You feel your heart begin to race. You experience some combination of sweating, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, headache, weakness, or a feeling of suffocation. A sudden, intense, hot feeling flushes your face and upper body and you begin to perspire, a little or a lot. You may feel a chill at the beginning of the episode or at the end.
If this sounds familiar to you, you are all too aware of the affect hot flashes can have on your lifestyle. It is simply a change in hormonal production that acts as a passage to the second half of life, but it can also be the beginning of new energy and a deeper self awareness within.
Hot Flashes are the result of the hormonal changes that occur during menopause, but they can be dramatically affected by lifestyle and treatment choices. The pituitary hormones begin to flow continuously at high levels and the ovarian hormones, estrogen, progesterone and androgen, begin to slow down. Eighty-five percent of the women in the United States experience hot flashes as they approach menopause and often one or two years after their period stops.
A diminished level of estrogen has a direct effect on the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for controlling your appetite, sleep cycles, sex hormones, and body temperature. A drop in estrogen confuses the hypothalamus and causes the brain to respond and alert the heart, blood vessels, and nervous system of overheating. The message is then transmitted by the chemical messengers, epinephrine, norepinephrine, prostaglandin and serotonin.
Under normal circumstances, this is how your body keeps you from overheating, but when the process is triggered by a drop in estrogen, the brain is confused. Skin temperature can rise as much as six degrees centigrade during a hot flash. Your body cools down when it shouldn’t, and suddenly you are soaking wet with little or no warning. Hot Flashes most commonly occur n the morning, and at night. A sudden severe episode can be very frightening and may be misinterpreted as a heart attack.
For most women hot flashes are mild to moderate, but a small percentage of women experience hot flashes so severe, they seek medical attention to control them. The more rapid the transition to menopause, often after being medically induced, the stronger your symptoms may be. Other factors that may affect the severity include weight, fat to muscle ratio and smoking.
What can I do?
Always begin with the least aggressive and most natural approach when treating your menopausal symptoms. Studies have shown that medication is not always helpful. Many doctors and pharmaceutical companies see menopause as a deficiency disease, instead of a passage of life. So, it makes sense to them to view estrogen replacement as the only viable solution to restore vibrancy to menopausal and post menopausal women. Aside from the misconceptions of this type of thinking, estrogen therapy is not known to be safe for women, particularly women with a history of breast cancer.
Here are some positive steps you can take:
• Avoid Pressure: Allow more time to plan your day, as much as possible, around the time you normally experience hot flashes, and give yourself a chance to relax between commitments.
• Avoid Mood Altering Substances: Alcohol, caffeine, diet pills, smoking can all contribute to more severe reactions during hot flashes.
• Avoid Heated Situations: Hot or spicy food, hot tubs, saunas, hot showers, hot beds, hot rooms and excessive outdoor heat will intensify hot flashes.
• Avoid Uncomfortable Clothing: Dress in layers to adjust to body temperature swings. Wear breathable fabrics
• Exercise: It will reduce hot flashes, increase endorphin levels, help you sleep better, lower cholesterol levels, improve libido, minimize mood swings, improve self image and strengthen both skeletal and muscular systems.
• Use Relaxation Methods: Breathing exercises, meditation, massage, hypnosis and yoga are all methods proven to reduce stress and the physical affect that stress can have on your body.
• You Are What You Eat: Follow a low-fat diet and avoid processed foods to maintain a healthy weight for your body.
• Use Natural Herbs: A mixture of Don Quai, a female tonic, Chasteberry, which regulates the female reproductive system and Damiana, used as a tonic and female aphrodisiac may be beneficial when taken once a day, preferably mid day. A common regimen would be to take these herbs until you no longer experience any hot flashes, and then begin to gradually reduce the dose and stop completely.
Other plant estrogens that women have found effective in treating hot flashes over the centuries can be found in Ginseng, evening primrose oil, Licorice root, Red Raspberry leaves, Sarsaparilla, Spearmint, Motherwort, Black Cohosh, and Wild Yams. These herbal remedies, may be effective at reducing hot flashes. However, their relative safety in women who have had breast cancer is not known. Always use great caution when considering plant estrogens and always consult your doctor.
Menopause is one of life’s most natural processes, not a disorder. All of the pressure of pregnancy, premenstrual and menstrual demands are gone. And because women develop, sexually, much later in life than men, many say that after menopause, their sex lives actually improve. So, relax, prepare, listen to your body and embrace the journey.
Disclaimer: The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.