Ways to Relieve Menopausal Hot Flashes

If you're approaching or in the midst of the "change of life," or menopause, hot flashes are probably an unwelcome visitor. Hot flashes can include a feeling of intense heat, sweating, flushed cheeks, increased heart rate, and even tingling. These symptoms are often the bane of menopausal people everywhere.

Due to plummeting estrogen levels, about 75% of all menopausal people experience hot flashes—a symptom that lasts for about two years, but some can experience it for longer. Hot flashes usually start before the final menstrual cycle, but the transition of menopause (marking 12 months from the last period) and its symptoms can start up to seven years prior to the cessation of bleeding.

Woman having night sweats.
 Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

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

Here are some nonhormonal suggestions for reducing the severity of your hot flashes.

Add Phytoestrogens to Your Diet

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

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

Avoid Food Triggers

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

Try Medications

Effexor (venlafaxine HCI) is an antidepressant that has been found to reduce hot flashes in women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Because it works so well in breast cancer patients, researchers believe it may be an option for those not wanting to use traditional hormone replacement therapy during menopause.

Paxil (paroxetine) is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat hot flashes and has been shown to improve them in well-designed studies. Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) and Lexapro (escitalopram) have also been proven to help.

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

Although exercising when there's a possibility you may experience a hot flash at any time doesn’t sound like a good idea, exercise has been proven to help.

In fact, two studies published in 2016 found that people experiencing menopausal symptoms 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. Also, 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% drop in the frequency of their hot flashes.

Consider trying exercise at least a few times a week at a moderate or strenuous pace to get 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, a large plant from the buttercup family, to reduce hot flashes, although little evidence exists as to how effective it actually is. Still, some swear that black cohosh root 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.

Keep Cool

Hot flashes are often worse during hot weather. Wear 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 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
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Additional Reading
  • 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.