by Steven Horne, RH(AHG)
Summer will be here soon, but many women going through menopause are “feeling the heat” right now. Yes, we’re talking about hot flashes, the most common symptoms of menopause.
The bad news is that hot flashes are extremely common in American women. About 70-80% of all women going through menopause experience them and about 10-15% have a severe problem with them. Night sweats are essentially a “hot flash” that occurs at night, causing severe perspiration. Sometimes, hot flashes are accompanied by heart palpitations.
The exact mechanism that causes hot flashes is unknown. However, they are known to occur as estrogen levels fall and levels of the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) rise. FSH rises because the hypothalamus is trying to stimulate the ovaries to produce more estrogen. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with estrogen is known to stop hot flashes 90% of the time, so they are somehow linked to reduced estrogen levels in the body.
However, it’s not that simple because everyone doesn’t get hot flashes during menopause. In fact, women in some traditional cultures have no menopausal symptoms at all. Furthermore, before entering puberty, young girls have lower estrogen levels and don’t get hot flashes. This suggests that a drop in estrogen alone isn’t sufficient to cause hot flashes. Other factors have to come into play.
Basic Causes of Hot Flashes
The poor diet of most Americans is a contributing factor in hot flashes. In the last issue of Nature’s Field, I talked about Dr. Bieler’s thesis that both PMS and menopause symptoms were caused by toxins in the system from poor diet and the resulting compromised function of the digestive organs and liver.
Dr. Bieler believed that the endocrine glands using the menses as a means of eliminating toxins caused PMS symptoms. When this secondary channel of elimination (menses) shuts down during menopause the toxins build up. This means the body has to find another way eliminate these toxins.
Hot flashes appear to involve a surge in adrenal hormones, which can also cause the heart palpitations. If Bieler’s model is correct, this may mean that the adrenal glands are “taking over” for the ovaries in trying to force vicarious elimination. Thus, the “night sweats” associated with hot flashes could be another detoxification mechanism.
Hot flashes are aggravated by stress, which confirms the adrenal link. They are also aggravated (and sometimes triggered) by heat, hot or spicy foods and drinks, alcohol and caffeine. All of the later causes involve substances that dilate arteries increasing blood flow, so there may also be a link with prostaglandins that affect artery walls. It is likely that sugar and refined carbohydrates also aggravate hot flashes.
Phytoestrogens Can Be “Cool”
Since hot flashes are linked with lowered estrogen levels, many women find phytoestrogens helpful for reducing hot flashes. A diet high in green leafy vegetables, whole grains and legumes (beans) will supply a lot of phytoestrogens and may reduce hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. It will certainly enhance overall health.
Soy is often recommended as a source of phytoestroens, but unfermented soy products like soy milk and tofu also contain substances that inhibit mineral absorption and interfere with thyroid function. Considering the fact that many women have thyroid problems (one in five) and that minerals are very important for preventing osteoporosis, soy may not be the best choice for phytoestrogens. Fortunately, just about all beans contain phytoestrogens, so using a variety of legumes is likely to get better results.
Black cohosh has helped many women with hot flashes. It is not just a phytoestrogenic herb, it is also an anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. So, it reduces muscle tension and inflammation. It is combined with dong quai in a slow release form in Flash-Ease, a formula that works well for many women. It’s a remedy that has helped many women “keep their cool” during menopause.
Adaptagens Can Calm the Fire
However, no one remedy works very everyone. Which suggests that there may be other factors besides estrogen to consider. One factor, already mentioned, is stress. Because the adrenals appear to be firing off during a hot flash, adaptagens can be very helpful for calming down hot flashes. Eleuthero root and Korean ginseng, for instance, are helpful for some women. Nutri-Calm can also be beneficial.
If menopause is accompanied by feeling tired and “burned-out,” it could be that the adrenal glands are exhausted. The adrenals also make estrogens, and largely take over estrogen production after menopause. So, strengthening the adrenals will often reduce the incidence and severity of hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Pantothenic acid and Adrenal Support are good remedies to try. Nervous Fatigue Formula and sage may also be beneficial for combating night sweats.
A number of essential oils have an estrogen-stimulating quality. They include clary sage, pink grapefruit, rose Bulgaria and geranium. A few drops of each of these oils can be added to a little water and put into a spray bottle. This can be misted around the face (with the eyes closed) when a woman feels a hot flash coming on and often provides instant “cooling” relief.
It is also possible that hot flashes (and some other symptoms of menopause) may have emotional factors at their base. Menopause is a “change of life” and just as puberty brings about mental and emotional changes (not just physical ones), so does menopause. We’ll discuss this aspect of menopause next week.