Menopause & perimenopause
Handling hot flashes and night sweats — what you can do
by Marcy Holmes, NP, Certified Menopause Clinician
My patient Melissa remembers the panic of one of her first hot flashes. Surrounded by potential clients at her company’s major convention, her heart began to race and the sweat started forming at her hairline. She was desperately trying to decide what would draw less attention — finding an escape route or pushing through, hoping nobody would notice.
But somebody did notice. Melissa’s favorite customer Laurie came through the crowd, firmly grasped Melissa’s arm and said “we need to talk about the latest shipment.” Laurie then led Melissa to a quiet corner of the room and stayed with her until the hot flash passed. What a friend!
When Melissa told me this story, she said she knew Laurie wasn’t going to be there for every hot flash and asked “what are some ways to handle hot flashes on my own?”
Symptoms associated with hot flashes and night sweats
Hot flashes and night sweats are often accompanied by other symptoms:
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling trapped or “suffocated”
- Tingling sensation of the skin
- Flushed appearance or blotchy skin
You can stop hot flashes and other symptoms with our Personal Program.
This is an important question, as three out of four menopausal women experience disturbing hot flashes and night sweats that seem to happen at the worst possible times — during an important meeting at work, while you’re having fun at a big party or when you really need a good night’s sleep.
At Women to Women, we’ve spent years finding the best natural solutions to hot flashes and night sweats. In our experience, women get lasting results using an approach that focuses on resolving the real root of the problem — hormonal imbalance.
What’s happening in your body during a hot flash?
To start, I think it’s helpful to understand that during a hot flash you’re not physically overheating. Instead, your brain’s hypothalamus decides that a lower temperature is optimal for your body, and it tries to cool you down by sending signals that you’re too hot.
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The body reacts instantly with a hot flash — increasing your heart rate and dilating vessels to circulate more blood, as well as opening the sweat glands over the skin’s surface. And, as one Member told us, you feel like you have “a sunburn inside your body.”
The mixed-up message between your brain and body is a result of the natural decrease in estrogen during menopause, which seems to create changes in the temperature-regulating part of the brain (hypothalamus).
Common hot flash triggers
- Anxiety or stressful events
- Refined carbs: sugar and simple carbohydrates
- Caffeine, nicotine, and stimulants in general
- Alcohol (even one glass of wine!)
- Hot drinks or foods —spicy or temperature-wise
- Hot spaces, such as saunas and over-warm bedrooms
- Crowded rooms
- Lack of circulating air, poor air quality, or lack of fresh air
- Any activity that heats the body without adequate cool-down
Understanding individual triggers
Hot flashes and night sweats can be jumpstarted by many triggers, but the one common factor is stress along with your body’s response to it — as we saw in the case of Melissa.
When you’re stressed, your body works hard to sustain high levels of stress hormones. With this added demand — especially during menopause — it’s difficult for your body to support other hormonal pathways, such as the neuroendocrine pathways involved in hot flashes.
Many women don’t realize that stress can be physical or emotional, and that both affect your hormonal balance. For example, poor nutrition is a form of physical stress that’s easily overlooked during hormonal transitions like menopause.
Anxiety and emotional stress commonly top the list of women’s hot flash triggers. While we’ve been making the connection between emotional stress and hot flashes for years, I’m encouraged that it’s now increasingly recognized in research. Here are two recent examples:
- A University of Pennsylvania study of over 400 menopausal women showed a direct correlation between anxiety and the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
- An NIH study showed that deep, paced breathing and relaxation exercises done throughout the day significantly decrease frequency and severity of flushing symptoms. Many women don’t breathe this way when they are under stress.
We suggest you take a look at the common hot flash triggers in the box to the right to see if any seem familiar. But remember, one of the highly-frustrating things about hot flashes is that they are so unpredictable, so it’s not always possible to identify what sets them off.
Using herbs to relieve your hot flashes and night sweats
I’ve worked with so many women who needed extra help for their hot flashes, and have found effective relief with herbal therapies (phytotherapy). One of the greatest benefits to using phytotherapy is that the ingredients work with your body, to improve hormonal messaging between your brain, nervous system, and endocrine organs. They can do this because the bioactive molecules in plants share features with our own hormones.
The capability of herbs to adjust based on individual needs is known as an adaptogenic effect, and it makes phytotherapy highly effective in dealing with the complex systems in our body. This means that, depending on your individual needs, phytotherapy can directly connect with your endocrine system to make more of a needed hormone, mimic your hormone responses, or stimulate the same response in the body as a natural hormone. All of these actions help the body maintain hormonal balance naturally and without the possible side effects of prescription medications.
Natural ways to reduce hot flashes and night sweats
Again and again, we see it is most effective to combine herbal options with a foundation of healthy lifestyle and dietary choices:
1) Nourish your body. Eat whole, fresh foods, and balance your meals and snacks with plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and protein. Add essential fatty acids and soy to ensure an adequate supply of the micronutrients needed for neurotransmitter and hormonal balance.
2) Stay active. Recent research suggests moderate exercise helps calm hot flashes by reducing anxiety. In one study, women who exercised experienced reduced hot flashes, while those who did not experienced an increase. Forms of exercise that raise core body temperature can trigger hot flashes, so be sure to provide ample cool-down time.
3) Cultivate emotional health. Take small steps to reduce stress, whatever form it takes in your life. Whether that means setting better boundaries at work, home, or within your community, learn to keep commitments and expectations reasonable.
4) Add gentle hormonal support when needed. If you’re considering herbal support, a product containing a range of herbs, like the one we offer in our Personal Program, can offer synergistic benefits that a single herb may not. You may also want to explore acupuncture or talk to your practitioner about bioidentical hormones.
After all, it’s your body
Waking up in a pool of perspiration at night or having to leave an important meeting because of a hot flash can be frustrating, or frightening, or embarrassing. No one likes to feel helpless or limited to one-size-fits-all solutions.
Your body has the ability to recover and maintain balance through life’s transitions — sometimes it just needs more support —both physical and emotional. A natural combination approach can help you restore hormonal balance and regain personal comfort — while helping you tune in to your body, find greater peace of mind, and create better long-term health.
The Women to Women approach
Hot flashes and night sweats are symptoms that announce loud and clear: your body is going through a major hormonal transition. For 25 years we’ve been offering women safe alternative solutions that effectively address the underlying causes of hot flashes. We’ve continued to refine our comprehensive, natural approach in our Personal Program for Hormonal Imbalance, which includes:
The optimal dosage of the vitamins and minerals that every woman needs.
Our popular all-natural botanical solution to the symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Exclusively ours.
Enriched eating plan, menus, and lifestyle guidelines
Transform your health with our simple suggestions for adjusting your diet and lifestyle.
Try our Personal Program for Hormonal Imbalance.