PITTSBURGH — 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 doused 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, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry, psychology, and epidemiology. The study is published in this month’s issue of the journal Menopause.
In 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, kept a food diary, and aerobically exercised 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 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.
Hormone replacement therapy, usually begun as a woman enters menopause, was once the premier weapon against hot flashes and other symptoms.
The Women’s Health Initiative, a landmark study on the use of estrogen and progestin therapy, was halted in 2002 after investigators found that hormone replacement therapy could raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, clots, and breast cancer.
When many doctors then stopped prescribing HRT, it led to “a lot of hot-flashing women ... 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 drug Brisdelle has a low dose of paroxetine, used at higher doses in the antidepressant Paxil. But Brisdelle’s label warns that the drug can increase suicidal thoughts or suicidal behavior as well asother 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.”
Losing weight to help control hot flashes can lead to other health benefits, such an improvement in cardiovascular problems and reduction of sleep apnea.
Ms. Thurston hopes to conduct a study on the effects of weight loss on a larger group of women to confirm the benefits.
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