Middle-aged women coping with menopause symptoms have just received a powerful incentive to drop a few pounds: New research suggests diet and exercise can significantly reduce hot flashes and night sweats. The University of California, San Francisco researchers put 226 overweight, menopausal women on an intense weight-loss program, monitoring how bothered they were by various aspects of hot flashes, which happen when fluctuating estrogen levels confuse the body, setting off cooling mechanisms, which include profuse perspiration. Hot flashes and night sweats plague 85% of all menopausal women.

Over the course of six months, weight loss and reductions in waist circumference produced significant improvements in self-reported hot flashes, when compared to a control group. Even for those slightly bothered by such episodes, close to half were 223% more likely to show improvement. Those not on the weight-loss wagon were twice as likely to have symptoms worsen!

Another UCSF research team previously found that regular yoga practice curbed hot flash symptoms by 31%. Other research found that meditative breathing reduced such symptoms by 44%. In addition to exercise and stress management, filling up on more fruit and vegetables can help women keep excess pounds at bay, thus improving hormonal balance.

Published September 1, 2010