Women could significantly reduce menopause symptoms within 12 weeks by changing to a Japanese diet and exercise plan, suggests a new study.
Previous research has linked the lack of menopause symptoms in Japanese women to their high intake of soy-derived phytoestrogens. But there has been little evidence to show that Western women who change to such a diet late in life can gain immediate benefits.
Researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia report that women following the Women's Wellness Program, a lifestyle intervention programme involving walking and strength exercises as well as a diet rich in calcium and foods high in phytoestrogens, saw significant reduction both in menopause symptoms and in body fat and blood pressure.
"Japanese women are regarded as the healthiest women in the world, averaging a life span at least five years longer than Western women," said senior lecturer in women's health and nursing at QUT Dr Debra Anderson.
"This study was the first to incorporate identifiable lifestyle differences of Japanese women and educate Western women about them, and the results have been very positive," she added.
The 12-week randomized controlled trial involved 120 women aged between 50 and 65. The researchers assessed several factors before and after the study, including general health status, biophysical cardiovascular risk factors , such as blood-pressure and indicators of central and general obesity, menopausal symptoms and dietary and exercise activity.
The women were asked to record daily diet and exercise activities in a journal and were also offered lifestyle tips and exercises, outlined in book published by the study authors, The Menopause Made Simple Program (Allen and Unwin). The participants were also encouraged to increase dietary phytoestrogens to 40mg per day through eating more soy-based foods and grains, raise calcium intake to 1500 mg per day and drink eight glasses of water daily.
Women involved in the study noticed significant changes after 12 weeks, including a reduction in hot flushes and palpitations, and fewer feelings of depression, fatigue and lack of motivation, said Anderson.
"We also saw significant weight losses, particularly in abdominal fat and a drop in blood pressure," she reported. "Some of the women have ceased hormone replacement therapy, or are considering doing so and we have encouraged them to discuss this with their GP."
Anderson added that it was not clear if the increase in phytoestrogens was the only explanation for the positive results, "but we can say that the increased phystoestrogens together with the increase in exercise has resulted in these positive results," she told NutraIngredients.com.
The research team is currently looking for further funding to extend the study to test the use of exercise only and nutrition only. This would help break down the findings to better understand which element of the programme has the biggest impact - phytoestrogens, exercise or both combined.
"My hunch is that the combination of dietary phytoestrogens is allowing the body to convert the abdominal fat (that women get postmenopausally due to change of hormones) into muscle and the combination of exercise with phytoestrogens is accelerating this very quickly. This is good news for women as abdominal fat is linked very closely to heart disease and is often very hard for women to shift," she said.
The findings will be presented at the Australasian Menopause Conference to be held in Hobart, Australia next month and will also be submitted for publication.