Ways to Relieve Menopausal Hot Flashes

Woman having night sweats.
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If you're approaching or in the midst of the "change of life," or menopause, hot flashes are probably an unwelcome visitor. A feeling of intense heat, sweating, flushed cheeks, increased heart rate, even tingling often make up this symptom, which is the bane of menopausal women everywhere. Due to plummeting estrogen levels, about 75% of all women experience hot flashes, with most occurring for two years or less—but some women can experience them for longer. They usually start before a woman's final menstrual cycle.

Traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) that includes estrogen replacement provides effective relief from hot flashes associated with menopause. However, some women may not be able to use it, such as those recently treated for breast cancer. And others may be curious about lifestyle changes to keep them from constantly burning up.

Here are some non-hormonal ideas to reduce the severity of your hot flashes.

Add Phytoestrogens to Your Diet

Some research suggests that phytoestrogens, which are plants with estrogen-like effects in the body, can help reduce hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. Phytoestrogens are made up of isoflavones and lignans. Soybeans and soy products such as tofu, tempeh, miso, and soy milk contain isoflavones, and lignans are found in flaxseed, whole grains, legumes such as chickpeas and lentils, fruits, and vegetables.

The chemical structure of phytoestrogens is similar to estradiol, or estrogen, and several studies have shown that they have an estrogenic effect in the body when the circulating estrogen level is low.

Avoid Food Triggers

Many foods can trigger a bout of hot flashes, including alcohol, caffeine, cayenne, and other spicy foods. If your hot flashes seem to worsen after consuming these foods, try eliminating the offenders and see if the hot flashes subside.

Try Medications

Effexor is an antidepressant that has been found to reduce hot flashes in women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Because it works so well for breast cancer patients, researchers believe it may be an option for women who don't want to use traditional hormone replacement therapy during menopause.

Paxil is FDA-approved to treat hot flashes and has been proven to improve them in well-designed studies. Pristiq and Lexapro are also shown to help in the research.

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant drug used to treat nerve pain and seizures. Anecdotal evidence has found that the drug is moderately effective in reducing hot flashes.

Get Enough Exercise

Yeah, yeah. Who wants to exercise when they're already dripping with sweat while standing still? Completely understandable, but exercise is proven to help. In fact, two studies published in 2016 showed that women who were put on an exercise program of jogging and bicycling four to five times a week showed an improvement in their ability to regulate their body heat, and during a hot flash, they perspired less and showed less of a rise in skin temperature when compared to the control group that didn't exercise. And best of all, by the end of the study, the participants who exercised experienced a 60 percent drop in the frequency of their hot flashes.

Exercise at least a few times a week, at a moderate or strenuous pace, to see this benefit. Just don't exercise within three hours of going to bed or you may increase your risk of experiencing night sweats.

Utilize Supplements and Herbs

Many people use black cohosh to reduce hot flashes, although little evidence exists as to how effective it actually is. Still, some swear that black cohosh provides effective relief from these and other symptoms of menopause, including headaches, heart palpitations, and anxiety. According to the North American Menopause Society, despite the lack of definitive evidence, "it would seem that black cohosh is a safe, herbal medicine." Some other herbs with anecdotal evidence of helping hot flashes include red clover, dong quai, and evening primrose oil.

A study published in Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation found that Vitamin E may help reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes and night sweats during menopause.

However, before starting any new supplement or herb it's critical to check with your healthcare provider, as many of them are contraindicated to certain medical conditions.

Keep Cool

Hot flashes are often worse during hot weather. Wear all cotton clothes that allow your skin to breathe, and keep a fan nearby during hot weather to reduce the number of hot flashes you experience. You may also want to sip on ice water, keep ice packs nearby, and wear layers during the colder months so you can remove clothing as needed.

Reduce Your Stress Level

Stress can be a hot flash trigger for many women. Taking up a calming practice such as meditation or restorative yoga, or a creative practice such as painting or writing, may provide a helpful outlet.

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Article Sources

  • Alyson Huntley, Ph.D., and Edzard Ernst, MD, Ph.D., FRCP(Edin). “A systematic review of the safety of black cohosh.” NAMS.

  • Bailey, Cable, Aziz, Atkinson, Cuthbertson, Low, Jones. Exercise training reduces the acute physiological severity of post-menopausal hot flushes. J Physiol. 2016 Feb 1;594(3):657-67. doi: 10.1113/JP271456. Epub 2015 Dec 30.

  • Cleveland Clinic. Non-Hormonal Ways to Cope with Hot Flashes & Menopause.
  • John Hopkins Medicine. Introduction to Menopause.
  • S. Ziaei, A. Kazemnejad, M. Zareai. The Effect of Vitamin E on Hot Flashes in Menopausal Women. Gynecol Obstet Invest 2007;64:204-207.