While most folks look forward to summer, do you find yourself dreading the coming months? Have you seriously considered moving to the North Pole? As the temperature is rising, are you experiencing your own internal heat wave? If so, you’re not alone.
According to the North American Menopause Society, about 75 percent of women report perimenopausal symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes. If you’re one of them, you know it’s more than a seasonal heat wave. And you know that the symptoms — a flushed face, drenching sweat and rapid heart rate — will only be compounded as the numbers on the thermostat continue to climb.
What’s the culprit behind these crazy temperature spikes? Estrogens are related to the control of temperature in your body. During perimenopause and menopause, the levels and balance among estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone begin to fluctuate. The hypothalamus, an area at the base of your brain that regulates body temperature, becomes more sensitive to slight changes in body temperature, according to the Mayo Clinic.
When your estrogen levels begin to decrease, they can trigger your body’s thermostat to send a signal that you are overheated. This causes your body to send out an all hands on deck alert: your heart pumps faster, the blood vessels in your skin dilate to circulate more blood to radiate heat, and your sweat glands release sweat to cool you even more. Your body cools down when it otherwise wouldn’t, and you are left feeling miserable: soaking wet in the middle of a board meeting like me or in the middle of a good night’s sleep. If you have had your ovaries surgically removed and suddenly enter menopause, you can suffer severe hot flashes that start right after surgery and typically last longer than those in women who undergo natural menopause. Regardless of how and when you begin flashing, these hot flashes can cause: interruption of daily activities, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, feeling out of control or helpless, and lack of intimacy. Oh joy!
For most women, hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms can last anywhere from six months to two years. For others, it’s a never-ending summer, with symptoms sticking around (and I mean “sticking”!) for 10 or more years. If you’re in your first two years of perimenopause, be prepared for record highs. (Yes, you might actually be able to cook an egg on your forehead.) If you’re in the midst of menopause, you may get a bit of a reprieve. However, I hate to tell you that hot flashes have been known to strike women even into their 70s.
If you ask me, “hot flashes” and “summer” are two words that should never be used in the same sentence. But you don’t have to hibernate all summer long. Here are a few ways you can nip hot flashes in the bud, or at least minimize their severity.
I’ll Drink to That!
If you like your coffee and Danish in the morning, a smoke and a cocktail after work, and turn into a coach potato in your free time, you may want to rethink your lifestyle choices. I’m not saying you have to go cold turkey to nix hot flashes, but you probably should reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol, as well as refined sugar and spicy foods — all of which can contribute to hot flashes. And we know that smoking is detrimental to our health on many levels.
Recognizing how hot flashes affect you personally is a great start toward finding relief. Try charting your symptoms to pinpoint your personal hot flash triggers. Sign up for my free Menopause Mondays Newsletter and receive a Menopause Symptoms Chart to help you keep track each day. This chart will help you accurately and easily communicate how you are feeling to your menopause specialist.
Don’t Say ‘Oy!’ — Say ‘Soy!’
Researchers at the University of Delaware reviewed 19 studies on 1,200 women. They found that taking in at least 54mg of soy isoflavones a day, for six weeks to one year — the equivalent of about two glasses of soy milk or 7 ounces of tofu — eased hot flashes.
However, there has been much discussion about soy and its link to breast cancer. Breastcancer.org reports that for most women it’s safe to eat moderate amounts of soy foods (1 to 3 half-cup servings) of soy a day as part of a balanced diet. If you are concerned about soy affecting your breast health, consult your physician.
Stop Stressing and Obsessing
Reduce stress in your life! Not only can stress lead to high blood pressure and heart attacks in women, it also can increase hot flashes.
Take advantage of opportunities to “chill out” during the summer. Hang out in a hammock. Bury yourself in a book (not the sand) at the beach. Go to an outdoor yoga class. Recently, I went to a TM (Transcendental Meditation) class and learned how to meditate. I now do this for twenty minutes, 2X a day. I find I am more focused, calm and joyful. There are many ways to fight menopausal stress.
Just What the Doctor Ordered
If you don’t already have a menopause specialist, now is the time to find one. Talk to your specialist about doing the proper tests to help determine where you are in your menopausal journey. Bring in your filled out Menopause Symptoms Chart with you to your appointment. You and your specialist can go over your charted symptoms, your labs, discuss your health history, and develop an individual plan that’s right for you.
Your specialist may recommend Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which can treat hot flashes beautifully. It is good to note that women with low progesterone but normal estrogen levels may experience hot flashes and night sweats. Various selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been approved for the treatment of hot flashes. SSRIs are antidepressants that affect the brain’s use of a neurotransmitter chemical called serotonin, and can conquer hot flashes, according to a 2014 study.
If you’d rather go au naturel, black cohosh is a popular choice, although studies on its effectiveness have produced inconsistent results. Some women find help with acupuncture.
A non-hormonal product has come to the U.S. called Relizen. It is very new here, but has been used for over 15 years in Europe. Ask your menopause specialist about it!
In the summer months, wear all-cotton clothes that let your skin breathe. Walk barefoot on a cold tile floor. Keep a cold (non-alcoholic) drink in one hand, and a fan in the other. If you’re going to be outdoors for any length of time, get a neck cooler than you can pop in the freezer then bring with you to drape around your neck. If you have a hairstyle that can air-dry, go for it!
You don’t have to swear off (or swear about) summer just because of those pesky hot flashes. Show those hot flashes who’s boss! You’ve got many options to choose from… before you know it, you’ll realize that your flashes are just another flash in the pan.
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!