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Are hot flushes ruining your sleep? Is your thermostat broken?

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Of course that is said tongue in cheek, but I've seen many women with full on flushes that have become really distressing to them. It isn't a pleasant experience to go through. In fact during the 8 years that I owned the Health Shop, I was amazed at the number of women who came in to the shop asking for help for this time of life!

Hot flushes are very common after we stop our periods, (in fact up to three quarters of menopausal women get them, and they may continue for up to 5 years unfortunately!) but did you know 75% of these women actually start getting flushes on average 2 years before menses stops.

The experience of hot flushes range from feeling slightly hot or sweaty, to full on being drenched with perspiration, as well as feeling uncomfortable, red in the face and having palpitations. They may be localised to the face, but also spread to the neck and upper trunk, and may last from a few seconds to up to ten minutes, (on average being 4 minutes) and may even be accompanied with headaches, feeling vague, with some chills, dizziness and nausea. Hot flushes may be experienced from a couple of times a week to hourly.

Why am I getting hot flushes?

These annoying symptoms have been shown to be related to the decline in oestrogen as well as other hormones in the hypothalamus. Also, they are frequently worse in very thin women (who don't have the backup oestrone which is stored in fat and can be converted for use in the body), and seem to be more severe when menopause occurs suddenly, possibly with the abrupt change in oestrogen levels.

One study I read gave the analogy of a thermostat. 'Thermoregulation involves maintaining the core body temperature in a thermoneutral zone If the core temperature exceeds the upper threshold, vasodilation and sweating are triggered, via the autonomic nervous system. In symptomatic menopausal women, the upper threshold of the thermoneutral zone is lowered, meaning that women may be having normal core temperature fluctuations, but their ‘overheating response’ is too readily activated. The withdrawal of oestradiol in the hypothalamus during perimenopause is thought to alter neurotransmitter levels causing a narrowing of the thermoregulatory zone.' 1.

So basically, the thermostat is broken. Well that is what it feels like to many!

Chronic stress further contributes to hot flushes as it can cause reduction in the production of the hormone DHEA, and imbalances in the neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin, plus other hormonal imbalances. Also, for those who experience a lot of hot flushes at night, sleep can also become disturbed, which contributes to fatigue, low mood and other symptoms.

How do I stop my hot flushes?

We need to approach this from a holistic perspective.

1. Cut out cigarettes.

2. Make dietary changes

a. reduce alcohol, coffee, tea and other stimulants. Reduce processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, bread, pies, potato chips, lollies and fizzy drinks.

b. increase foods high in phytoestrogens such as flaxseeds, organic soy foods (tempeh, soy protein, tofu), sesame seeds, wheat, berries, oats, barley, dried beans, lentils, rice, alfalfa, mung beans, apples, carrots, wheat germ and ricebran.

c. base your meals around organic and free range whole foods, include healthy fats, quality protein, and add fresh veggies where-ever you can.

3. Manage stress. This is a biggie. Our adrenal glands (they are situated at the top of our kidneys) are our back up generator as we go through menopause, and if we have a lot of stress (both past and ongoing) they will be super depleted. Enlist some support if this is a tricky area for you. Book in with a counsellor, life coach, bodyworker, naturopath to help.

4. Get 8 hours sleep. I can't emphasise this enough. Practice good sleep hygiene. I've got a great handout on this, am happy to send it to you.

5. Support adrenal health and neurotransmitters with a good quality B vitamin, or adaptogenic herbs.

6. Consider taking magnesium. This mineral plays important roles in oestrogen detoxification in the liver and bowel, and is also a crucial bone nutrient. It is also helpful for sleep and relaxation.

7. Extra support may be needed with detoxification as well as supporting your liver function. This is an area that is best dealt with by a qualified practitioner who can advise you on what is going to suit your body and your particular symptoms.

If you have already implemented some or all of these recommendations and are still flushing, or have other menopausal symptoms, I suggest you book in with me so we can create a plan for you to follow. We can assess your nutritional status and/or get your hormones tested if necessary.

1. Rossmanith WG, Ruebberdt W. What causes hot flushes? The neuroendocrine origin of vasomotor symptoms in the menopause. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2009 May;25(5):303-14.

2. Tricky R. Women, hormones & the Menstrual Cycle. Third Edition 2011.

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