Menopause: The heat is on
Flushing. Flashing. Power surge. Night sweats. Personal summer. The lexicon for hot flashes is as varied as the women they affect. And while hot flashes are, without a doubt, the most troublesome symptom of menopause and the most common menopause symptom to send women to their doctor’s office – they are by no means unavoidable.
What determines whether you experience this milestone of menopause lies partly in your weight (overweight women are more likely to experience hot flashes), your diet and lifestyle (if you’re a yoga aficionada, you may be spared the worst; if you smoke, get ready to sweat).
We wish we could tell you exactly what causes hot flashes and exactly how to banish them. Unfortunately, even the experts in the field still haven’t figured out the underlying cause, although they do know that estrogen loss alone doesn’t fully explain them. But really, does it matter exactly why you’re flashing? All you really want to know is how to cool yourself. Turns out there are several natural options that go beyond hormones. Some are lifestyle changes, and some involve complementary and alternative medicine such as herbs, vitamins, and mind/body techniques.
These 14 natural remedies will need weeks, not hours, to begin working, but over time they should help relieve your hot flashes.
1. Breathe slowly and deeply
Paced breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, involves breathing in slowly through your nose for at least 5 seconds and out slowly through your mouth for at least 5 seconds. You’ll know you’re doing it right if you see your abdomen rise with each breath in and feel your lungs inflate. You’ll find it quite a contrast to your normal tight, tense, shallow breathing. Like other mind-body therapies, paced breathing calms the sympathetic nervous system and enhances circulation. Women doing the breathing exercises had half as many hot flashes as those doing biofeedback. They also breathed more slowly overall. The key to getting benefits from paced breathing is practice. Although the women in this study spent 15 minutes a day, twice a day, practicing paced respiration, we think you can break it into smaller time slots, say, 5 minutes at a time, six times a day.
2. Focus on the positive
Are you a catastrophic thinker? You are if, for instance, your flight is canceled and you freak out about missed meetings and a destroyed career. Or if, at the first tingle of a hot flash, you immediately focus on how miserable you’re going to feel because you know – you just know – you’re going to be drenched in a few minutes, lose your train of thought, and require an hour or more to return to your “normal” self. What if, instead of immediately leaping to the worst possible scenario when things go wrong (like hot flashes), you focused on managing the situation? Yes, you might sweat a bit, but if you take off your sweater and pull out the handheld fan you’ve been carrying for just such an occasion, you can minimize the damage. Or you might silently congratulate yourself for throwing that spare blouse in your briefcase this morning. That type of thinking,
3. Relax – One muscle at a time
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing then relaxing each group of muscles in your body. Experts think it works for hot flashes by reducing release of the stress hormone norepinephrine.
Try to lie down in a comfortable position, scrunch your forehead muscles together as tightly as you can while breathing in, and then let them all relax while you breathe out. Next, do the same with your nose and cheek muscles. Continue working your way down your body, one muscle group at a time, until you reach your toes.
4. Try yoga
Who knew that Child’s Pose could help return your body temperature to that of a 12-year-old? Yet a small study in 14 postmenopausal women who were having four or more moderate-to-severe hot flashes per day found that learning eight restorative yoga poses and taking a weekly 90-minute restorative yoga class for 8 weeks led to an average one-third drop in the number of hot flashes and in their severity. Restorative yoga focuses on relaxing the body in restful postures using props such as blankets, bolsters, and straps. The poses are usually sustained for 5 to 10 minutes each, putting you in a deep state of relaxation.
5. Mindfulness-based stress reduction
Mindfulness-based stress reduction combines mindfulness meditation with yoga and other movements. It helps you focus on your body and understand how your unconscious thoughts and feelings affect your physical and emotional health. Studies have found that it can calm numerous unconscious processes in your body, such as reducing pain and lowering blood pressure, so it makes sense that it could improve your body’s temperature control. Plus, it restores some of that much-needed control we’ve talked about.
6. Look into someone’s eyes
We’re talking hypnosis. Forget the hypnosis you’ve seen magicians and comics perform. The hypnosis we’re referring to is performed by specially trained medical professionals, often doctors. The hypnotherapist teaches you to relax and suggests mental images to focus on during a hot flash to make you feel cooler. In other words, you learn to use your mind to control your body’s reactions and to handle stress better.
7. Lose a few pounds
It makes intuitive sense that the more excess weight you’re hauling around, the hotter you’ll feel – with or without menopause! And, in fact, studies have found that overweight women often have more hot flashes than healthy-weight women. This could be because excess fat traps heat, making you sweat more to cool off your body, or because the blood vessels in overweight women dilate more when they encounter heat or stress. That dilation brings more blood to the surface of the skin, making you feel hotter.
8. Hit the gym
Even if the most exercise you’ve done in the past 20 years was carrying in bags of groceries from the car, it’s not too late to start, particularly given the possibility that working out could cool your flashes. Researchers evaluated 48 women, ages 55 to 72, all of whom suffered similarly from hot flashes. During the study, half of them exercised 3 hours a week for a year, and half continued their couch potato ways. By the end of the study, just a third of the women who worked out still had bad hot flashes, while two-thirds of the nonexercisers still rated their symptoms as severe. The women who exercised on a regular basis also reported that they felt better overall, both physically and mentally.
9. Munch on soy foods
If you like tofu, edamame, and miso; prefer soy milk to cream in your coffee; and sub out ground beef for TSP (textured soy protein), you’re in luck. There’s a good chance that your love of this low-fat protein may protect you from hot flashes. Soy contains powerful estrogen-like compounds called phytoestrogens, which bind to estrogen receptors and mimic some of estrogen’s effects in your body. The most prevalent phytoestrogens in soy are the isoflavones genistein, daidzein, and glycitein.
10. Sprinkle some flaxseed
Like soy, flaxseed is high in estrogen-like phytoestrogens, particularly lignans, which could account for its benefits. Researchers had 29 women with annoying hot flashes eat 1.5 ounces of crushed flaxseed daily for 6 weeks, they found the average number of hot flashes dropped by half and their severity fell by 57%. The women also said their mood improved and that they had less joint or muscle pain, fewer chills, and less sweating. Flaxseed is a great source of insoluble fiber, which can help control your weight and cholesterol levels. Since there doesn’t appear to be any danger from adding flaxseed to your diet, it’s worth a try. However, the therapeutic dose of 40 grams, or 4 tablespoons, of ground flaxseeds comes along with 16 grams of fat and about 200 calories. So make sure the flaxseeds are taking the place of unhealthy fats, not being added on. To get the full benefits, crush the flaxseeds before eating. An easy way to do this is with a coffee grinder. Keep the ground seeds in your refrigerator and add a few tablespoons to your oatmeal or yogurt every day.
11. Pop a vitamin E pill
While vitamin E is known for its antioxidant properties, it can also help your arteries work better and reduce inflammation – all of which could improve hot flashes.
12. Try black cohosh supplements
Black cohosh, a member of the buttercup family, is one of the most researched herbal options for hot flashes. The herb is thought to act like estrogen in the body, decreasing luteinizing hormone (a hormone that’s secreted by the pituitary gland and that may play a role in hot flashes) and affecting serotonin receptors, which are also involved in hot flashes.
The frequency and severity of the women’s menopausal symptoms fell by about a third over a year whether the women took black cohosh or a placebo. Only estrogen therapy significantly improved their hot flashes.
13. Brew some sage tea
The anecdotal evidence of using sage (Salvia officinalis) to reduce sweating and hot flashes is significant. Brew your own tea with 1 tablespoon of fresh sage leaves or 1 heaping teaspoon of dried sage per cup of boiling water. Let the sage leaves steep for 5 minutes, then strain. You can drink the tea hot or iced, and add some lemon, stevia, honey, or agave nectar to make it more refreshing.
14. Visit an acupuncturist
Seriously? Sticking needles in your body could really improve hot flashes? Possibly. The women who getting the acupuncture also reported that they slept better and had less pain. We don’t exactly know why acupuncture works when it does work. There’s some evidence that needling acupuncture points affects the sympathetic nervous system, as well as the release of hormones such as cortisol, endorphins, and serotonin. As with many of the options listed here, you need to give this treatment time to work. It may take several sessions before you notice any improvement.