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.
About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
As one of the nation's leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1998. In rankings recently released by the National Science Foundation, Pitt ranked fifth among all American universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support.
Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region's economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see www.medschool.pitt.edu.
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