A symptom very often experienced by women during the menopause is hot flushes. This symptom can often be exacerbated by stress and stress can also be a symptom itself of the menopause, which can lead to hot flushes. All of this can be very unsettling, but a good thing to focus on is that this is such a common symptom that women experience during the menopause and there is a lot that can be done to minimise these symptoms.

The science behind it:

Hot flushes are believed to be due to changing hormonal levels, primarily estrogen. During the menopause, estrogen levels decrease dramatically. The hormone progesterone is also thought to be involved in the mechanism behind the incidence of hot flushes.

Stress can be a major factor in the triggering of hot flushes. The way stress impacts on hot flushes is through the release of epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) from the adrenal glands (located just above the kidneys) into the bloodstream. This adrenaline causes your heart to beat faster and blood flow to increase, which as a result leads to an increase in temperature. The reason behind the hot flashes is they are a response to an increase in temperature and the body’s attempt to cool itself down. Progesterone in particular is depleted by stress, therefore being anxious about having a hot flush in public is stressful and more likely to bring one on.

Conversely the incidence of a hot flush may be enough to bring on an episode of stress, because when you are in the middle of experiencing this kind of symptom it can be very psychologically uncomfortable, due to a feeling of having no control over it, which can lead to great levels of anxiety, which then in turn can lead to an additional surge of adrenaline and thus more hot flushes, so a vicious cycle begins. It can also be extremely uncomfortable on a physical level due to the body feeling as though it is overheating, which can produce a great sense of feeling out of control also and wanting to do anything to alleviate this, which leads to psychological stress again.  This is all because the hot flush itself increases adrenaline in the system, therefore this can be enough to stimulate the stress response in the body.

Dietary changes:

Increasing your dietary intake of foods high in omega 3 and consuming organic foods, wholegrains, lean animal and plant proteins, foods low in saturated fats and high in antioxidants may be beneficial for hormonal balance. These foods are great sources of the vitamins and minerals needed to balance hormonal levels and also have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to minimise hot flushes.

It may also be beneficial to avoid alcohol, spicy foods, lemon, chocolate, monosodium glutamate, hot liquids, caffeinated drinks, sulphites (found in red wine, dried fruits and cheddar cheese) and sodium nitrate, (found in cured meats such as hot dogs, bacon and ham). Another useful thing to do would be a food diary which can determine which foods are the trigger for hot flushes.

Herbs to alleviate hot flushes:

Herbs such as Black Cohosh, Sage and Red Clover may all be used to alleviate hot flushes as these all work on increasing the levels of estrogen in the body, as these contain estrogenic like properties, which help to increase these levels.

Lifestyle changes:

Minimising stress may be key to reducing the incidence of hot flushes. This can be done by either doing things like exercise, yoga, meditation, relaxation exercises or massage, or just finding things to do that relax you specifically. Other factors that may trigger hot flashes could be tight clothes, smoking, or hot environments. All of these can affect hormonal balance, trigger the hot flushes by overheating or causing inflammation, therefore avoiding these may be beneficial, or even minimising some may have the desired effect.

Things to consider:

Some of these herbs mentioned should be avoided in particular cases due their interaction with certain medications. Please inform your GP before starting any herbs or supplementation due to possible contra-indications.

Herbs such as Sage may affect certain conditions, specifically diabetes, as this lowers blood sugar, which is especially important if you are taking medication to lower blood sugar already. Black Cohosh and Red Clover are not advised in people with cancer or liver disease.