Week of September 3, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: I know that I need to get more exercise, but I’m worried that it may make my mid-life hot flashes worse. What can I expect?

A: You are correct that regular physical activity is important. Evidence is stronger than ever that exercise is key for heart and bone health and lower risk of diabetes and cancer. But moderate or vigorous activity can make us feel warmer, so your concern about affecting hot flashes is understandable. An overall analysis of research found no conclusive evidence from controlled trials on whether exercise could help reduce hot flashes and night sweats in menopausal women. The researchers did report that exercise seemed to offer some potential help, but noted the need for more high-quality studies. A small recent study of women who were near or at menopause found that in the hours following moderate activity, hot flashes actually decreased about 25 percent compared to before the exercise session. On the other hand, women did tend to report more hot flashes than usual overall on days that included more activity than usual. This was more of a problem for less physically fit women. Researchers suggest physically fit women may have fewer hot flashes because of the many changes in heart rate, blood pressure and nervous system associated with regular physical activity. Keep notes as you try different approaches to physical activity, and see if some types, intensities or times of day allow you to stay more comfortable than others. If you are currently not very physically fit, gradually increasing time and then intensity of aerobic exercise like walking, biking or dancing may improve your level of fitness. Swimming may also be a good temperature-friendly choice for an activity with which to build endurance-type fitness that could make all other activities easier and less likely to prompt a hot flash.

Q: Does selenium reduce risk of prostate cancer? How much do we need, and what foods supply it?

A: Selenium is a mineral and is one of many antioxidants in our food that may help lower risk of prostate and other cancers, however it’s important not to overdo. The AICR/WCRF expert report and its updates found that foods containing selenium help lower risk for prostate cancer. In addition, a recent analysis of all related studies confirms that higher body levels of selenium are linked with lower risk of prostate cancer (especially the aggressive form) but only up to a point. And in a study where men took supplements of 200 mcg daily, only those who started with low blood levels of selenium had reduced prostate cancer risk. Those with medium or higher levels did not. The recommended Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for selenium is 55 micrograms (mcg) for men and women and in the United States, almost everyone gets well over the recommended intake. Seafood, meat and grains are the major dietary sources. You get 35 to 75 mcg in a three-ounce portion of fish, 23-30 mcg in a 3-ounce portion of poultry or meat, and 6-19 mcg in one-half cup of pasta or rice. Vegetables and fruits mostly supply only small amounts, except for the 9 to 18 mcg in a half-cup of cooked mushrooms. For that matter, you can get the entire RDA in one Brazil nut. To avoid nerve damage, hair loss and digestive disturbances, the maximum total selenium from food and supplements considered safe is 400 mcg per day. Selenium intakes too low and too high both pose overall cancer risk.

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