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Weight Loss for Overweight Women Could Help Control Hot Flashes, Pitt Study Finds

 
PITTSBURGH, July 7 – Weight loss achieved through moderate calorie reduction and physical activity could help control hot flashes in women going through menopause, a study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reports.
 
The study is available online this month in the journal Menopause.
 
“Currently, the most effective treatment for hot flashes is hormone therapy. However, many women are reluctant to take hormone therapy due to its potential health risks, including risk for heart attacks and thromboembolic events,” said Rebecca C. Thurston, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, psychology and epidemiology with Pitt. “In the past, we thought body fat might protect against hot flashes, but that idea has recently been challenged with research indicating women with a higher body mass index report more hot flashes than their leaner counterparts. Our study suggested that weight loss achieved through diet and exercise may be a promising strategy to help manage hot flashes.”
 
Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms associated with menopause, and for many women they can be frequent and severe. Women with hot flashes are at a greater risk for sleep problems and depression than women without them, and they are the main cause of out-of-pocket gynecologic expenditures, according to Dr. Thurston.
 
“Identifying behavioral methods that bring relief to hot flashes could greatly improve the quality of life for millions of women,” said Dr. Thurston.
 
The pilot study had two goals: The first was to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of a behavioral weight loss intervention for reducing hot flashes and the second was to understand whether women showed greater reductions in hot flashes if they lost weight.  For the study, 40 overweight or obese women experiencing four or more hot flashes a day who also wanted to lose weight were recruited from Pittsburgh and surrounding communities. The women were randomly assigned to a weight loss arm or the control arm of the study. The weight loss intervention included calorie reduction and moderate exercise, and was tailored to midlife women, addressing dietary and activity choices in the context of sleep loss, work and caretaking demands.
 
Women in the weight loss group lost approximately 10.7 percent of their weight. There was little weight or body change in the control group. Women in the intervention group showed a tendency toward greater hot flash reduction compared to women in the control group.
 
“The results of this initial study challenge some long-held theories about hot flashes, and offer us a potential way to manage them,” said Dr. Thurston. “We are now designing a larger study which will more definitively test whether behavioral weight loss may reduce hot flashes.”
 
This study was supported by the National Institutes of health through the National Institute on aging, grant number AG029216.

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