Hot flashes (also known as hot flushes) are the most common symptoms experienced in the perimenopausal years. You may experience hot flashes prior to menopause, which become more frequent and severe with the onset of menopause.
What are hot flashes?
The term hot flush refers to the sudden onset of reddening of the skin, a feeling of intense body heat and palpitations, followed sometimes by profuse sweating. It lasts from a few seconds to minutes.Flushes tend to be more frequent and severe at night when they are known as night sweats. Not being able to sleep well at night may lead to irritability and depression. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night with your heart pounding, drenched in sweat.
What causes hot flashes?
This is still not well understood, but it is thought to originate from the brain and is related to a decrease in estrogen in the body. The body’s heat releasing mechanisms suddenly become excited which increases blood flow to the skin causing flushing. This is followed by sweating which has a cooling effect.
Although hot flushes are the most common menopausal symptoms, they are not dangerous to your health.
What Can You Do To Relieve Hot Flashes?
- Keep a record of where and when your flushes occur the most and try and avoid those situations. Avoid activities that seem to be associated with flashes.
- Clothing should be light.
- Choose natural fibres like cotton which allow perspiration to evaporate.
- Avoid long sleeves, high necks and tight clothes. Wear clothes that are easy to unbutton
- Keep your rooms cool and well-ventilated at home.
- Stop smoking. It slows down circulation and worsens hot flushes.
- Eat carefully. Avoid sugary spicy and salty food, chocolates, alcohol, tea, cola drinks and large meals. Eat lots of citrus fruits e.g. oranges and grapefruits.
- Both estrogen and progesterone can be used to alleviate hot flashes. Try a natural progesterone cream, ¼ teaspoon twice a day (read Guidelines for using natural progesterone cream).
- Take evening primrose oil or borage oil which contain gamma linoleic acid. It increases the production of prostaglandins which seem to reduce frequency and severity of hot flashes.
- Eat lots of soy e.g. about 60 grams. This can be in the form of soybeans, tempeh, tofu etc. An easier way to get lots of soy is in the form of soy bars and soy shakes.
- Take a good herbal formula for women especially one containing a combination of black cohosh, dong quai, licorice and ginseng. These have a mild estrogen-like activity. Do not use ginseng if you have high blood pressure or asthma.
- Take a good vitamin B complex supplement.
- Take high doses of vitamin E. Up to 1000 international units (IU) have been helpful for some women. You may reduce the dose as flashes subside.
- Take it at the end of a meal as it needs food to be absorbed into your body. It seems to work more effectively when taken with vitamins B and C.
- Use the natural form of vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol), not the man-made form (dl-alpha tocopherol).
- Avoid vitamin E if you have diabetes, hypertension or heart problems.
- Relaxation – this can be difficult during a hot flush. Practice deep breathing and mental imagery which can shorten a hot flush or stop it altogether.
- Regular exercise – This improves the circulation of blood around the body. It also increases the levels of estrogen in the body as well as endorphins (chemicals which act like morphine) which make you feel good. Women who exercise regularly have fewer flashes than those that don’t.
You are unique in every way. There is no magic formula to relieve hot flashes. You may have to try different things before you find a combination that works for you.