Women of a seasoned age often experience hot flashes, night sweats and weight gain due to hormonal changes associated with menopause. These unpleasant and disruptive bodily events prompt many women to seek hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to bring them under better control.

There may be another, better, way to reduce the trying symptoms of menopause, one that does not carry the health risks that HRT does. A change in diet may be just what the doctor should order to control the symptoms of menopause, a new study suggests.

The women eating a plant-based diet with added soybeans had an 88 percent reduction in moderate to severe hot flashes, on par with the reduction seen with hormone replacement therapy. They also lost, on average, eight pounds.

Eighty-four postmenopausal women who reported experiencing two or more hot flashes per day took part in what was called The Women’s Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms (WAVS). They were divided into two groups. For twelve weeks, one group ate a low-fat, vegan diet which included a half-cup serving of cooked soybeans every day. The other group made no changes to their diet.

The women eating a plant-based diet with added soybeans had an 88 percent reduction in moderate to severe hot flashes over the course of the 12 weeks, on par with the 70 to 90 percent reduction seen with hormone replacement therapy. Even better, the women who followed a plant-based diet lost, on average, eight pounds.

“We do not fully understand yet why this combination works but it seems that these three elements are key — avoiding animal products, reducing fat, and adding a serving of soybeans,” explained lead researcher, Neal Barnard, a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine which sponsored the WAVS study. “Our results mirror the diets of places in the world, like pre-Westernized Japan and modern-day Yucatán Peninsula, where a low-fat, plant-based diet including soybeans is more prevalent and where postmenopausal women experience fewer symptoms.”

This study is the second in a two-part trial. The first study was performed in the fall and raised the question of cooler weather being responsible for the improvement in women’s symptoms. However, women who began the study during warmer weather experienced the same benefits, which ruled out seasonal temperature as a factor in the results of the study.

Diet intervention could become the first-line treatment for women with menopausal symptoms and reduce the need for hormone replacement therapy and its associated health risks. It’s a win-win in another way, too: A low-fat, plant-based diet is also known for reducing the increasing risk of health problems that aging women — and men — face, such as heart disease, breast cancer and memory problems.

The study is published by the North American Menopause Society in the journal Menopause.