One of the most common symptoms women experience during perimenopause are hot flashes. These are experienced just the way they sound: sudden flushes of heat, lasting seconds or minutes, that may be accompanied with a sweat. They may be sporadic, or frequent. There can be other symptoms that appear with them like increased heart rate, anxiety, or dizziness.
In my practice, I see many women who experience hot flashes, and they can range from being a minor inconvenience to a major irritation. I have even seen a few women who have always felt too cold in the past, and actually enjoy the sudden feelings of warmth! Regardless of how we feel about them, if we are having hot flashes, they are a sign that we are in a phase of hormonal transition.
There are a few physiological reasons why women can be having hot flashes, the most common being a relative decrease in estrogen. When estrogen drops, our sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system is activated, and norepinephrine is released. This causes the dilation of blood vessels, flushing and sweating. Likewise, if our stress levels are high during perimenopause, this can also release norepinephrine and trigger a hot flash. Other triggers for hot flashes include inflammatory foods (meat, alcohol, caffeine, dairy), spicy foods, hot drinks, smoking, hot weather, and an under-functioning thyroid. Therefore, managing stress levels, and addressing these aggravating factors are important.
There are a few simple things every woman can do to help ease hot flashes. One of our strategies in treating hormonal conditions is to address liver health and vitality. The liver plays a role in our hormonal health, and there are a few gentle detoxifying habits that can help lessen hot flashes.
I love to recommend a cup of hot water with the juice of half a lemon first thing in the morning. The lemon encourages the liver to move bile, which helps healthy liver function. I also encourage women to do alternating hot and cold showers every morning. Start your shower with warmer water for a minute or two, then give yourself 20-30 seconds of cooler water. It doesn’t have to be freezing cold, try first for lukewarm, then try a little cooler each time. Aim for at least 3 contrasts during your shower, and be sure to end with cooler water. The more you practice this, the more you may find that it is easier to have the water cooler, and even cold.
Contrasting showers are another way to encourage healthy detoxification and liver function. Many women love to do these, as hot flashes commonly occur after a hot shower, so finishing with cool water will usually help for a cooler start to the morning. It is also important to ensure healthy elimination, ie. regular bowel movements. When our body is eliminating properly, our liver is better at doing its job. Being properly hydrated (aim for at least 8 glasses per day of water), eating adequate fibre, and taking a probiotic can support healthy hormone levels.
If your hot flashes are more intense, more frequent, or are disturbing your sleep, you may benefit from seeing our naturopathic doctors. We are trained to look at you as an individual, taking into account your history and lifestyle, and can recommend a treatment plan that is especially for you. Perimenopause and menopause can be a time with many changes in your physical, mental and emotional health. Let us help you feel healthy and supported through it.