Personal summers. Power surges. Hot flashes. Whatever you call them, they’re uncomfortable, to say the least.
In fact, according to a survey of nearly 3,300 U.S. women aged 40 to 75, hot flashes can be downright depressing. Those who suffered them were less productive on the job, and had a lower quality of life than women who somehow managed to escape them.
Though a 2012 study suggested that hormones remain the most effective treatment for hot flashes, many women feel very uncomfortable using them, say nothing of the fact that they can increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. There are many natural alternatives, but women experience various levels of success with them. Your best bet may be to do some trial and error to find what works best for you.
What Causes Hot Flashes?
So what causes hot flashes anyway? It’s long been believed that the drop in hormones that comes with menopause brings them on, but really, scientists just aren’t sure. Some women don’t have hot flashes, after all—but yet they experience a drop in hormones. Some research has found changes in the parasympathetic nervous system during hot flashes, which regulates heart and respiration rates, but the studies don’t give us any real clues to how hot flashes come about, either.
The Mayo Clinic admits they don’t know much more about it, but they do mention that it may have something to do with the hypothalamus in the brain, which functions as the body’s thermostat. The estrogen reduction that occurs during menopause may disrupt hypothalamic function. Yet low estrogen alone doesn’t induce hot flashes, so this theory also remains incomplete.
Though we don’t know what causes hot flashes, we do know some things that make you more likely to suffer from them. These include smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and ethnicity—more African-American women report experiencing them than do women of European descent. Hot flashes are also less common in Japanese and Chinese women than in white women.
Natural Solutions to Hot Flashes
When trying to find natural solutions for hot flashes, the first thing to remember is to avoid your triggers. Common things that may bring on the heat include alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, hot tubs, hot weather, and smoking. Avoiding these may cut down on the number of flashes you experience.
Regular exercise and relaxation techniques like massage, breathing exercises, yoga, biofeedback, and meditation may also help cool you down. In fact, a University of Pennsylvania study found a direct correlation between anxiety and the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
Try the following for additional benefits:
- Deep breathing. It may sound lame, but studies have shown that it helps. Research from Wayne University found that slow, deep, abdominal breathing reduced the frequency of hot flashes by about 50 percent.
- Relaxation therapy. Similar to deep breathing, but focused more on relaxing muscles, relaxation therapy was also shown to help cut the frequency of hot flashes in half. Researchers from Sweden recently found that women trained in relaxation therapy cut not only their number of hot flashes in half, but their other menopausal symptoms, too. Relaxation therapy involves learning different ways, including breathing, visualization, and muscle relaxation, of reducing the body’s stress response.
- Yoga. Some small studies have indicated that women with hot flashes who participate in yoga reduce their menopausal symptoms. One particular study found that 14 women who took part in weekly 90-minute restorative yoga classes for 8 weeks had an average one-third drop in the number of hot flashes, and in the severity of the ones they had.
- Hypnosis. A study from Baylor University found that women who experienced hot flashes after cancer treatments that pushed them into menopause experienced a whopping 68 percent reduction in hot flashes, along with less anxiety and insomnia.
- Flaxseed. Studies are mixed on this one, but Mayo Clinic researchers found in one small study that women who ate 1.5 ounces of crushed flaxseeds daily for 6 weeks cut their number of hot flashes in half.
- Acupuncture. A small 2011 study out of Turkey found that women receiving traditional Chinese acupuncture for 20 minutes, twice a week, for 10 weeks, experienced significant drops in the severity of their hot flashes. Several other studies have found similar results.
- Sage tea. A small Swiss study in 2010 found that a once-daily sage tablet helped curb hot flashes by 64 percent within 8 weeks. Women with severe hot flashes experienced even more benefits. You can try brewing your own sage tea with one-tablespoon fresh sage leaves or 1 heaping teaspoon of dried sage per cup.
What About Herbal Remedies?
Some women have experienced benefits from herbal and nutritional remedies like black cohosh, kava, vitamin E, wile yam, licorice, chasteberry, and evening primrose oil, but so far studies on these are mixed, and many have found no measurable effect. If you’d still like to try them, check with your doctor to be sure you don’t have any medical conditions that may contraindicate the use of these herbs and vitamins.
Be aware, too, that some can have potential side effects. Ginseng, black cohosh, and red clover have estrogenic properties, and should not be used by women with breast cancer or who are at risk of breast cancer. Black cohosh and kava have also been linked with liver damage at certain dosages. Dong quai and some species of red clover act as blood thinners, and can cause excess bleeding if you’re already taking warfarin (Coumadin) or Pradaxa.
How do you cope with hot flashes? Please share your tips.
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“Study: Post-Menopausal Hormone Therapy Increases Cancer Risk,” PBS Newshour, October 19, 2010, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health/july-dec10/hormone_10-19.html.
Jenifer Goodwin, “What Causes Hot Flashes Anyway?” US News and World Report, April 12, 2012, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2012/04/12/what-causes-hot-flashes-anyway.
Marcy Holmes, “Menopause & perimenopause,” Women to Women, http://www.womentowomen.com/menopause/hotflashesnightsweats.aspx.
Camille Sweeney, “Seeking a Natural Remedy for Hot Flashes,” New York Times, July 1, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/02/fashion/02skin.html?_r=0.
Roger Dobson, “Hot flushes: what works,” Saga, http://www.saga.co.uk/health/body/hot-flushes-what-works.aspx.
Shelley Emiling, “Menopause: Relaxation Therapy Reduces Hot Flashes and Other Symptoms,” Huffington Post, November 27, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/menopause-relaxation-therapy-reduces-hot-flashes_n_2197919.html?utm_hp_ref=natural-health.
“14 Natural Remedies for Hot Flashes,” Prevention, http://www.prevention.com/health/health-concerns/natural-menopause-solution-hot-flash-remedies/try-yoga.
Linsey Davis, “New Study Shows Acupuncture May Curb Severity of Hot Flashes in Menopause,” ABC News, March 7, 2011, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/study-shows-acupuncture-curb-severity-hot-flashes-menopause/story?id=13075594#.Uc4lWHax4YY.