It’s Gettin’ Hot In Here! Please, Don’t Take Off All Your Clothes.
7 Ways to Reduce Hot Flashes in Menopause
“It’s ten years of torture!” is how one friend describes menopause.
I’ve been working with women over 40 for the past 16+ years…there’s no avoiding the topic of menopause.
What is menopause, anyway?
Menopause is literally, the pause (or ceasing) of menstruation…clever, huh? You’ll also hear the terms peri-menopause and post-menopause thrown around.
We are in peri-menopause before menstruation actually stops. That’s when we have most of our symptoms…hot flashes, weight fluctuations, mood swings, erratic periods, etc. Our body is slowing and stopping estrogen production and so the symptoms begin. During this time, we may experience a surge in estrogen just before the end of production happens.
Once we have not had a period for 12 months, we are actually post-menopausal. The moment of menopause can’t actually be pinpointed.
Why do we stop producing estrogen?
Our ovaries stop producing estrogen. This results in a 95% drop in estrogen circulating in our bloodstream. That’s a huge drop. Which prompts the question…Why?
There are many theories about why our hormones shift in such drastic fashion. A 95% drop is huge. The science isn’t definitive. From an evolutionary standpoint, there seems to be a good reason for it. Estrogen influences the growth and shedding of the endometrium (the lining of our uterus). Prolonged exposure to estrogen may increase the risk of cancer growth and development.
Evolution decided to help us avoid prolonged estrogen exposure by ceasing the production of estrogen once our ovaries stop releasing eggs. Somewhere along the evolutionary line, our body decided that hot flashes, weight gain and some brain fog were a small price to pay for reducing our risk of cancer.
Which brings me to the hottest topic (yes, I went there) in menopause.
Hot flashes. What I find most interesting about hot flashes is the range in which we experience them. I have friends who have full-on meltdowns. You know the kind…first, her face flushes, then the beads of sweat break out and you know, inside, she’s on fire. There’s nothing you can do to help her, so you ignore it, pretend you’re both just fine (“You had a hot flash? I didn’t even notice!”). Conversation continues. I, on the other hand, feel a little warm now and again, more like the way I used to blush when embarrassed by something when I was a kid. It’s annoying, but not debilitating. And then there’s the lucky ones who are experiencing no hot flashes at all.
Which brings us back to Why? Why do some of us have wild swings in body temperature at no predictable interval while others barely notice they’re happening?
Science doesn’t have an answer. More frustrating! There are theories and there are influences or triggers that can make our hot flashes worse or better, but researchers have yet to determine the cause of these internal, tropical stay-cations.
Here’s what I found out.
We can make them worse. There’s more information about what makes hot flashes worse than there is about how to make them less severe. Here’s a list of what can make them worse:
- Cigarette smoke
- High-fat diet
- Diets high in animal-protein and fat
- Low fiber intake
- Low soy intake
- High BMI/being obese
- Living a sedentary lifestyle.
We can reduce their impact. To reduce how hot your flashes get and to have fewer of them, here’s what you can do. This list is pretty much the opposite of the list above.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake: Caffeine will increase heart rate and blood flow, which can make us feel warmer even without the hormone adjustment. Alcohol also acts as a vasodilator. This means that alcohol opens our blood vessels, bringing more heat to the surface of our skin, making us feel warmer. Reduce both alcohol and caffeine intake to reduce the impact of hot flashes.
- Increase fiber intake: Yes, this means eat more fruit, veggies, legumes, nuts and grains. Taking a fiber supplement is NOT the same as eating whole-foods that contain fiber.
- Reduce the animal-based fat and protein in your diet: You don’t have to go vegan or vegetarian, but experiment with this and see how you feel. Shift your focus from “I can’t eat meat” to I’ll add in one or two additional servings of fruits, veggies, etc. into my day.
- Eat regularly: This study found that hot flashes were reduced when blood glucose was raised (as it is immediately after eating) vs. fasting.
- Reduce your body fat and reduce your weight: Our bodies can produce estrogen from our body fat. This fact supports a theory that our body increases our abdominal body fat so that we have a way to counter the ovaries ceasing to produce estrogen. What we do know is that women with higher BMI had a greater number and increased severity of hot flashes.
- Get moving: Exercise has been shown in studies to decrease the severity of hot flashes although exactly why this happens is unclear. We know the result, but not the reason for the result.
- Black Cohosh: is an herb that has shown mixed effects on hot flashes, depending on the study. This study shows benefit. Please be aware that Black Cohosh can have some side effects and because it is an herbal remedy, it’s tough to know how much of it will benefit you. Do your research and speak with your doctor before trying it.
This too, shall pass.
We go through menopause in a 2–10 year span. This is part of what makes studying menopause difficult. Is the intervention really helping or are we just moving through the process and our bodies adjust?
Remember, it’s your body.
If you’re struggling with menopause, ask for help. Speak with your doctor. If s/he doesn’t take you seriously, get a second (or third or fourth) opinion. Find someone who will listen to you.
There are a range of symptoms that come along with this time in our lives. Some are great, some just suck. Whether you are thriving as you transition or struggling, you deserve to be listened to and you’re not crazy.
In The Women’s Wellness Academy I help you work through menopause, along with the mindset and physical aspects of our changing bodies. Yes, you can lose weight and have great energy through every stage of your life. Together, we get you to your healthiest life. Find out more here.