Vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats are the most common symptoms of menopause and perimenopause. According to a study, hot flashes occur in approximately 75% of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women (Freedman, 2005). The process of a hot flash starts at the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature. A hot flash is characterized by a sudden rush of warmth from widespread vasodilation of blood vessels and potentially red, flushed face and perspiration. Other symptoms of hot flashes include flushing, chills, clamminess and anxiety. These symptoms are the body’s way to cool down the body as perceived by the hypothalamus. Night sweats have the same presentation as hot flashes but occur at night and thus named off their presentation. It is not clear as to what precisely causes hot flashes; however, there is ample evidence that they are the result of hormonal changes in a woman’s body. So the real question is what do we do about these symptoms if and when they arise?
Options to deal with hot flashes include diet modification, relaxation-based techniques, herbal remedies and bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). Diet modification has been shown to alleviate the severity and duration of hot flashes by avoiding certain triggers. These triggers include caffeine, spicy foods, cigarette smoke, alcohol, stress and form fitting clothing. Relaxation-based techniques have been used to treat hot flashes since they are associated with an elevated sympathetic nervous system. Techniques such as exercise and controlled breathing techniques have been seen to reduce frequency of hot flashes.
Herbal remedies can be quite beneficial so long as we are diligent in recognizing precautions to be made with them similar to medication. Black cohosh has been found to have an estrogen balancing effect, meaning if estrogen levels are low the herb can increase levels and vice-versa if high. It is also believed that it can regulate body temperature. Contraindications for taking black cohosh include liver disorder and antidepressant therapy. Rhubarb root has been shown to cut the intensity and minimize the occurrence of hot flashes and can be found in products like Estrovera. In any over-the-counter supplement it is very important to ensure it is from a credible company since the FDA does not regulate these products.
Ultimately the most effective treatment for hot flashes is BHRT, particularly estrogen supplementation. This hormone is the primary culprit for these symptoms and is due to a lowered production during menopause. Estrogen unopposed can bring about estrogen dominance so doctors will often prescribe a combination of estrogen with progesterone to treat hot flashes and any other symptoms arisen during menopause. BHRT easily allows a custom blend of hormones individualized for your specific body’s needs. If these symptoms describe you and someone you care about, I hope this information will help you take action to get control of your life today.
Freedman, R.R. (2005). Hot flashes: behavorial treatments, mechanisms, and relation to sleep. The American Journal of Medicine. 118;12; p.124-130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2005.09.046