What and why are hot flashes?
Picture it: 10:30am on a Wednesday. You are the CFO of an international company and are about to present the year-end financial review for the board of directors. You are appropriately dressed in your silk blouse, requisite Bosslady pantsuit, Jimmy Choos (or Dr Marten’s—you do you, Boo).
Everyone is gathered around the conference room table to watch your presentation, all eyes are on you. You got this. You’re prepped and are soooo ready for this you could pretty much phone it in and you’d still crush it.
Fifteen minutes in and everything is going swimmingly when BOOM, from out of nowhere, your chest and neck are splotchy red, your heart is racing. WTH?? You know it’s not nerves yet here you are, in front of a room full of suits and you’re drenched in sweat. Your blouse is sticking to you like a sheet of cling wrap and—wait, is that mascara running down your cheeks? UGH.
You guessed it, we’re talking about hot flashes. Have you been there?
Power surges affect millions of women, and they hit each of us differently. For Ace, they come on mostly at night and pulse out through her hands. For Lisa they always started along her spine and radiated outward from there. And for you it might be different.
So what are hot flashes? And more importantly—WHY are they?
Short answer: no one knows! Once again, the female body has flummoxed the conventional medical community. #waytogobabes!
According to Harvard Health, researchers don’t know exactly what causes hot flashes. Current theories suggest hot flashes are due to a menopause-related drop in the body’s level of estrogen. This drop affects the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that regulates body temperature.
The Mayo Clinic provides only slightly more detail stating, “hot flashes occur when decreased estrogen levels cause your body’s thermostat (hypothalamus) to become more sensitive to slight changes in body temperature. When the hypothalamus thinks your body is too warm, it starts a chain of events—a hot flash—to cool you down.”
The good news is, our thermostats aren’t broken—but they sure as hell are sensitive!
Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45-55 and generally lasts between 7-14 years. If you connect those dots, what you see is that millions of women are coming into high level management and leadership positions while experiencing these phenomenal heat waves. But we are expected to go through this powerful physiological change as though it were nothing.
There are some risk factors that might increase the likelihood, and indicators of who might be more prone to get hot flashes.
- Race (but we all know race is a construct!): more African American women report having hot flashes during menopause than other races. There’s an interesting cross-cultural phenomenon here – can you guess who has the least amount? (Answer: Women of Asian descent.)
The Eastern View of hot flashes
Which brings us to looking at these power surges from the eastern perspective.
From the Ayurvedic lens, one might conclude that hot flashes are all pitta all the time. Being of the fire and water elements that would seem to make sense. What is a hot flash if not heat and sweat?
However, consider which of the doshas is erratic, mobile, unpredictable, and all over the map.
Did I hear you say vata? You’d be right. Hot flashes (and menopause in general) is a condition of vata pushing pitta. From the TCM viewpoint, we’re looking at our yin (nourishing sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone) being burned up by too much yang (fiery and depleting stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline).
So what’s a Hot Fox to do?
Always start with diet and lifestyle.
While the published research is somewhat limited, nutritional and botanical interventions can impact the frequency and duration of hot flashes in an extremely positive way. And quite often, adjustments to diet and lifestyle alone will do the trick. So, let’s break it down by looking at what we might remove that’s contributing to the imbalance and what we can increase that will contribute to balance.
- First things first – avoid the triggers! These are all of our favorite things; caffeine, coffee, alcohol, spicy foods, processed sugar. Avoid them like a misbehaving toddler on a 6 hour flight. They are cute at first but will only lead to long term exhaustion and disruption to your inner peace.
- Increase the sweet, cooling foods and complex carbohydrates such as juicy fruits, root vegetables, and brown rice, and add more bitter and astringent greens to your plate at each meal. This would look like dark, leafy greens (hello kale, chard, dandelion greens, and spinach), bitter ingredients (dark cocoa? Yes, we’ll give you the dark chocolate). And astringent items such as artichoke hearts, cranberries, and pomegranates.
- Speaking of pomegranates, the Pom Sparkler is a wonderful coolant in the summer months, and if you’re running exceptionally hot, you can sip on this year round.
Herbal supplements don’t receive near the funding for scientific studies that pharmaceuticals enjoy, which inevitably leads to controversy around whether and when to use them. That said, Remifemin is one botanical supplement on the market that is leading the way to cooler nights. Made of black cohosh, this is an OTC product that is widely available in local drug stores and online. Remifemin is arguably the most studied herbal product on the market with regards to peri/menopausal symptoms. Mark Bluemnthal, Founder & Exec Director of The American Botanical Council states: “Remifemin is clearly the world’s most clinically tested black cohosh product, with over 15 clinical trials that demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the product.”
Another herbal remedy that we are hearing a good deal of positive anecdotal evidence on is a European product called Menoforce Sage. The product is just that—Salvia Officinalis. Menoforce Sage has a clinical study behind it indicating it can reduce hot flashes and night sweats.
There are numerous other herbal allies that have anecdotal evidence behind them, but these two products in particular are bridging the gap between conventional and alternative options. As for HRT, there may be a time and a place to take that route, but we sure hope you’ll give Mother Nature a fair opportunity to show you what she’s got.
In future posts, we’ll take a deep dive into attitude adjustments, lifestyle strategies, breathing techniques, and movement practices that can be effective tools in our struggles with the surges. All of these can support our transition and give us an easier, softer, ride into the next chapter.
Ultimately we want to reframe the narrative so whether you’re in the boardroom or the bedroom, you’re as cool as a cucumber and chill as a Fox.
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