hot flashes

What are hot flashes and why do you get them?

And, how to get less of them.

If you’re anything like the 80% of women who experience hot flashes during menopause, then you already know: they aren’t exactly comfortable. (And for you lucky 20%, we envy you!)

But what’s the precise biological function governing these hot flashes? What creates the sudden rush of sweats and OMG-somebody-turn-on-the-AC! feeling? And if you’ve never gotten them before, but hear about them all the time: just what is a hot flash?

Let’s start with that question – what is a hot flash – and then, why they happen. We’ll then talk about solutions to address hot flashes, so you can get back to living your life…without feeling like a one-woman heat wave.

WHAT IS A HOT FLASH?

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already all too familiar with them, but we like this hot flash description from Markham Heid at Prevention[1]:

“You’re doing your thing, minding your own business, when you start to feel the heat. It’s like someone injected your skin with whatever comes in those little hand-warming gel packets.

Hot flashes are annoying, and they can leave you with a pounding heart, flushed skin, and—when they pass—a sweat-stained shirt and a case of the chills.”

That sounds about right.

Also – interesting factoid – your hot flash may be specifically linked to your cultural location and experience. From Harvard Health Publishing[2]:

“Most American women have hot flashes around the time of menopause, but studies of other cultures suggest this experience is not universal. Far fewer Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian women report having hot flashes. In Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, women appear not to have any at all. These differences may reflect cultural variations in perceptions, semantics, and lifestyle factors, such as diet.”

Food for thought, huh?

Anyway, back to the anatomy of of hot flash. We know what the sensations are; what is the biochemical trigger though that makes your body and face heat up? Turns out, researchers are still trying to answer that very question. Again, from Harvard Health Publishing:

“Although the physiology of hot flashes has been studied for more than 30 years, no one is certain why or how they occur. Estrogen is involved — if it weren’t, estrogen therapy wouldn’t relieve vasomotor symptoms as well as it does — but it’s not the whole story. For example, researchers have found no differences in estrogen levels in women who have hot flash symptoms and those who don’t. A better understanding of the causes of hot flashes in perimenopause could open the way to new, nonhormonal treatments. Hormone therapy quells hot flashes, but it’s not risk-free.”

(Hang onto that detail later, about hormone therapy (HRT), because we’re going to talk alternatives.)

So, the short answer to “what is a hot flash” is: we don’t exactly know. We just know that it’s brief, intense, and that the period of your life in which you experience them can last for a long time.

WHY DO HOT FLASHES HAPPEN?

Given the last few paragraphs, you might think the answer to this question is a big: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But we actually do have some observed correlations in the world of hot flashes.

A landmark study published in 2016 that followed 1,455 women for 15 years yielded some intriguing findings about hot flash sufferers. From Science Daily[3]:

“The researchers found that the women could be relatively equally divided into four distinct trajectories for vasomotor symptoms as they went through menopause transition, and that certain characteristics were more common in different categories:

  • A consistently low chance of having symptoms throughout the menopause transition was more common in Chinese women.
  • A consistently high chance of having symptoms throughout the transition was more common in black women, those with less education, those who reported drinking alcohol moderately or heavily, and those who reported symptoms of depression or anxiety.
  • An early onset of symptoms in the decade before the final period with cessation thereafter was more common among women who were obese, had symptoms of depression or anxiety, were in poorer health than their peers and at an older age at menopause.
  • A late onset of symptoms after the final period that gradually declined in the following decade was more common in women with a lower body mass index (ratio of weight to height), those who smoke and black women.

Hormonal fluctuations were correlated with vasomotor symptoms but were not perfectly consistent, indicating that they did not fully account for the symptoms.”

It’s a big study, and hopefully it yields a lot more interest in the search for hot flash solutions. But, just because, say, “less education” is correlated with high chances of hot flashes, doesn’t mean “less education” is a cause of hot flashes. (And neither is being a black woman, or being anxious, etc. Bottom line: correlation does not equal causation.)

Here’s what we do know: the health of your hormones (all of your hormones, not just estrogen – thyroid, cortisol, adrenaline, etc.) probably has something to do with the onset, and total period, of hot flashes. Other causes include[4]: food allergies and sensitivities, prescription meds, and more, and guess what? Most “other causes” affect your hormone activity!

So let’s talk about ways to address your hormone health holistically, which will impact how often and how severely you experience hot flashes.

HOW DO I TREAT THEM?

As we saw mentioned before, HRT is an option, though it carries risk. Here are some interesting, natural alternatives with science behind them:

Mindfulness[5]

When researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester had 15 women with frequent hot flashes learn mindfulness-based stress reduction in a weekly class for 8 weeks, the women’s quality of life improved overall as the severity of their hot flashes plummeted by 40%.

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.

Work out[6]

Spanish 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.

Take chasteberry[7]

One 2007 study published in Gynecological Endocrinology found that an herbal supplement containing chasteberry provided safe and effective relief of hot flushes and sleep disturbances in pre- and postmenopausal women. Another 2015 study found that a supplement containing vitex as a key ingredient was able to reduce moderate to severe menopause symptoms.

(If you’re interested in a supplement that could help with your hot flashes, Asensia’s formula contains it – along with ingredients, like green tea, that work synergistically to make it more effective.)

Here’s to staying cool on your hot flash journey.

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ADDITIONAL LINKS + RESOURCES:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160713152157.htm
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/are-hot-flashes-genetic
http://www.womenshealth.northwestern.edu/blog/hot-flashes-years-after-menopause
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/menopause-hot-flashes-womens-symptoms/
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/02/16/hot-flash-study/23371317/
https://www.prevention.com/health/a20484754/6-common-causes-of-hot-flashes-that-arent-menopause/
https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/perimenopause-rocky-road-to-menopause
https://draxe.com/vitex/
https://www.prevention.com/life/g20481489/natural-menopause-solution-hot-flash-remedies/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] “6 Common Causes of Hot Flashes that Aren’t Menopause,” read more at: https://www.prevention.com/health/a20484754/6-common-causes-of-hot-flashes-that-arent-menopause/

[2] “Perimenopause: Rocky road to menopause,” read more at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/perimenopause-rocky-road-to-menopause

[3] “Certain characteristics predispose women to different hot flash, night sweat patterns,” read more at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160713152157.htm

[4]  “6 Common Causes of Hot Flashes that Aren’t Menopause,” read more at: https://www.prevention.com/health/a20484754/6-common-causes-of-hot-flashes-that-arent-menopause/

[5] “14 Natural Remedies for the Worst Symptoms of Menopause,” read more at: https://www.prevention.com/life/g20481489/natural-menopause-solution-hot-flash-remedies/

[6] “14 Natural Remedies for the Worst Symptoms of Menopause,” read more at: https://www.prevention.com/life/g20481489/natural-menopause-solution-hot-flash-remedies/

[7] “Vitex or Chasteberry, the Female-Friendly Fruit for PMS and more,” read more at: https://draxe.com/vitex/