Menopause may be a normal life stage, but the symptoms it ushers in are anything but normal. They can turn your life upside down with mood swings, vaginal dryness, hair loss, chronic fatigue, weight gain, and a tanking libido.
Perhaps the most notorious symptoms, however, are hot flashes. About 75% of menopausal women experience at least a few surges of heat, and some have so many hot flashes that they interfere with daily activities and quality sleep.
If that sounds familiar, schedule a visit with Dr. Anju Nayar, our board-certified gynecologist at Nova Women’s Health in North Reading, Massachusetts. Our experienced specialists understand how frustrating and uncomfortable hot flashes can be, and we have solutions to reduce their frequency and severity.
We customize your menopause management plan to reflect your individual needs and symptoms. You may be a good candidate for hormone replacement therapy to rebalance your hormones and calm your symptoms, or you may just need to make a few adjustments to your habits and routine.
If you think low estrogen is the culprit behind your hot flashes, you’re only half right. While it’s true that estrogen levels drop when menopause arrives, there’s more to it than that. The hypothalamus region of your brain, which regulates your body temperature, relies on a balance of estrogen and a brain chemical called neurokinin B (NKB).
When estrogen decreases, you have relatively too much NKB, which triggers neurons in your brain and tricks it into thinking you’re hot when you’re not. As a result, you feel the effects of a confused nerve-brain connection called vasomotor symptoms — hot flashes.
Here are our top tips for keeping cool despite menopause.
Alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it widens your blood vessels and can contribute to or worsen hot flashes. Compared with men, women and alcohol have a rocky relationship.
Women’s bodies are generally smaller and have a lower tolerance for alcohol. Women also have less of the enzyme dehydrogenase, which metabolizes alcohol, and the small amount in women’s livers isn’t very active. In addition, women tend to lose more water volume than men as they age, so there’s less fluid to dilute alcohol in your system.
During summer, wearing light fabrics keeps you as cool as possible regardless of your vasomotor symptoms. You can do yourself a favor by carrying that mindset into the rest of the year as well. Wearing a few layers of lighter materials gives you options when a hot flash hits.
Because hot flashes come on suddenly and intensely, the ability to remove a layer or two of fabric can make a big difference.
Like alcohol, spicy foods can trigger hot flashes. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a bland diet, but you may benefit from swapping out chilis, wasabi, and the like for herbs and other milder choices.
In addition to avoiding too many spicy foods, you can turn the furnace down by adding some of these foods to your diet:
Some research has shown that foods high in vitamin E can also calm your hot flashes.
Fat insulates your body and keeps heat in, so if you carry too many extra pounds, you may be more susceptible to hot flashes.
Studies show that smokers have more hot flashes during menopause than nonsmokers, but the chemicals in tobacco can even trigger early menopause.
Stress gets you all worked up and anxious, accelerating your heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, and triggering a flood of cortisol and adrenaline — a perfect recipe for vasomotor symptoms.
Avoiding stress when possible and managing the stress you can’t sidestep can keep hot flashes at bay. Actions such as meditating, praying, breathing deeply, exercising, and practicing mindfulness could be your ticket to cooler nights and fewer flashes.
Accordion-style hand fans were once a staple accessory in women’s wardrobes, but they’ve fallen out of fashion. Dare to bring them back into vogue — just slip one into your purse or backpack and whip it out when a hot flash hits.
If you’re more of a modern woman, consider a battery-operated device that creates instant air — no waving required. Some even plug into your smartphone.
If you need extra help managing your hot flashes and other menopause symptoms, call Nova Women’s Health to schedule an appointment or book online.