Hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause are experienced by over 75% of women for up to seven years before and during menopause. What happens in our body is that as we begin to move toward menopause, estrogen withdrawal can cause thermoregulatory dysfunction in the hypothalamus. This dysfunction causes increased blood flow and perspiration; along with a steep rise in our core body temperature and then a rapid cooling process which can lead to flushing, sweating and even heart palpitations. And on top of that, hot flashes can contribute to disturbed sleep, fatigue, anxiety, and even unwanted weight gain.
Warmer weather can make this thermoregulatory dysfunction even worse and sadly many women suffer with these worsened symptoms in silence. Other women turn to popular conventional therapies like hormone replacement and anti-depressants but these often come along with unwanted side effects and a lack of understanding of their long-term effect on our future health. Fortunately there are simple steps women can take to significantly reduce hot flashes… naturally.
1. Avoid common triggers
Common hot flash triggers include hot drinks like coffee, spicy food, refined foods like chips and cookies, alcohol, and caffeine and most notably… STRESS. This summer would be a good time to start kicking C.R.A.P (Chemical, Refined, Artificial and Processed foods and drinks) to the curb and begin putting some relaxation and breathing practices in place while sipping on refreshing iced herbal teas and mocktails. Enjoy cooling foods like cucumber, berries and melon, celery, quinoa and mint. You may also benefit from keeping a daily wellness journal to try to identify food and lifestyle triggers, e.g. poor sleep or nighttime snacks that may be a factor since everyone is unique!
2. Focus on phytoestrogenic foods
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds found in foods such as flaxseed and broccoli.with estrogen-like properties. For women approaching menopause, these dietary estrogens can help to mimic the beneficial effects of estrogen and reduce major hormone fluctuations. Phytoestrogens can be found in soybeans (isoflavones) as well as flaxseed, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables (lignans). A meta-analysis (a study of 10 studies) found that phytoestrogens appear to reduce the frequency of hot flashes in menopausal women, without serious side-effects. In addition, phytoestrogens have not been shown to contribute to breast cancer and may actually exert a positive effect on cholesterol To add in more phytoestrogenic foods, you can:
Emphasize a plant-based diet which includes 1-2 cupfuls of cooked leafy greens like kale, collard greens, broccoli, and Napa cabbage daily
Add flax seed, 1 TBS fresh ground daily, to your daily breakfast
Throw a handful of lentils and chick peas on your salad at lunch.
3. Explore herbs that support hormone balance
Certain herbs have been shown to be effective to reduce hot flashes throughout ancestral cultures as well based on clinical trials – and many have centuries of traditional herbal use behind them to support their safe usage. Some of these include lemon balm, motherwort, black cohosh, hops and sage leaf. Gaia Herbs makes a nice blend of menopause-supportive herbs called Female Hormone Support and Herb Pharm offers Phytoestrogen balance. Discuss herbal usage with our integrative physician or nutritionist if you have questions.
The years before menopause can be like a wake up call to the body to adjust unsupportive nutrition and lifestyle factors. We can either choose to listen to and heed these signals or continue to fight our body’s natural processes.
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Chen, MC., Lin, C. and Liu, C. (2014). Efficacy of phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Climacteric, [online] 18(2), pp.260–269. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4389700/ [Accessed 22 May 2019].
Harvard Health Publishing (12/2017). Dealing with the symptoms of menopause, retrieved from; https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/dealing-with-the-symptoms-of-menopause
Romm, Aviva MD. “Herbal Remedies for Hot Flashes & Night Sweats, retrieved from; https://avivaromm.com/herbal-remedies-hot-flashes-night-sweats/