Still waiting for your hot flashes to subside? These sweaty sessions can stay in your life for up to a decade or longer. There is relief, but not all remedies are equally effective.
“There are lots of muddied ideas out there, and you have to be careful,” says Dr. Jennifer Pearlman, a women’s health and wellness physician in Toronto. “Women are best served by a medical expert who can direct them to the most suitable options for them regarding safety and effectiveness.”
Here’s what might work and what might waste your time—or money.
1. Hormone therapy
Because hot flashes are triggered by falling estrogen levels, taking estrogen is the most effective way to alleviate them. Pearlman often recommends a combination of bioidentical estradiol (a type of estrogen) patch and progesterone taken as a capsule (for preventive health benefits). Prescribed hormones are produced in a lab using plant sources and pregnant mares’ urine. Bioidentical hormones, synthesized from yams or soy, are identical on a molecular level to those your own body would make. Speak with your health-care professional about the right dose, and use with other approaches instead of relying solely on hormone therapy.
“To flood a woman with estrogen to solve a myriad of menopause-related problems is never going to be as safe as taking a more integrative approach,” Pearlman says.
That may especially apply if you have certain health risks like blood clots or cancers associated with estrogen including breast and uterine.
6. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and smoking
Although it’s not fully understood why, coffee, tea and other caffeine drinks can actually bring on hot flashes (not to mention interfering with shut eye). Alcohol has been shown to aggravate menopause symptoms such as insomnia and mood changes. Smokers are at greater risk of hot flashes—again, for yet-to-be-determined reasons—but what’s less certain is whether quitting reduces that risk. Last year, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois found that women tend to have less frequent and less severe hot flashes after they quit smoking. The effect was weaker, though, in women who’d quit only within the past five years.
7. Weight management
Do heavy women have more hot flashes or fewer? Fat cells make an enzyme that converts sex hormones into estrogen, so if you’re overweight, you produce more estrogen. “That actually mitigates the hot flashes a bit,” says Pearlman. But many experts suggest weight loss can ease hot flashes. It may depend on your age. A study in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that fat is helpful after about age 60, when your ovaries have stopped making estrogen. Before that, heavier women have more hot flashes than their slimmer pals. These links were strongest among Caucasian women.
8. Giving up sitting
We know a sedentary lifestyle means big trouble for cardiovascular health. Now, sitting has been linked to worsened hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms after a study of more than 6,000 mid-life ladies.
A group of women at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina who were given acupuncture treatments saw hot flashes and night sweats reduced by more than a third. Since emerging research shows a direct association between stress level and hot-flash severity, anything that lessens anxiety stands a good chance of relieving hot flashes. “We recommend engaging in stress management interventions like mindfulness, breathing and yoga,” Pearlman says.