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Women's health: Fish oil supplement fights hot flashes

Treatment could offer a safe alternative to hormone therapy for menopausal women.

Supplements containing a fatty acid found in fish may help alleviate hot flashes in women going through menopause, Canadian researchers have found.

The researchers at Laval University in Quebec City originally designed their study to look at the effects of the supplement on menopause-related psychological symptoms. They recruited 120 menopausal women, ages 50 to 55, who had symptoms of psychological distress or depression and randomly assigned them to three different treatments, taken three times daily for eight weeks: 350 milligrams of enriched eicosapentaenoic acid (E-EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish; 50 milligrams of a similar supplement called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); or inactive placebo pills.

The original study found no significant changes in psychological symptoms, but among the 91 women who reported having hot flashes, those who took E-EPA had an average of 1.6 fewer hot flashes per day, about a 50 per cent improvement over the 3.3 hot flashes per day at the beginning of the study. Women who took placebo pills had a decrease of only 0.50 hot flashes per day, a 25 per cent improvement over the average of 2.3 hot flashes per day at the beginning of the study.

Michel Lucas, an epidemiologist and nutritionist at Laval, says these results are particularly notable because the women only had mild to moderate hot flashes at the beginning of the study. In women with severe hot flashes, the effects might be even more pronounced.

Lucas noted that marine-source omega-3 fatty acids such as E-EPA are associated with decreased risk of heart disease and have few side-effects. If they could treat hot flashes, they would provide an inexpensive, safe alternative to hormone therapy without raising concerns about potential heart risks.

“This kind of therapy should be tested again among other populations with more severe hot flashes,” he says.

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