Hot Flashes: Is It Hot In Here Or Is It Just... MENOPAUSE?!
- Janice Unertl
Ahhh… the joys of womanhood! As hormones shift, young girls become women and menstruation begins. As the decades pass, women experience another significant hormonal shift bringing an end to menstruation. Menopause is technically defined as the absence of a menstrual cycle for one year, but it is so much more. Many women celebrate this phase of womanhood. But when menopause is accompanied by troubling symptoms, there doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate. Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms associated with menopause, peri-menopause, and post-menopause. Hot flashes can be mildly bothersome, quite uncomfortable, or severely debilitating. Relief is possible and comes in many different forms.
We need to know exactly what causes hot flashes in order to effectively treat them. Easier said than done! Science has yet to determine the specific cause, but there are many theories. The hormonal rollercoaster associated with menopause is the main suspect. Think of hormones as chemical messengers circulating through our bodies that tell our cells what to do. Estrogens are a group of hormones that play a major role in women’s health and are probably the main culprit when it comes to hot flashes. While hot flashes have been linked to a decline in estrogen as women age, FLUCTUATIONS in estrogen levels (not simply low levels) is most likely a contributing factor also. Many other hormones (progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, etc) also fluctuate during this menopause and contribute to menopausal symptoms. Finding a way to balance your hormonal fluctuations can dramatically reduce hot flashes associated with menopause. And there are many different approaches to achieve this goal. Prescription medication is certainly an option, but many women prefer a more “holistic” non-prescription approach. Let’s take a quick look at some non-prescription options...
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
For many women, certain foods are a trigger for hot flashes. Keeping a food journal can be helpful in identifying these trigger foods. Spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol are a few common offenders. Eliminating any trigger food can often reduce hot flashes. Eating healthier in general can also reduce hot flashes since hot flashes often thrive on spikes in blood sugar. Avoiding simple sugars (a.k.a. high glycemic foods) helps even out blood sugar levels to lessen/eliminate hot flashes. High fiber foods are also helpful since fiber regulates our insulin and cortisol to stabilize hormones. Overweight women in general tend to experience more hot flashes than women who maintain a healthy weight. There’s no denying that “food is medicine” applies to every aspect of our health, including menopausal symptoms.
CHECK YOUR BAGGAGE
We all have emotional baggage that has accumulated over the years. Finding appropriate methods to cope with this baggage and life’s everyday stressors is not easy, but is vital to our happiness and health. Cortisol is the hormone that rises when our stress rises. If stress continues on and on and on, our supply of cortisol dwindles and we become hormonally exhausted (referred to as adrenal fatigue). Estrogen and cortisol play off of each other which may explain why stress has a direct impact on hot flashes. Maintaining a healthy cortisol level will benefit overall health and potentially reduce hot flashes. Improved sleep quality, regular physical activity, meditation, yoga, or even a relaxing vacation are examples of healthy ways we can lower our stress and attain healthier cortisol levels.
A SUPPLEMENTAL PLAN
There is a vast array of over-the-counter products on the market that claim to reduce hot flashes. It can be overwhelming to choose one! And there is often a great deal of trial and error to find a product that is effective. Many of these products contain “phytoestrogens” which are plant-derived substances that can have estrogen-like effects in the body. Phytoestrogens mimic the effects of estrogen which balance hormones which may reduce hot flashes. Soy is an example of a phytoestrogen and is the main ingredient in many OTC products for hot flashes. Some products include a combination of ingredients to provide a more holistic approach in alleviating menopausal symptoms such as...
• DIM (diindoylmethane) - occurs naturally in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower,, and cabbage; DIM supports healthy metabolism of estrogens to provide a balance of “good” estrogens
• I3C (indole-3-carbinol) - our bodies convert I3C to different metabolites including DIM to support estrogen balance; occurs naturally in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage; reduces the risk of estrogen-related cancers
• Vitamin E - an antioxidant that fights free radicals in the body; reduces (oxidative) stress which may ease menopausal symptoms
• Black Cohosh - a root extract that contains phytoestrogens; helps balance hormones; alleviate menopausal symptoms; provides a sense of calmness
• Trans Resveratrol - a polyphenol that occurs naturally in grapes; structure is similar to estrogen; provides a benefits for bone health, cardiovascular health, and hormone balance
• Licorice Root Extract - phytoestrogen effects help balance hormone levels and cortisol levels; supports bone health and mental health
• Dong Quai - an herb that has phytoestrogen effects to reduce menopausal symptoms; supports vaginal tissue health
• Gamma Oryzanol - extracted from rice bran oil; contains ferulic acid which can reduce menopausal symptoms; maintains healthy cholesterol levels
Many vitamins contribute to relief of menopausal symptoms including Vitamins C and E for hot flashes and B Vitamins for mood. Taking a high quality vitamin supplement such as Alpha Base or Mitocore (both by Ortho Molecular Products) is recommended for general health benefits and can ease menopausal symptoms.
This quick overview is just the tip of the iceberg. And when suffering with hot flashes, icebergs seem awfully appealing! The best approach is to find a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner to guide you along this journey. Consulting your doctor is always advisable, but your pharmacist is also a wonderful resource for insight and advice. Please reach out to your local Hometown pharmacist for a personal consultation as you seek relief from menopausal symptoms.
Our Hometown team is here for you and eager to provide support. Our family caring for your family!
Please note that these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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I have been a pharmacist at Hometown Pharmacy since 2015 and bring over 30 years of pharmacy experience with me. I earned my pharmacy degree at Butler University in Indianapolis and began my career as a community pharmacist in the small town of Greenfield, Indiana. Eventually, I headed north to Chicago and worked as a pharmacist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and St. Francis Clinic for many years. My journey north continued when I arrived in Madison, Wisconsin in 2000. I began working at Women's International Pharmacy specializing in bio-identical hormone therapies. I became part of the Hometown Pharmacy family after learning about their commitment to providing pharmacy services and complementary health care services to local communities. I am eager to provide patients with health education, especially in regards to hormonal health and nutritional supplements.
I am keenly aware of the impact our lifestyle choices have on our overall health and enjoy running, biking, meditation, and cooking "light." I love exploring our planet during travels with my husband and our two children. No matter how far my travels take me, I will always be a Midwestern gal at heart. Sharing my pharmacy knowledge with patients and learning from my patients' experiences is the most fulfilling aspect of my job and I look forward to helping you with your healthcare needs.
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