Hot flashes are a classic symptom of menopause here in the United States. Understandably, many women have concerns regarding hormone replacement therapy (HRT) due to the increased risk of blood clots, strokes, heart disease, dementia, high blood pressure, weight gain, depression and uterine, breast and ovarian cancer. So what's a woman to do? Carry a fan and suffer through? NO! I tell my patients that we can treat this very natural change of life with a very natural remedy: food.
Food choices play a significant role in the severity of menopausal symptoms. For example, when Mayan women of Yucatan, Mexico were interviewed about their menopausal experience, the women reported that they had absolutely no incidence of hot flashes. Hot flashes simply did not occur, nor were they mentioned in books regarding Mayan botanical medicine. In fact, there is no word for hot flashes in the Mayan language. The Mayan women were consuming a traditional diet consisting of beans, tomatoes, corn and corn tortillas, squash, sweet potatoes, radishes and many other vegetables. Dairy products were excluded from their diet and very small amounts of meat were eaten.
Researchers looked at the evidence and compared it to information from Europe and Asia. The data indicated that women who eat a rich, high-fat, low-fiber Western diet that's rich in animal protein experience a more dramatic drop in estrogen at menopause, provoking more severe symptoms. This is essentially due to the fact that during menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen. As a result, menopausal symptoms are considerably worse when high-fat animal products like meat, cheese and dairy products are eaten because they increase the levels of circulating estrogen throughout a woman's life. This is particularly true for dairy products. Sixty to seventy percent of the estrogen in food comes from dairy sources. In contrast, the Mayans and Asians eat a low-fat diet with minimal animal products which consists mainly of rice and vegetables. As a result, their menopausal symptoms are mild or even nonexistent because their estrogen levels are lower throughout their life and at the time they enter menopause. The levels do not have to drop as far in women who eat a diet based on whole plant foods.
So when my patients ask me what they can do about hot flashes and other menopause symptoms, I point them to their plates. I encourage my patients to adopt a low-fat, no-added-oil, whole-food, plant-based diet and to trade in their fan for a fork. But I don't want to oversimplify here. Menopause is a complex subject, and there's much more we could talk about. The article Reducing Menopause Symptoms provides more information on the connection between food choices and hormone levels. If you're already in menopause, don't despair! View the trailer for my DVD linked below. In it, I discuss the role of estrogen in women's bodies and how this powerful hormone affects our health before, during, and after menopause.