Who is Likely to Experience Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes remain one of the most common symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause, and remain one of the main reasons women come to see me in my office. The good news is: there are many natural remedies that can be used in order to treat hot flashes. And most naturopathic doctors have been well trained in treating these types of health concerns.
But before we begin discuss treatments for hot flashes, it is first important for us to understand what they are.
A hot flash is a symptom that can occur in menopausal women in response to fluctuations in hormone levels. I have had women as early as their late twenties report hot flashes but the median age appears to be around 10 years prior to menopause (usually in the late 30’s to early 40’s). If a woman has undergone chemotherapy, is currently taking medications to treat cancer known as, adjuvant therapies, or has had surgical removal of the ovaries, than she may have entered menopause early, and be experiencing hot flashes.
So What Exactly Is a Hot Flash?
A hot flash has been described as a sudden wave of heat, or a feeling of being in an extremely hot room. The skin may become flushed, especially in the cheeks and upper chest, and the feeling may be accompanied by a sensation of panic, or a rapid heartbeat. Many women complain that their hot flashes are worse at night. Many women complain of being woken several times throughout the night by fluctuations in heat accompanied by night sweats. Night sweats may be so severe, that the skin may feel “drenched” in sweat.
What Causes Women to Have Hot Flashes?
There have been several theories proposed about what causes a hot flash, but no one is quite sure why women get them. One theory suggest that they may be caused by hormonal changes that have been brought on by decreasing or fluctuating hormone levels. They be aggravated by certain triggers, such as foods, recreational drug use, and medications.
Avoid Trigger Foods
Many foods have been associated with hot flashes, and you can certainly try avoiding these foods and seeing if you experience some improvement.
As much as I would love to give a pass for America’s favorite beverage. The truth is, foods high in caffeine can trigger a hot flash in some women. If you absolutely love coffee, and cannot live without it, try reducing the number of cups you consume everyday. Also, remember that black tea and even green tee contain moderate amounts of caffeine; however, many women note improvements in symptoms when consuming green tea. Try decreasing your coffee consumption, or switching to green tea, and see if you note any improvements.
Like caffeine, alcohol must be metabolized by the liver. The liver also makes cholesterol, the building block of steroid hormones. In addition, the liver metabolizes hormones as well. One theory as to why alcohol triggers a hot flash, is because it can disrupt the body’s natural ability to make and breakdown hormones and hormone precursors. If you are someone who likes having a glass of red wine with dinner, try reducing or eliminating red wine for a few days. And see if this helps reduce the number of hot flashes you are experiencing.
Hot and Spicy Foods
While I am not a huge fan of spicy foods, I do enjoy a good currie from time to time. Try reducing the amount of spice you add to your cooking, and see if you experience some improvement in symptoms.
Junk foods, or any kind of overly processed foods, may trigger a hot flash. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case. For one thing, foods high in refined carbohydrates often have a higher glycemic load than foods that are less processed. And that can impact blood sugar levels. Research has shown that women who suffer from blood sugar dysregulation (diabetes and pre-diabetes), may be at a higher risk of hot flashes.
Also, processed foods often contain chemicals and preservatives that must be broken down by the liver before they can be eliminated by the kidneys. Our livers must metabolize countless man-made chemicals throughout the day. Over time, this burden can have an impact on our health, and on our body’s ability to balance hormones—leading to symptoms like hot flashes. So if you can reduce consumption of processed foods, please do so.
Keep a Food Journal
Finally, keep a journal and document when you have a hot flash. Record what you ate or drank that day. Try and see if there is any correlation between your diet and the number of hot flashes you are experiencing. Usually, women can find a pattern fairly quickly between their dietary habits and their hot flashes.
Healing Hot Flashes with Diet
Foods Rich in Phtyonutrients
People often ask me if there is a special diet for healing hot flashes, and I assure them that there is. To begin with the basics, I encourage people to eat a diet that is rich in plant foods— with only about 20% of one’s daily caloric intake coming from animal products.
I do have some patients that do very well on a diet that is 100% plant-based. To find out more about my general guidelines for optimal health and weight-loss, you can check out that article here.
But whether your diet is 80% or 100% plant-based, the research is fairly compelling—people who receive most of their calories from minimally processed whole plant foods experience better health than people who are on a meat centered diet. They also tend to experience less hot flashes and menopausal symptoms far less often. This may be due to the fact that plant foods contain a class of phytonutrients known as phytosterols also referred to as phytoestrogens.
Soybeans do not Cause Cancer
While there has been a lot of false information about these soybeans being dangerous to women’s health, research suggest that women who consume more soy in their diet, experience greater health overall. Other foods rich in phytosterols include include, ground flax, oats, barley lentils, sesame seeds and yams.
If you do decide to consume soybeans, make sure they are fermented as tempeh, miso or tamari sauce; as these foods may be easier to digest than non-fermented soy. I also suggest choosing organic soybeans rather then genetically modified soybeans, which I believe is a better choice for the environment and possibly better for your health.
In addition to foods rich in plant sterols, I encourage women to consume foods high in organic sulforaphane as well. Sulforaphane is found in foods like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, and brussel sprouts, and is thought to help reduce the symptoms of hot flashes. Sulforaphane is also being researched for its possible cancer preventative health benefits.
Foods Rich in Omega 3’s
Foods high in omega 3’s include, flax, chia, hemp seeds, broccoli, soybeans, salmon, anchovies and sardines. They can also be found in some forms of algae. Omega 3’s are important for heart health, brain health, and mood. And seem to help balance hormones as well. Consequently, women who consume omega 3’s daily, seem to suffer from less hot flashes.
I encourage women to put chia seeds and or ground flax seeds in smoothies and salads every day. And to consume more omega 3 rich foods daily.
Herbal Formulas and Supplements I Prescribe Often
I usually prescribe a good multivitamin to women over the age of 40, with the assumption that some nutritional support is usually needed to reduce hot flashes and improve overall health. In fact, many women have told me that simply taking a good quality multivitamin has dramatically reduced their symptoms.
My favorite multivitamin for women over 40 is is Meta-fem by Thorne Research. Thorne Research is by far my go to supplement company. And maintains some of the highest quality standards of any company on the market. Thorne Research is a professional line of vitamins, and is triple tested for quality assurance using FDA purity standards; making it one of the most popular line of supplements naturopathic doctors prescribe.
Meal Replacements, Protein Shakes, and Smoothies
I often prescribe protein shakes and smoothies to my patients: to help support and encourage a nutrient dense diet. Morning smoothies usually contain liberal amounts of ground flax or chia seeds, and omega 3 fish oil.
I especially like Nordic Naturals Omega 3 fish oil in liquid form for smoothies because this product is molecularly distilled, to reduce heavy metals, and because this product as a relatively mild taste.
Omega 3’s are a vital part of my treatment protocol because they help balance hormones and decrease the chronic inflammation often associated with hot flashes.
When prescribing a smoothie for my patients, many times I will also add a nutrient dense meal replacement. For women suffering from hot flashes, my favorite go to meal replacement is Medclear SGS by Thorne Research. SGS stands for Sulforaphane Glucosinolate, a form of sulforaphane extracted from broccoli, and thought to be therapeutic for many symptoms of menopause.
This product comes in chocolate or vanilla flavor, and I usually encourage my patients to add a generous amount of frozen organic berries to their smoothies for additional antioxidant support.
There have been some interesting studies on the effects of increasing consumption of mineral rich foods, along with adding mineral supplementation to women’s diets to reduce hot flashes. Both calcium and magnesium have been thought to be quite beneficial.
Because osteoporosis is also a major risk factor as women age, I usually prescribe a good multimineral to women over the age of 40, and women who suffer from hot flashes. Two of my favorite multimineral blends are Multiminerals, with or without iron, by Bluebonnet, and Bone Up by Jarrow Formulas. Both these products are well formulated, and great additions to any woman’s health regiment; especially if she is over the age of 40. Minerals also help the liver metabolize and make cholesterol: a process necessary in hormone synthesis.
There are several herbal formulas that I have found to be of excellent quality, and there are several good companies on the market. I get very good results with Meta Balance by Thorne Research. This blend has many of the traditional herbs that herbalist have used for treating hot flashes, such as Black cohosh Actaea racemosa, Chaste berry Vitex agnus-cactus and Dong quai Angelica Sinsesis, Wild yam Dioscorea villosa, and Hesperidin methyl chalcone, a flavonoid found in citrus fruits, and thought to be quite effective for treating a host of menopausal symptoms.
I usually have patients start by taking 2-3 capsules twice daily to start. If hot flashes subside; they may only need to take this product once a day. I suggest taking 2-3 capsules 1/2 an hour before bedtime to reduce hot flashes at night.
Another great product for hot flashes is Estrovera by Metagenics. I especially like this product because the dosage is just 1 tablet a day. I usually advice patients to take this product prior to going to bed, in order to avoid hot flashes at night. Estrovera is made from Raphonic rhubarb, and appears to be safe in women at high risk of developing breast cancer. Estrovera has also been shown to help improve many other symptoms of menopause as well including, mood changes, vaginal dryness, and poor libido.
I have many patients that prefer taking traditional herbal tinctures. One of my favorite tincture blends comes from Wise Woman Herbals; developed by the brilliant herbalist Susan Weed. Weed has formulated a very good blend, that I often prescribe, called ‘Phytoest‘. This is a beautiful traditional remedy of Black cohosh Cimicifuga racemosa, Dong quai Angelica sinensis, Bitter fennel Foeniculum vulgare, and Alfalfa Medicago sativa, with fennel essential oil in a base of organic alcohol and spring water.
I get great results with this product but, I do encourage patients to dose heavily to start—around 4-5 full dropperfuls in a little water every few hours.
People may reduce the dosage as symptoms improve. And I encourage people to keep this tincture by their bedside nightstand, and use it often, to stave off hot flashes at night. This product is not recommended for anyone who does not consume alcohol.
In addition to nutritional support, and supplementation, I advice my patients to have a salivary hormone test done—to determine if bio-identical hormone restoration therapy may be warranted.
To find out more about my work, or to visit me in my offices, you can check out my web pages at, http://www.doctorwhimsy.com/ and find the diet and supplement program that is right for you. I hope these suggestions are helpful to you are your journey to health, and feel free to contacted me if you need additional support.