Study: Flaxseed doesn't ease hot flashes

October 14, 2011 in Menopause, Nutrition Topics in the News

Study: Flaxseed doesn't ease hot flashes

New study findings from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota suggest that consuming flaxseed may not ease menopausal hot flashes despite some promising early evidence that it might.

The researchers found that 188 women who were randomly assigned to eat a daily flaxseed bar saw no more improvement in their hot flashes than women given flax-free placebo bars.

Over six weeks, more than one-third of the women in each group had a 50 percent reduction in the frequency and severity of their hot flashes.

The similar results in both groups suggest a placebo effect or some other explanation for the changes some women reported.

In an earlier pilot study, the researchers did find that women who consumed flaxseed saw their hot flashes diminish. But that study had no comparison group of women taking a placebo.

Flaxseed is high in compounds called lignans, a type of phytoestrogen. These are plant chemicals structurally similar to estrogen that have a very weak estrogen-like, and an anti-estrogen, effect in the body.

The most effective treatment for hot flashes is hormone replacement therapy, but since hormones have been linked to increased risks of heart disease, blood clots and breast cancer, many women are looking for alternative remedies.

But natural health products, such as soy and now flaxseed, have failed to stand up to clinical trials.

The latest study included women with bothersome hot flashes, such as those occurring at least an average of four times a day. Half of them had a history of breast cancer, which would generally make it inadvisable to treat the symptoms with hormones.

The researchers noted there were several possible reasons for the finding that flaxseed was no better than placebo at reducing hot flashes. In general, hot flash studies have found a significant placebo effect, with women feeling better because they expect to. Overall, 20 percent to 30 percent of placebo users improve, though some studies find even higher rates.

As well, hot flashes naturally wane over time for some women, and they can be variable since environmental triggers, such as hot weather or stress, can set them off.

If you're a woman experiencing hot flashes, here are a few suggestions I give my clients that may help ease symptoms.

Avoid potential triggers.  Many women report that alcoholic beverages, caffeine, hot drinks, spicy foods, and stress can affect the frequency and/or severity of hot flashes. Warm air temperatures that increase core body temperature may also bring on a hot flash.

Maintain a healthy weight.  Women who have a body mass index (BMI) of 27 or higher are more likely to experience hot flashes more often and more severely.  A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Google "BMI calculator" to determine your BMI.

If you are overweight, take action to lose excess weight at a rate of 1-2 pounds per week. Crash dieting for an extended period - consuming 1200 or fewer calories per day - can cause bone loss. 

Regular exercise can also reduce hot flashes as well as help control weight and maintain bone density.

Consider black cohosh.  This herbal supplement seems to offer modest relief for some women. The most consistent evidence is for a specific extract called Remifemin; studies using other formulations are less consistent.

If you want to try black cohosh, discuss first with your health care practitioner.  Based on clinical studies, black cohosh appears very safe.  However there have been reports of liver damage, possibly caused by product contamination.

Other supplements.  There's no evidence that red clover, chasteberry, dong quai or evening primrose oil eases hot flashes.  Don't waste your money.

Source for study: Menopause, Journal of the North American Menopause Society

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.