As a gynecologist and women’s sexual health expert, Dr. Anna Cabeca hears from women every day about the horrors of hot flashes! Not only can they be embarrassing and uncomfortable, they can make you feel downright awful! Unfortunately, these intense periods of overheating are a natural part of menopause. And not only are they a regular part of this time of life, they are the most frequently reported negative symptom that woman experience during menopause. So, what exactly are hot flashes? When do they appear? And how long will they remain? Dr. Anna is here to explain hot flashes causes, and offer natural treatments that will help you cope with hot flashes.
As women age from their 40s to their 50s, sexual hormones start to decline and they become less fertile. It’s this period of life, referred to as menopause, when women most frequently experience hot flashes. Want some more bad news? Hot flashes can last for years. In fact, recent research (the SWAN study, which spanned 17 years) found that hot flashes lasted more than seven years for more than half of the women!
What Causes Hot Flashes?
Researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint the precise cause of hot flashes, why women go through them at various ages or or why they are more severe for some women. The body’s hormone changes are considered to be one piece of the puzzle, but hormones alone don’t explain why hot flashes differ from woman to woman.
If a woman starts to have hot flashes in perimenopause (while still having a period), for example, research has shown she is more likely to continue having them for a longer period of time.
On the other hand, research has shown that a woman’s ethnicity and lifestyle can also affect hot flashes. For example, in the SWAN study, African American women experienced longer periods of hot flash symptoms. The study also concluded that anxiety, perceived stress and depressive symptoms can equate to a longer period of hot flashing.
Still other research has indicated that there is a connection between hot flash severity and obesity; others have found relationships between smoking and hot flash severity.
So what could possibly be the good news in all this? Menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness and even that annoying urine leak when you laugh can all be improved upon!
The Physical And Mental Impact Of Hot Flashes
Through my work in healthcare with thousands of women over the years, it seems that one of the most difficult challenges of hot flashes is simply explaining them. Sometimes you may feel the need to underscore that it is a significant health impact that you are suffering from, especially when trying to explain them to a significant other or maybe even a colleague.
It’s not uncommon to hear people making jokes about hot flashes or trivializing them. And the idea that they aren’t necessarily a serious and uncomfortable experience makes it even harder to speak up.
Hot flashes are just one of those things that are hard to understand until you’ve been there yourself. Maybe your colleague thinks the fan on your desk is silly, or your teenage children find it amusing that you’re suddenly peeling off clothing. But anyone who has gone through hot flashes knows how real and uncomfortable they can be.
So What Do Hot Flashes Feel Like?
For most women, hot flashes come out of the blue without any warning. One minute you may be reading a magazine and the next you’re standing in front of an open freezer (and enjoying it)! During a hot flash, a woman experiences a feeling of intense heat. It’s more than just feeling overheated after working out. Hot flashes can be extremely disruptive and impactful.
During a hot flash, blood vessels near the surface of a woman’s skin dilate to help the body cool off. The heart races to pump more blood to reach the surface of the skin (where it is cooler), and that causes the face and neck to blush red. In addition to sweating, some women have reported rapid heart rate, lightheadedness, nausea and chills. A hot flash at night, called a night sweat, can make sleeping miserable as well.
Good News! Hot Flashes Typically Stop At Some Point.
The perimenopause transition period usually begins when women are in their 30s, although it may not be noticeable. As hormones begin to fluctuate, woman can experience PMS symptoms and irregular periods. First, progesterone levels decline, followed by estrogen and others.
In a summary of longitudinal studies, it was observed that between 48.8 (SWAN study) to 79 percent (Penn Ovarian Aging Study) of post-menopausal women experienced hot flashes.
These studies found that the peak prevalence of hot flashes occurs during the late menopausal transition phase and during the early postmenopausal phase of a woman’s life.
6 Ways to Get Your Hot Flashes To Chill Out!
What hot flashes treatments are there? Are there natural treatments for hot flashes? Is that even possible? Or, can you at least make them more bearable? Here are six hot flashes treatment strategies to try to help improve the problem.
1. Avoid Hot Flash Triggers
Although all women are different, hot flashes have some similarities. Typical triggers include caffeine and alcohol, food sensitivities (such as dairy), refined sugars and simple carbs (avoid the white processed stuff, which is very acidic to your body!), smoking, hot foods (temperature or spiciness), warm temperatures in your environment (especially in the bedroom at night), and stress.
Once you can determine what your triggers are, avoiding them may help alleviate hot flashes in general. Consider journaling when and where you have hot flashes to see if you can pinpoint a cause. While it sounds easy, I know that determining and eliminating triggers is not always a simple process!
An alkaline diet may also help. This diet supports hormone balance and overall health. Many of the lifestyle components that are simply good health habits (getting enough sleep, reducing stress and minimizing vices) will also keep your body alkaline.
2. Destress As Much As Possible
The stress hormone cortisol is key to how we will experience menopause as it affects overall inflammation, hormone balance and our body’s ability to remain sensitive to insulin.
Although cortisol is a natural anti-inflammatory, when the body releases it suddenly in large quantities (when we’re stressed, for example), it affects glucose production. So cortisol levels that are too high or too low will cause problems with our bodies’ glucose production and metabolism, which will both cause inflammation in the body.
For that reason, I believe insulin and cortisol have more to do with symptoms in menopause than other hormones, including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone (hormones that are in flux during menopause).
Avoiding spikes in cortisol levels will help the body find a hormone balance. Failing to do so means our bodies will continue to struggle with inflammatory symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, mood swings, anxiety and insomnia.
One way to destress is to try to incorporate practices such as deep belly breathing (deep inside the abdomen, with slow breaths at about 5-6 breaths per minute) for maybe 15 minutes twice a day. You can even use it during a hot flash to try to calm your body down.
Additionally, meditation, whether it’s sitting quietly, journaling, spending time with a loved one or connecting with nature, can also reduce stress levels.
While daily exercise is good for the body, intense exercise can actually trigger hot flashes! Try an exercise like walking or dancing if intense activity is too much.
3. Make Your Environment Hot-Flash Friendly
This is the simplest of natural hot flashes treatments! And sometimes simple changes can make a big difference. Try to wear lightweight clothes made of natural fibers like cotton and wear layers that you can take off easily when necessary. At night, keep the temperature low (65 degrees) and use a “chill pillow,” cooling blankets or even a cooling mattress pad or mattress. Take advantage of fans! Bring one into work or try one in the kitchen while cooking.
4. Supplements May Help With Hot Flashes, Too
Supplements have the potential to help alleviate the symptoms of menopause as well, by balancing hormones, supporting adrenal health and reducing inflammation. Always discuss supplements with your doctor.
Clients experiencing hot flashes and menopausal symptoms may find that taking maca, progesterone (a hormone that can be purchased without a prescription) or vitamin E help keep symptoms at bay.
Maca: Maca is my favorite adaptogen herb because it does wonders to combat stress! Maca will also help balance hormones and has been shown in studies to improve libido and menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, excessive sweating, nervousness and interrupted sleep patterns. Maca can also help nourish your adrenals, detoxify your system and help with alkalinity.
It can also help with libido and fertility for women and men! I have used maca in my superfoods drink, Mighty Maca ®Plus for all of these reasons. Mighty Maca nourishes your adrenals, detoxifies and helps with alkalinity, too.
Progesterone: Another supplement that will support your adrenals and overall hormone balance is progesterone. This hormone, available in over-the-counter form, can help with stress response, sleep and mood. Vitamin C, healthy fats (such as ghee or coconut oil) and B vitamins will also support adrenals.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is an antioxidant that has many health benefits, including the ability to help reduce hot flashes. A small 2007 study showed that consuming 400 IU vitamin E everyday helped reduce the severity of hot flashes.
Get Alkaline! To control cortisol fluctuations, try to establish a good nutritional and alkaline baseline.
To help with overall menopause symptoms, you may also want to consider trying Julva, my anti-aging feminine cream that helps with vaginal dryness, urinary leakage, as well as painful menopause.
5. Essential Oils Can Cool You Off and Help You Sleep
Not only are the aromas of essential oils soothing, they can be used as a natural hot flashes treatment by alleviating some symptoms. Lavender oil can help with overall sleep and relaxation while clary sage oil helps with relaxation and cooling. Peppermint oil also provides a cooling sensation. Consider diffusing oils in your home or even adding a few drops of essential oils to a cool bath.
6. Hormone Replacement Therapy
Bio-identical HRT (hormone replacement therapy) is a possibility if hot flashes are severe and other therapies do not offer relief. This version of estrogen therapy uses manufactured hormones that imitate those found naturally in the body.
Although hormone replacement therapy can be helpful, it can also cause unwanted issues. Having added estrogen circulating throughout the bloodstream is not recommended for women who have had estrogen-fueled breast cancer, a history of blood clots or cardiovascular disease.
Note that “local” estrogen therapies, such as creams or vaginal suppositories, have not been found to be effective with hot flashes, although they can help with vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse.
There are a variety of other prescription medications that have been in the news for their ability to control hot flashes. While I don’t recommend them to my patients, talk to your doctor about these options if you’d like.
Redefining Hot Flashes and Menopause
Attitude is everything in my book. If you approach menopause with dread and fear, you will most likely be miserable. And while there are certainly challenges in menopause, there are positives as well.
Try to approach menopause as a journey to a new you.
Many women gain a sexy confidence as they age and they also take on a new-found independence. Children may be moving out, we may enter a new phase of our job, or maybe we can retire!
Embrace the opportunities and freedoms, including no more periods (!!!), during this time of life.
Many women in menopause finally reach a place in their lives where they can focus on things that feed their spirit, rather than focusing on what everyone else needs. What does this mean for you? What new passion can you embrace or what adventure can you take?
And finally, the hormonal and neurotransmitter shifts that happen during menopause are also an opportunity for what I call “energized enlightenment.” While your body experiences a physical metamorphosis, consider your spirit and how you can refresh your inner being as well.
- While we do not know for sure what causes hot flashes, we know they can be uncomfortable and embarrassing!
- Luckily, hot flashes subside as women approach the later menopausal stage.
- Women should try to avoid triggers of hot flashes, which can include caffeine, food sensitivities, spicy food, and warm temperatures.
- Destressing can help to minimize some of the symptoms of menopause and hot flashes.
- Try to stay cool to minimize hot flashes.
- Some supplements, including maca, may help to alleviate the symptoms of menopause and hot flashes.
- Try essential oils to naturally alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause.
- Talk to your doctor about Hormone replacement therapies.
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