Crowded shops, office parties not to mention the endless preparations in the run-up up to the big day can be bad news for hot flushes so this week I am going to concentrate on why they happen and things you can do to keep them at bay during this busy time of year.
First thing to take on board is you are not alone. Hot flushes and night sweats are the most common menopausal symptoms affecting between six and eight out of every 10 menopausal women.[i] Their intensity, frequency and duration vary. Some women barely notice them while others are plagued day and night with unpleasant surges of intense heat lasting anything from 30 seconds to 10 minutes.
It is not known for sure what causes hot flushes, but as well as depleted levels of nutrients at this time of life, it’s thought that the decline in oestrogen that occurs running up to and around the time of the menopause may affect the hypothalamus, the region of the brain that controls body temperature[ii]. As a result our bodies overreact to the multiple tiny fluctuations in body temperature we all experience throughout the day in response to changes in ambient temperature, stress, clothing and so on.
Typical triggers include heat, increased humidity, alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods. For some women even a hot drink or walking into a warmer room are enough to trigger that dreaded surge of heat so it is not surprising that they often become more frequent around Christmas.
Here are my tips, which I hope will help to cool things down.
- Check your diet. Make sure you’re in good nutritional shape. Increase your intake of soy, which is rich in phytoestrogens - plant chemicals that mimic the action of the body’s natural oestrogen. Good sources include soya milk, tofu and soya flour, linseeds, lentils, chickpeas, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
- Eat little and often. The heat generated by digesting big meals can bring on or aggravate flushing.
- Breathe deeply. The moment you feel a flush coming on, stop what you are doing and take several slow, deep, calming breaths.
- Layer up. Wear several layers of clothes, which are easy to peel off.
- Keep it light. Use lightweight duvets and bedclothes. Keep a fan next to your bed to cool down at night.
- Go natural. Opt for cotton nightwear and avoid any made from manmade fibre.
- Hydrate, hydrate. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Spray it. Keep a spray in your fridge to help cool you down if the going gets hot. Carry some cool wipes in your handbag at all times.
- Stub out now. Smoking ups the risk of flushing.
- Beat stress. Make time to relax every day. Regular relaxation has been shown to reduce flushes by as much as 50% or 60%.
- Supplement it. Supplements that can help reduce hot flushes include soy isoflavones, sage leaf extracts and black cohosh.
- Avoid triggers. Steer clear of alcohol, spicy foods, hot drinks and soups.
- Exercise regularly. Brisk walking, stretching, muscle-strengthening and relaxation exercises can help reduce even severe menopausal symptoms.
Spotlight on isoflavones and hot flushes
It’s interesting to note that around 70-80% of Latin American and European women suffer from hot flushes compared to only 20-25% of Asian women. Recent research[iii] found that women given 30 mg a day of an isoflavone supplement containing genistein over 12 weeks achieved a 51% reduction in vasomotor symptoms. Genistein accounts for around 60% of the isoflavone content in soybeans.
It’s not entirely clear how genistein works to inhibit hot flushes, but it appears to enter cells in the normal way through the fatty tissue, modulating oestrogen receptors and stimulating certain proteins that are involved with specific vasomotor and emotional symptoms. A recent review[iv] looked at genistein and its positive biological effects on a number of diseases, such as heart disease, hormone-related cancer and osteoporosis – all of which have an increased risk after menopause.[i] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/symptoms/ [ii] https://www.healthline.com/symptom/hot-flashes [iii] [iii] Braxas H et al. Effectiveness of genistein supplementation on metabolic factors and antioxidant status in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Can. J. Diabetes 2019, 43, 490-497
[iv] Thangavel P et al. Genistein as Potential Therapeutic Candidate for Menopausal Symptoms and Other Related Diseases. Molecules. Published 29 October 2019
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