Nutrition Hotline

By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD


“I’ve been asked for help by a friend with hot flashes which have been plaguing her for two years. Is there good dietary advice I can give her?”
C.G., via e-mail


Hot flashes are a commonly reported discomfort that occur during menopause. During a hot flash, women may feel flushed and overly warm, as well as feeling as if their heart is beating rapidly. Perspiration often increases and light-skinned women’s faces and necks redden.

The cause of hot flashes is not known, but is thought to be due to changes in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain. For many women, with time, hot flashes go away.

A recent meta-analysis (a statistical technique that combines the results of several studies) found that isoflavone supplements derived from soy reduced both the frequency and severity of hot flashes compared with a placebo. The median amount of isoflavones was 54 milligrams — equivalent to the amount of isoflavones in about 7 ounces of tofu. One of the authors of this meta-analysis, Mark Messina, PhD, commented, “Because only supplements were evaluated, it is not clear the results apply to whole soyfoods, although there is no obvious reason why they would not given equal isoflavone content1.”

Weight loss in women who are obese or overweight has been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms in at least one study2 although other studies report no effect of weight loss. Similarly, in some studies (but not all) physical activity, exercise, or yoga may be helpful in reducing hot flashes 3. Some foods and beverages are believed to trigger hot flashes in some women. Your friend may want to keep a record of foods she is eating (or has recently eaten) when she has a hot flash. She may be able to identify a pattern and then could try avoiding that food or beverage to see if avoidance helps to reduce symptoms. Some possible triggers include spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine. Stress can also worsen hot flashes.

Unfortunately, there has been limited research into dietary effects on menopause symptoms.


1 Taku K, Melby MK, Kronenberg F, et al. 2012. Extracted or synthesized soybean isoflavones reduce menopausal hot flash frequency and severity: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Menopause 19:776-90.

2 Huang AJ, Subak LL, Wing R, et al. 2010. An intensive behavioral weight loss intervention and hot flushes in women. Arch Intern Med 170:1161-7.

3 Daley AJ, Stokes-Lampard HJ, MacArthur C. 2009. Exercise to reduce vasomotor and other menopausal symptoms: a review. Maturitas 63:176-80.