Heavier women suffer more hot flashes, study suggests

Overweight women suffer more hot flashes during menopause than women who maintain a normal weight, according to the Hartford Courant. The news story references a study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology that debunks an earlier belief that menopausal women who were heavier experienced fewer hot flashes than thin women.

Hot flashes and night sweats are a common symptom of menopause in most women. While the cause is unknown, researchers believe those symptoms are due to changing levels of estrogen on the temperature regulation centers of the brain. According to the report, when estrogen levels drop during menopause, it triggers the body to release heat, making the woman experience a hot flash. Since body fat is insulating, researchers believe that women with more body fat may have a hard time dissipating body heat when hot flashes occur. Thus, the hot flashes tend to last longer.

Overweight women also tend to have higher circulation levels of estrogen, which was initially thought to reduce the impact of hot flashes. Higher estrogen circulation can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, but also can increase a woman’s risk of breast and uterine cancers.

Because menopausal symptoms can become bothersome, many women turn to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT was a common treatment for menopausal symptoms however more women are opting to go without or seek alternatives to HRT after the Women’s Health Initiative of 2002 showed that HRT increased a women’s risk of serious health conditions such as breast cancer and heart disease.

Some studies suggest that exercise may help alleviate some symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats. Considering the study recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, perhaps reducing body fat can also reduce the duration of hot flashes.