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Menopause and hot flashes – understanding how and why

April 30, 2019

Menopause and hot flashes – understanding how and why

When hormone levels are altered, the entire balance of the body changes. As well as the end of menstrual cycles, women see other menopausal symptoms and effects affect their everyday lives.

One of the most widespread concerns? Hot flashes. As many as 80% of women have hot flashes and they are one of the biggest causes for discomfort. Hot flashes occur in the five years prior to menopause, throughout peri-menopause and up to ten years after.

What exactly are hot flashes?

A hot flash is a sudden, uncontrollable and spontaneous sensation of heat in the neck and face often accompanied by redness, as well as sweating. Chills are often reported immediately after. The phenomenon also occurs at night, taking the shape of the infamous night sweats.

Why do hot flashes happen?

The decrease in oestrogen levels disrupts the mechanisms regulating the body’s temperature. It all starts in the hypothalamus, the body’s natural “thermostat”. When this gland is disrupted, it wrongly sends out the message that the body is too hot, triggering acceleration in heart rate, dilation of the blood vessels and activation of perspiration – all natural mechanisms designed to cool us down. This is very useful in the summertime when we’re exercising but it’s much less appreciated when it happens out of the blue, catching us unawares.

Can I reduce hot flashes?

These peaks of heat can be made worse by a number of factors, such as intense emotion, stress or alcohol. Steering clear of caffeine, spicy food and stress, as well as cigarettes can help reduce the flashes.

To optimise your comfort, wear loose clothing and breathable fabrics. To try to pin down your triggers, keep a journal of your symptoms and write down your food and drink intake and note when hot flashes occur. Keeping a diary may help establish a pattern, and help you find a way to avoid these unwanted episodes.

More tips to manage my hot flashes

Did you know soya-derived products have been found to help combat hot flashes? Indeed, soya derivatives contain high levels of isoflavones, oestrogen-like phyto-hormones that help regulate menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. Tofu may seem a bit bland, but when cooked properly this soya-derived “cheese” is delicious. It’s worth a try! Tofu also contains iron and calcium, which are key minerals for good health. Why not try having soya milk with your breakfast cereal instead of your usual, or pan-fried soya with seasonal vegetables for lunch or dinner? Edamame beans – young soybeans in the pod – are also a great option, with a pinch of salt as a healthy snack or appetizer.

Which supplements can I take?

Try oestrogen-like plants: evening primrose, chaste tree, soya, hops or even red clover. Rhodolia and magnesium can also be added to regulate mood. As for the dosage, it depends widely on each individual. It is essential to ask your pharmacist, naturopath or micro-nutritionist for advice so that you can get the right treatment that works for you.

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