flashes diminished tremendously.”
This study provides more evidence supporting the combined use of a plant-based diet and daily soybean consumption on lowering the frequency of hot flashes. Dr. Barnard stated, “This is a game-changer for women aged 45 and over, most of whom we now know can get prompt relief from the most severe and troubling menopause symptoms without drugs.”
1. Franco O, et al. (2016). Use of plant-based therapies and menopausal symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA, 315(23), 2554-2563. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27327802/
2. Daily J, et al. (2019). Equol decreases hot flashes in postmenopausal women: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Medicinal Food, 22(2), 127-139. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30592686/
3. Barnard N, et al. (2021). The Women’s Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms (WAVS): a randomized, controlled trial of a plant-based diet and whole soybeans for postmenopausal women. Menopause, 373(262). Retrieved from: https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/Abstract/9000/The_Women_s_Study_for_the_Alleviation_of_Vasomotor.96938.aspx
4. Study shows diet causes 84% drop in troublesome menopausal symptoms – without drugs (2021). EurekAlert! Retrieved from: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-07/pcfr-ssd071421.php
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