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Hot flashes in women: why do they happen? What can you do to relieve them?

Suffering from unpleasant hot flashes, ladies? Discover what causes these symptoms and how to reduce them naturally.

Older woman having a hot flush

What exactly is a hot flush?

A hot flush (or ‘hot flash’ in the US), sometimes referred to under the umbrella term ‘vasomotor symptoms’, is a sudden, transient feeling of heat, most often felt in the upper body (the face, neck and chest).

Hot flashes can be mild, but they can also be very uncomfortable.

The different symptoms of a hot flush

Specifically, the common symptoms of a hot flush are:

  • a sudden sensation of heat spreading to the chest, neck and face;
  • redness and/or blotchy skin;
  • an increased heart rate;
  • sudden sweating mainly in the upper body;
  • a sensation of coldness once the hot flush has subsided;
  • a feeling of anxiety.

Both the frequency and intensity of hot flashes vary over time and depending on the individual. An episode can last 1-2 minutes, or sometimes as long as 5 minutes.

What causes hot flashes, especially in women?

The potential causes of hot flashes in general include side-effects from certain drugs, thyroid problems, anxiety, etc.

There are also factors that can intensify these vasomotor symptoms:

  • smoking;
  • obesity;
  • heredity.

In women, however, hot flashes are often seen at times of hormonal fluctuations during the premenstrual period or menopause (the stage that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive life and corresponds to a permanent absence of periods for at least 12 consecutive months).

Most research suggests that this type of female hot flush occurs when a fall in estrogen levels makes the body’s thermostat (hypothalamus) more sensitive to variations in body temperature, even slight ones. When the hypothalamus judges the body to be too hot, it triggers a chain of events to make it sweat and cool down.

When do these hot flashes occur?

Hot flashes in women due to hormonal changes can occur at any time of the day or night.

Most women who report experiencing them suffer them on a daily basis.

Nighttime hot flashes are often considered to be particularly intolerable, especially as they interfere with sleep.

How many years do female hot flashes last?

On average, menopause-related hot flashes continue for 7 years, though some women experience them for more than 10 years.

In most cases, they come to a stop after the age of 65. It’s also worth noting that not all women suffer hot flashes during the menopause.

What can you do to reduce menopause-related hot flashes?

There are various natural approaches that can help minimise the frequency and intensity of hot flashes during the menopause:

Some practical advice

First and foremost, try to stay cool. Wear lighter, breathable clothing and cool yourself down with cold towels, cooling sprays

Make sure you eat a varied, balanced diet, avoiding spicy foods, hot drinks, and alcohol, as well as smoking, which can all contribute to hot flashes.

Take regular exercise to support your general well-being and learn to relax.

Phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are compounds naturally present in certain plants such as red clover, soybeans and flaxseeds.

While not exact substitutes for endogenous estrogens, these compounds have a similar chemical structure. They are able to bind to estrogen receptors, exerting estrogenic activity, which compensates for the fall in estrogen levels linked to the menopause.

They therefore seem to be effective at reducing hot flashes in some women. They can be found in the form of phytoestrogen-rich creams (1).

Progesterone

As well as a fall in estrogen levels, women going through the menopause also experience a decrease in progesterone.

Supplements containing phyto-progesterone, usually obtained from the plant wild yam, help to compensate for this progesterone shortfall and may thus help to prevent hot flashes (2-3).

Try, for example, our natural progesterone spray or natural progesterone cream.

Vitamin E

A recent meta-analysis showed that, compared with a placebo, the antioxidant vitamin E combined with omega-3, was able to reduce the intensity of hot flashes (4).

Sage

Sage is traditionally used to alleviate hot flashes. Several studies appear to support such use, suggesting it may reduce both their frequency and intensity (5).

St John’s Wort

A lesser-known fact is that, in addition to being used for supporting mood, St John’s Wort is increasingly being studied for its potential effects in countering hot flashes (6). Be sure, however, to seek medical advice before starting any supplementation.

SUPERSMART ADVICE

References

  1. Chen MN, Lin CC, Liu CF. Efficacy of phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Climacteric. 2015 Apr;18(2):260-9. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2014.966241. Epub 2014 Dec 1. PMID: 25263312; PMCID: PMC4389700.
  2. Prior JC, Hitchcock CL. Progesterone for hot flush and night sweat treatment--effectiveness for severe vasomotor symptoms and lack of withdrawal rebound. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2012 Oct;28 Suppl 2:7-11. doi: 10.3109/09513590.2012.705390. Epub 2012 Aug 1. PMID: 22849758.
  3. Regidor PA. Progesterone in Peri- and Postmenopause: A Review. Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 2014 Nov;74(11):995-1002. doi: 10.1055/s-0034-1383297. PMID: 25484373; PMCID: PMC4245250.
  4. Maghalian M., Hasanzadeh R., Mirghafourvand M. The effect of oral vitamin E and omega-3 alone and in combination on menopausal hot flushes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Post Reprod. Health. 2022;28:93–106. doi: 10.1177/20533691221083196.
  5. Bommer S, Klein P, Suter A. First time proof of sage's tolerability and efficacy in menopausal women with hot flushes. Adv Ther. 2011 Jun;28(6):490-500. doi: 10.1007/s12325-011-0027-z. Epub 2011 May 16. PMID: 21630133.
  6. Abdali K, Khajehei M, Tabatabaee HR. Effect of St John's wort on severity, frequency, and duration of hot flashes in premenopausal, perimenopausal and postmenopausal women: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Menopause. 2010 Mar;17(2):326-31. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3181b8e02d. PMID: 20216274.

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