Exactly What Causes Hot Flashes During Menopause, Anyway?

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Doctors do not know exactly what causes hot flashes. Because of the health risks associated with hormone replacement therapy, more and more women are interested in learning how to control hot flashes the natural way.

Hot flashes are symptoms of menopause, but may begin several years before menstruation actually stops and can last for several years afterwards. A hot flash may occur at any time of the day, but there are certain triggers that can worsen the severity and increase the frequency.

Although we do not know exactly what causes hot flashes, we do know how to control hot flashes the natural way. They are considered a “vasomotor” symptom, because dilation of the blood vessels and changes in circulation are involved. They are believed to be directly related to decreasing estrogen production by the ovaries, a natural part of the aging process. Women who must have their ovaries surgically removed due to injury or illness experience hot flashes and other symptoms associated with menopause. These women usually have more severe symptoms than others, probably because of the sudden withdrawal of hormones.

Some researchers consider menopausal symptoms similar to the symptoms experienced by someone who has been dependent on an addictive substance or withdrawal symptoms. The primary substance that we are missing is estrogen. So most people assume that decreased estrogen production by the ovaries is what causes hot flashes.

When a hot flash occurs at night, usually referred to as night sweats, it can interrupt a woman’s sleep, leading to insomnia, decreasing energy levels and overall sense of well being. For many years, hormone replacement therapy was the treatment of choice for women who felt that hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms were affecting their quality of life. A recent study indicates that the majority of peri-menopausal women do not feel that hot flashes affect their quality of life as much as emotional changes and mood swings, but mood swings sometimes trigger hot flashes. When a person is angry or frustrated, body temperature raises and anything that raises body temperature can trigger a hot flash. So, even women who do not feel that they affect their quality of life are usually interested in how to control hot flashes the natural way.

Sometimes referred to as hot flushes, these sudden changes in body temperature are not believed to threaten a woman’s health. No medical treatment is required, unless they happen frequently, are severe or disruptive to a woman’s life. Most women can get relief by using an herbal supplement called black cohosh. This herb was used historically by Native American healers to correct symptoms related to hormonal imbalances, to help regulate menstrual cycles, as a diuretic and a mild sedative.

If decreased estrogen production is what causes hot flashes, a plant compound called phytoestrogens, because they have an estrogen-like effect on the body, should relieve symptoms. Isoflavones found in soy beans are a type of phytoestrogen. Increasing soy in the diet or taking supplements that contain soy isoflavones are often recommended as how to control hot flashes the natural way. Opinions vary on whether it is more effective to add soy to the diet or to take a supplement. However, the most recent research indicates that women who took supplements experienced an 80% decrease in hot flashes, while women who ate muffins made with soy flour did not notice any difference in symptoms.

Supplements that contain both black cohosh and soy isoflavones should relieve the majority of hot flashes. However, lifestyle factors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol and caffeinated beverages increase the severity and frequency of hot flashes. Thus, experts advise women to avoid these substances. As previously mentioned, anything that increases body temperature can trigger a hot flash, except exercise, which often relieves symptoms. Spicy foods on the other hand can bring them on.

By: Michel Babage

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