Hot flashes (or flushes) are aptly named because they are exactly that: Hot and they come on in a Flash.
With little warning, you can feel like you are burning up, sweating dripping down your body, through your scalp and top of your lip. This wave of heat can last for three or four minutes and can sometimes happen every hour.
And then, as fast as they hit, they disappear again, leaving you shivering slightly as your sweating body cools down.
They have a tendency to strike at the most inopportune moments: during an important meeting, when you’re talking to your boss or in stressful situations, often leaving women embarrassed with increased anxiety as they wonder when the next flash will occur.
Night sweats can leave a woman feeling like she has a newborn again with a restful night’s sleep becoming a distant memory, leaving her frazzled and exhausted. Lack of sleep can worsen brain fog, makes weight management more difficult not to mention adding to feelings of helplessness and sometimes depression.
No matter how often a woman experiences hot flashes, they can be extremely distressing, leaving her with a glowing face, sweaty armpits and disrupted sleep.
You’re not alone
Up to 75% of women experience hot flashes during peri-menopause/menopause for an average of 7.5 years.
The age range of affected women varies, with most reports being during the peri-menopausal years as estrogen levels are dropping. On average, women’s hormones start to fluctuate from their early 40’s into their 50s.
In theory, hot flashes should stop within 12 months of the final period once a woman in menopausal, however in some cases they can linger, especially for women experiencing high stress or with insulin resistance.
Hot flashes are linked to lower levels of estrogen. Temperature regulation occurs in the hypothalamus (which is also responsible for sex drive, sleep, mood and memories). If the oestrogen receptors in the brain are blocked, this can cause issues with temperature regulation. Blockages can be caused by xenoestrogens (plastics); metals like lead and fragrances.
Other triggers are believed to include stress, alcohol, caffeine and other hot drinks, embarrassment or sudden temperature changes, or no reason at all.
Some things that seem to make flashes worse include smoking, alcohol, sugar, lack of physical activity, a negative outlook towards menopause and in some cases race. More women in Western societies report hot flashes than women in Asian countries. However, studies have found that when Asian women move to western countries, they experience more hot flashes, implying there is a cultural link too.
Based on this, cleaning up your immediate environment can help and is good for overall long term health as well.
Whilst a hot flash can be embarrassing and awkward, it is not harmful to health in the moment. The real impact on physical health is more long term with sleep disruption affecting immunity, weight management efforts but also mental health.
That said, there is some concern that hot flashes are linked to a higher risk of heart disease. A study that followed 11725 women over 14 years found that those who had frequent hot flashes had double the rate of coronary heart disease as those who had no flashes.
Women with hot flashes also appear to have higher levels of cholesterol and are more likely to have diabetes, insulin resistance and high blood pressure. The link between these conditions and hot flashes is as yet unknown, although is it likely to be a correlative link as hot flashes and disease risk both come from the same underlying problem of restricted energy metabolism and insulin resistance.
Treatment involves a bit of trial and error with each woman needing to work out what her trigger is and therefore what she can do to minimise flashes.
Menopause Hormone Treatment (MHT) can be very effective treatments for women who can take hormones. For women who can’t take hormones, other strategies include:
- Cut back on alcohol
- Exercising regularly
- Mindset techniques to manage stress
- Magnesium supplements
- Avoiding spicy foods
- Cut back on gluten and sugar
- Adding phytoestrogens to your diet. These are plant foods with a mild estrogen effect which can help balance out hormonal fluctuations. Think: nuts; seeds; legumes; sprouts, fruits and vegetables and flax seeds.
Use this list as a starting point. Not only can these help cool you down, they are also good for long term health. Win-win!
- Wear natural fibres that are loose and layered
- Carry a fan or an ice towel
- Use cotton and other natural fibres for your bedding
- Keep your bedroom as cool as possible
- Avoid hot showers and baths
NOTE: please check with your health practitioner before taking anything new. You may have contraindications. Use this list as a conversation starter with your doctor.
- Black cohosh – when linked to moods
- Motherwort – if you have palpitations and racing heart beat/anxiety
- Sage – good when you sweat a lot
- Romania – flushing due to stress
- Sysiphus – when flushing is linked to anxiety / insomnia
As with all things menopause related, there is a lot we women can do to manage our symptoms. The key is to work out what is best for you. Every woman will go through menopause, some without a hitch, others with a long list of symptoms. Remembering that our choices matter and that knowledge is key, we can arm ourselves with information and make informed decisions.
If you are ready to learn more about the natural strategies you can implement to manage your menopause so that you reduce your symptoms and set yourself up a for an active, vital life beyond menopause (remember: we have on average another 30 or years to live post menopause), then have a look at Unpause: the natural menopause program. I have written this to help women develop their own toolkit of strategies for this natural transition time.
Anja Lineen helps companies retain senior, experienced staff as they transition through menopause.
Up to 10% of women leave work because of menopause, a lack of education and support.
Anja provides face to face, on demand and online training and education for businesses so that they can support their staff, promote inclusiveness and improve retention.
She also coaches women on how to manage their menopausal transition through lifestyle choices including exercise, nutrition and mindset to minimise symptoms leading to a healthier, vital life through menopause and beyond.
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