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Mayo Clinic trial finds flaxseed reduces hot flashes

The summer 2007 issue of the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology reported a study conducted at the Mayo Clinic which found that consuming flaxseed can help reduce uncomfortable hot flashes in postmenopausal women who are not using estrogen replacement therapy. Hot flashes are the primary reason women are prescribed estrogen by their physicians, however, recent research has linked synthetic hormone replacement with an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease, resulting in an exodus of a large number of women from hormone treatment.
In a pilot study, breast health specialist Sandhya Pruthi, MD and colleagues gave 40 grams crushed flaxseed per day for six weeks to 29 women who suffered from hot flashes. The participants had not used any hormones, soy, or herbal supplements for the preceding four weeks. Questionnaires concerning the frequency and severity of hot flashes were administered before and after the treatment period. Twenty-one women completed the trial.
By the end of the study, hot flash frequency was cut in half and the overall hot flash score had diminished by an average of 57 percent. The women also reported improved mood, reduced joint or muscle pain, fewer chills, and less sweating.
Flaxseed was selected for the current trial because of its phytoestrogen content. Flax contains lignans that have mild estrogen-like effects as well as anticancer benefits. In recent trials, flax has been shown to help decrease the risk of breast cancer. The seeds are also a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
"We are quite pleased with the improvements noted by these women in their quality of life," Dr Pruthi commented. "Not only does flaxseed seem to alleviate hot flashes, but it appears to have overall health and psychological benefits as well."
"Hot flashes are a bothersome issue for women experiencing menopause," she observed. "We hope to find more effective nonhormonal options to assist women, and flaxseed looks promising."
It might seem like a stark choice: face aging and hormonal decline or rely on synthetic hormones that raise the risk of heart attack and breast cancer. Fortunately, there are other options. Progressive physicians throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan have begun to rely on natural bioidentical estrogens, or plant compounds that have estrogenic properties (called phytoestrogens).
Some of the best evidence for phytoestrogens comes from Asia. In Asia, women do not experience many of the diseases and symptoms associated with menopause and the loss of estrogen (Knight et al 1996; Park et al 2005; Sarkar et al 2003). Looking for answers, researchers examined whether there was a genetic difference or another explanation.
Phytoestrogens found in soy and other plant products may help protect aging Asian women (Park et al 2005; Sarkar et al 2003).  Phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors (Zittermann 2003). By competing for estrogen receptors, phytoestrogens help prevent the growth and spread of several hormone-dependent cancers (Adlercreutz et al 1992). They have also been shown to decrease the risk of some degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and breast and uterine cancer (Badowski et al 2001; Fletcher 2003; Magee et al 2004; Park et al 2005; Valentin-Blasini et al 2003).
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