Hot flashes are the #1 complaint of menopausal women. So it is surprising that the medical community is still not sure what exactly causes these personal heat waves. The clearest current explanation for hot flashes is that the body is resetting the internal “thermostat” located in the hypothalamus. The temporary lowering of the set point causes the sensation of intense heat and flushing. The correlation between lower estrogen levels and hot flashes is clear, but not all research on the topic is consistent. There are general factors that seem to influence the frequency and severity of hot flashes:
- Weight- overweight women experience more hot flashes
- Ethnicity- African American women report the highest hot flash rates and Asian women the lowest.
- Smoking- smokers are more likely to experience hot flashes
- Physical activity: active women experience fewer hot flashes than sedentary women.
- Yoga- those who practice regularly have significantly decreased hot flashes
Obviously if you are suffering from hot flashes do not care about the data, you just want them to stop. So the first step is to avoid hot flash triggers; these include stress, spicy foods, hot drinks, warm environments, alcohol and caffeine.
When I have patients complaining of hot flashes, there are a number of dietary supplements I might recommend. Black cohosh is the most heavily researched and studies show that approximately 80% of women experience improvement in their hot flashes and 50% have complete disappearance of symptoms. I also recommend evening primrose oil because it contains important fatty acids for hormone production. Red clover is a phytoestrogen (plant with estrogen-like properties) that has shown to have the potential to reduce hot flashes. A recent study on sage tea demonstrated 64% reduction of hot flashes in eight weeks and 100% reduction in severe hot flashes. You can easily make sage tea by steeping 1tbsp fresh or 1tsp dried sage in boiling water for five minutes.
There are also a few non-supplement or medication options for reducing your hot flashes. Acupuncture is a very effective tool in the treatment of many menopausal symptoms including hot flashes. Additionally, since stress is a powerful trigger for hot flashes, many alternative treatments focus on stress reduction and meditation. A study on mindfulness meditation demonstrated that it could reduce hot flashes by 40%. Hypnotherapy can also be a helpful tool in stress management and research on the practice showed a 68% decrease in hot flash frequency. Weight loss also produced significant results in hot flash reduction. Overall, every eleven pounds lost translated into a 33% decrease in hot flashes.
The important matter here is if hot flashes are disrupting your life, you should talk with your doctor about getting relief that you are comfortable with. Remember to discuss any dietary supplements or fitness regimens with your doctor before adding them to your routine.