3 November 1999

Having a Hot Flush?

by Kate Melville

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center are seeking women who have "hot flushes" and other symptoms associated with the onset of menopause. The reason is that the hospitals Center for Women's Health is one of seventeen sites across the USA that is involved in a clinical study of the ability of soy-based phytoestrogens to lessen the unpleasant symptoms many women experience as their menstrual cycles become less regular. Here have been several Science A Go Go stories related to phytoestrogens a, compound that exists in many plant foods and that mimic the effects of estrogen. Women approaching menopause, produce less natural estrogen, resulting in symptoms that range from mood swings, night sweats to hot flushes, insomnia and vaginal dryness. Traditionally many menopausal women are treated with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), but one side effect of increased estrogen levels can be an overgrowth of the cells of the lining of the uterus the endometrium (a known risk factor for the later development of endometrial cancer). Scientists for some time been evaluating the role of phytoestrogens in the diet as the prevalence of menopausal symptoms seems to be lower in communities whose diet is high in phytoestrogens.

Phytoestrogens may be beneficial in treating the symptoms of menopause without some of the side effects. Plants like soybeans, clovers, chickpeas and lentils have high concentrations of a type of phytoestrogen called isoflavones. There is already a soy-based phytoestrogen supplement already available over-the-counter to women in the USA.

"Hot 'flashes' is clearly the term that most people are comfortable with, although 'flushes' is more technically correct," said Elaine Revis, a scientist at the Center for Women's Health. "It is what actually happens. Women get a vasomotor flush, a dilation of blood vessels. The result is a hot sensation and a red flush in skin color. We know that estrogen levels get very unstable as women approach menopause. As they go up and down, hot flushes and other symptoms occur. The supplementation of soy-based phytoestrogens is intended to help stabilize those hormonal levels."

So watch this space for a future report about Hot Flushes when the results from this Cedars-Sinai research are published.