A few years ago a friend revealed that she was experiencing frequent hot flashes. They were so bad that she went to her doctor for recommendations on how to reduce the symptoms that were becoming unbearable. Her doctor's advise was to start on hormone replacement therapy. My friend and I are roughly the same age. And while I may be in peri-menopause, I never experienced hot flashes like she described. I was convinced that if she switched to a whole food plant based diet she could significantly, if not completely, eliminate some of her symptoms. And as it turns out, I was right.
Hot flashes are the iconic symptom of the menopausal transition. Night sweats are hot flashes that occur during sleep. Hot flashes and night sweats are referred to as vasomotor symptoms (VMS). The term “vasomotor" usually refers to blood vessel action or the constriction (narrowing) or dilation (widening) of blood vessels. Estrogen, among other hormones, does have an impact on blood vessels, which is why it has an impact on these symptoms. VMS are very common; in fact, it’s estimated that by 2025, 21 million women in the US and 1.1 billion women worldwide will experience them. If you've never experienced a hot flash and are wondering what it feels like, imagine driving in a car or just lying in your bed and all of a sudden it feels like it's 150 degrees.
Unfortunately treatments for hot flashes have not been very good. And while some treatments are affective, they come with a slew of side affects. These treatments include drugs that come with a warning label a mile long with the risk of cancer, stroke, dementia, heart problems, nausea and vomiting. And odds are 1 in 25 women will develop side affects. Doctors prescribing some of these medications often find themselves in the precarious position of having to warn women of the serious risks associated with taking these medications years after having prescribed them.
Hot flashes may be a minor inconvenience for some, but they can also cause cognitive decline and vaginal dryness due to VMS.
I've been preaching the many benefits of the whole food plant based diet for years. And I can now add limiting menopausal symptoms to the list. A new study has shown that a diet that includes soy beans plays a crucial role in relieving the symptoms of menopause, including dreaded hot flashes.
The study found "a plant-based diet rich in soy reduces moderate-to-severe hot flashes by 84%, from nearly five per day to fewer than one per day. During the 12-week study, nearly 60% of women became totally free of moderate-to-severe hot flashes. Overall hot flashes (including mild ones) decreased by 79%"
It is important to note that eating soy in the presence of a plant based diet is the key to successfully mitigating the symptoms of menopause. In other words, consuming cheeseburgers while also eating a few edamame beans won't work. Eating soybeans in the context of a whole food plant based diet is the formula that has been shown to be most affective.
The reason soy works so well is because whole soy beans have isoflavones which are like natural medicine. Isoflavones attach to beta receptors which reduce cancer risk. Consuming a vegan or plant based diet changes the way your gut bacteria responds to the isoflavones in the best possible way. So having a healthy gut bacteria as a result of eating a plant based diet will allow the isoflavones to perform their magic.
Soy historically has gotten a bad rap. Some of the backlash has to do with soy being grown using genetically modified organism (GMO). Ironically, soy beans grown using GMO is generally used as cattle feed, namely for hog and chickens. So while some people avoid eating soy due to GMO, they may very well be consuming GMO by eating bacon and chicken. Organic foods, including soy beans by law cannot contain GMO. So when choosing a soy product make sure it is organic.
Soy beans have also been blamed for causing men to develop "man boobs" which is a myth that has been debunked time and again. Man boobs are a byproduct of consuming too much fat, not soy. Next time you see a man with "man boobs" ask him how much soy beans he's consuming. I'm guessing the answer will be "none".
The best way to eat soy beans is steamed or boiled. However, if you want a great snack or an added condiment to your salad, try this recipe:
Spread soy beans in a single layer on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Sprinkle soy beans with your favorite spices such as garlic powder or hot sauce. Bake in the over at 350 for 60 minutes. Let cool and store in Tupperware. This will also give your soy beans a much longer shelf life.
Now if we can only convince doctors to recommend soy beans as a remedy to relieve hot flashes instead of medication, we wouldn't have to sweat it!