Many women think that hot flashes are inevitable unless hormone therapy (which puts one at risk for breast cancer) is used. Another misconception is that hot flashes occur as menopause begins and cease after the monthly menstrual cycle ceases. Women can experience hot flashes long after menopause ends one's reproductive years.
Vitamins & Supplements
What are Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes are experienced by women, and sometimes men, as a subtly growing wave of heat within. The face and skin flushes and we get increasingly uncomfortable. For some women there are other subtle sensations, such as very slight nausea that signal an approaching hot flash, allowing us to sometimes take preemptive steps. They are usually of short duration - a matter of minutes, but can be intense enough to want to retreat to the refrigerator, even in winter.
What Causes Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes are caused by a woman's hormonal system being a little out of balance. Sometimes the result is that the internal thermometer mis-adjusts, so that a change in environmental temperature causes the body to over- or under-react. A typical example is that we climb snug into bed on a cold night, pull up the covers warmly about our ears and then five minutes feel or sense the tell-tale rise of internal heat - and off come the covers. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulates internal body temperature. With loss of estrogen, intake of certain foods or medicines, or hormones generated through stressful reactions to life - the hypothalamus is less able to do its job.
Foods can trigger hot flashes. Many women react to certain foods by having increased numbers of hot flashes. If we pay attention to our diet we may find that 3 or 4 days of tomato sauce or aged cheese, or 3 or 4 days of double shots of espresso cause an increase in the hot flash rate. Other women who have allergies or sensitivities to some foods may notice that they trigger an increase in hot flashes. As we age some foods or drinks such as alcohol, may trigger the heat even though it had not been a problem in the past.
Learn more about specific foods that often increase hot flashes.
Medications and Drugs
Medications and drugs can also trigger hot flashes, such as raloxifine, a medication for reducing breast cancer risk (but increasing uterine cancer risk) in postmenopausal women who have osteoporosis. and tamoxifen, also used to treat both female and male breast cancer.
Stress and emotional reactions, with their accompanying surge of various hormones are another source of heat creation. When aggravated or upset, we release the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine which elevate blood flow - the flight or fight response.
Little Natural Detoxification
The reality is that while we were pre-menopausal, our bodies had a great method of regularly removing certain toxins - the monthly menstrual cycle. That option is gone and we begin to accumulate waste products within body systems as evidenced by development of age-related health and vision conditions..
However, There are many approaches to creating balance which may reduce or stop hot flashes.
Doctors have considered hormone replacement therapy to be the best treatment for hot flashes - however it has been well known that HRT increases the risk of both breast cancer and stroke. Other technologies involve injection of local anesthetics into one's neck nerves which is used with cancer patients.
"Emergency" hot flash self-help technique
The enzymes and components of one's own saliva change as we go through our daily life. They provide a balancing force to what the body may need at any one time. So, at the first hint of the onset of a hot flash, swish your tongue around to generate more saliva, and swallow; continue until the symptom of the oncoming hot flash subsides. For some women this is a highly effective preemptive first-aid technique.
Read "A Woman's Best Medicine for Medicine," now retitled "The Ageless Woman: Natural Health and Beauty After Forty with Maharishi Ayurveda" by Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf. This truly excellent book contains everything about self-help for menopausal symptoms, discusses the three doshas in detail and includes several self-testing questionnaires to help you determine your best own personal prescription. Note this book is much more specific than her first book, "Health, Happiness, and Long Life through Maharishi Ayur-Veda."
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are effective treatments for bringing the body into balance and reducing hot flashes. TCM regards the body as a network of inter-acting systems connected by meridians or channels of energy. When the flow of energy from one part of the body to another is blocked or out of balance, there are consequences to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. TCM treats systems as a whole rather than symptoms specifically (as does Western medicine).
The Traditional Chinese Medicine approach to reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes is to help gently balance the meridians (energy flows within the body) affected by menopause. The primary meridian to balance and support is the kidney meridian, which among other thing helps with water and fluid distribution throughout the body. A common symptom in menopause is a reduction of essential fluids in the body (which cools natural heat generated in the body), resulting in "heat rising", resulting in hot flashes.
There is some research to substantiate that acupuncture inhibits the unbalanced reaction of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands that act or, rather, misbehave to create a hot flash. The kidney meridian in Chinese medicine also rules over the endocrine system, which controls hormone production and balancing.
In a small pilot study published in Menopause in 2014 researchers evaluated 40 women who had 20 or more hot flashes per week. They were divided into four groups and received acupuncture, "sham" acupuncture, a TCM formulation of 14 herbs, or a placebo. The acupuncture treatment had marked beneficial results. The TCM formulation had mild results, only compared to placebo (and there are other issues with it). 1
The ayurvedic approach considers the three doshas (three energies believed to circulate in the body and govern physiological activity in ayurvedic medicine) that predominate in the natural aging process. Each displays specific qualities, both positive and negative. During youth, kapha predominates (healthy: stable emotions, smooth skin and hair, strong constitution; unhealthy: overweight, lethargic). During middle age, pitta predominates (healthy: creative, energetic mind, supple skin, strong body; unhealthy: type A personality imbalances, skin irritations). After middle age, menopausal and post menopausal, vata predominates (healthy: quickly moving mind, refined emotions, finely textured skin/hair, wiry constitution; unhealthy: worried mind, dry skin/hair, tires quickly).
During the pitta period of life pitta accumulates in the body, until it is in excess. With the ceasing of the menses, the natural cleansing of bodily toxins is diminished. Hot flashes result. Ayurvedic medicine makes the following self-help recommendations to reduce hot flashes:
- Lots of fresh vegetables
- Mixture of different whole grains
- Drink plenty of water each day.
- Avoid/Reduce - Test these in your own diet - some of them will yield greater results than others.
- All pungent/spicy herbs (except ginger in moderation).
- Tomatoes, (especially tomato sauces) eggplant, okra, hot peppers.
- Aged cheese, especially cooked aged cheese. Fresh and farmer's cheeses are better, in moderation.
- Reduce coffee and caffeinated products; sodas and drinks with ice.
- Reduce corn especially, and somewhat reduce drying grains such as barley and millet.
- Fermented foods: soy sauce (use Braggs), vinegar (use lemon juice), etc.
- Reduce very salty foods.
1. Effects of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine (Zhi Mu 14) on hot flushes and quality of life in postmenopausal women: results of a four-arm randomized controlled pilot trial, Nedeljkovic, Marko PhD, et al, Menopause, January, 2014.