One of the most sought after treatments to stop hot flashes in peri-menopause and menopausal women is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). But, there are a few problems with this! First, if it were that easy and safe everyone would be doing it. Secondly, there are much safer ways to eliminate hot flashes with long lasting results and health benefits to boot.
Hot flashes or flushes are described as a sudden feeling of warmth or heat within the body and often with associated sweating. A hot flash can be an intense feeling of heat usually in the upper half of the body but can be experienced in the lower half as well.
The exact cause of hot flashes isn’t known but they do know that factors affecting the regulatory area of the brain, the hypothalamus, regulates body temperature. When the brain senses an increase in body temperature it will release chemicals which cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate in an attempt to release the heat. It is said that estrogen and testosterone allow the body to tolerate changes in core body temperature, therefore, as these hormones decrease in peri-menopause and menopause so does your body’s ability to tolerate increased heat.
In my opinion, this is only part of the problem. I believe it is more of an imbalance in the hormone family than just a decrease in estrogen and testosterone. In some women, when estrogen is balanced with progesterone, hot flashes decrease or stop altogether. Knowing what is out of balance will help you determine why you have hot flashes in the first place. Hot flashes are not normal, they are one of your body’s very intelligent ways of communicating a larger problem.
Lifestyle, stress and dietary habits play a huge role in the occurrence and frequency of hot flashes and night sweats. Known hot flash triggers are:
- Physical, Emotional & Dietary Stress
- Over the Counter Medications
- Prescribed Medications
- Physical Inactivity
Know what your triggers are and attempt to avoid them as much as possible. Avoid closed, hot rooms and lower the temperature in your surroundings. Dress in layers and do not wear synthetic clothing as they trap the sweat. Cotton clothing allows your skin to breath. Increase your exercise routine to 30 minutes per day and get sound, quality sleep. Decreasing stress is a no-brainer but not so easy to do. Practice stress reducing techniques and mindfulness. Absolutely avoid processed foods including; boxed and canned goods, fast foods, enriched breads, sugars, sodas, etc. These non-foods put undue stress on your digestive system and ultimately your endocrine system (hormones).
So, what’s the problem with Hormone Replacement Therapy? Most of us have heard the stories, read the articles and have seen the warnings. The possible side-effects of HRT are just a bit too scary for me. Breast and/or uterine cancer, heart disease, blood clots, and stroke being the most prominent. And, watch out ladies, Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy can be dangerous as well. Natural progesterone cream is sold over-the-counter and being used without knowing one’s hormone levels. Hormone creams and gels must be used very carefully and monitored closely with appropriate testing. One of the many problems with using the transdermal creams and gels is that they are absorbed into the subcutaneous fat tissue where they build up and can eventually saturate the tissue and, over time, start to spill back into the system creating an overdose of the ‘free fraction’ of the hormone in the body. At this point your cells will down-regulate (not accept) the hormone and you will once again have the symptoms of deficiency while you actually have too much of the hormone in your system.
Routine (serum bound) blood tests cannot accurately monitor the use of transdermal creams and gels. Testing must be performed in the ‘free’ state, otherwise a person will be profoundly overdosed with ‘free’ hormone levels by the time the blood tests detect any significant changes. I have witnessed many a website advising the use of creams and gels without regard to the individual’s symptoms, history or tested levels. This is totally irresponsible and a major problem for women looking for an end to the sometimes debilitating symptoms of menopause. When using a hormone in a ‘free’ form you must test for and be monitored in the ‘free’ form (saliva - http://www.diagnostechs.com – or serum ‘free’). Since hormones are interactive, the problem doesn’t end here. Depending on the hormone being overdosed, multiple other imbalances will stream into the system creating a dys-regulation in the steroid hormone pathway.
DHEA is also sold over-the-counter. You can literally go into a health food store and buy a bottle of 25mg capsules of DHEA. Women should not take DHEA unless absolutely necessary. Women are especially sensitive to DHEA and will not tolerate DHEA if not needed, or if given in too large of an amount. In fact, the majority of men do not need 25mg DHEA daily. What’s the big deal? DHEA can boost estrogen levels or testosterone levels and for women that could mean facial hair, deeper voice, not to mention dysregulating the steroid hormone family even more. Hormones are very powerful messengers in very tiny amounts. Start playing with the numbers and you could be creating some very serious health problems for yourself. This goes for the men as well. For men, when taking DHEA in higher than needed amounts it will convert to Estrogen. Can’t say I know any man who actually wants this, well, maybe one or two:)
What are the solutions? Medically, I’ve seen recommendations for prescription drugs such as Effexor, an anti-depressant which has been successful in relieving hot flashes in low doses. The two problems I see here is that #1, it is not solving the problem and #2, there are side-effects to every medication known. You’re putting a band-aid on the problem and worse than that you will, in all probability, have a known or unknown side-effect from the medication. They are now performing clinical trials on the drug Menerba. From what I can gather it is a plant based drug with 10 to 20 herbs, licorice being the major player. Hmmm, maybe I’ll just try some licorice?
Let’s look at some of the herbs that may be of value here:
Tribulus - Indicated for hormonal support. Tribulus is known to boost male & female libido, enhance athletic performance, stamina and endurance, restore and build vitality, relieve menopausal symptoms and is helpful in male menopause.
Black Cohosh – Is specific for menopausal symptoms such as reproductive problems, especially when accompanied by pain: amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, uterine pain, ovulatory pain, postpartum pain, testicular and prostatic pain, and menopausal symptoms such as anxiety, depression and insomnia. It is mildly useful for hot flashes and is more effective when used with Chaste Tree, Motherwort, Licorice, and Dang Gui. Black Cohosh is contraindicated in pregnancy and low blood pressure.
Sarsaparillla - This herb is getting a lot of attention for its role in decreasing hot flashes. Although a cooling herb Sarsaparilla is more specific for inflammatory conditions of the skin, connective tissue, and bowels. That being said, it does clear blood heat and is used with other herbs to reduce hot flashes.
Red Clover - The isolated isoflavones are being used to treat menopausal symptoms. Since it is a cooling herb it can help reduce hot flashes.
Licorice - Contains isoflavones and is used for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. More effective when used with Chaste Tree, Black Cohosh, Motherwort, and Sage. High doses of Licorice is contraindicated in people with high blood pressure.
Soy - I’m going to be very opinionated here. I don’t believe soy is meant for human consumption, there is a tremendous amount of controversy about the efficacy of soy and about the fact that it does not digest in the human body. BTW, soy is not an herb.
Wild Yam - What can I say, some experts swear by it and others say that it has no real benefit for menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes.
When using herbs be sure to purchase your herbs from a known and reputable source. Do the research to be sure the herb is not contraindicated with any medications and/or physical challenges you may have.
No matter how long you have been suffering with hot flashes and/or other symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause, it’s not too late to stop hot flashes now. The good news is – You can begin by knowing your triggers and avoiding them. Eat a healthy, well balanced diet. Find a qualified herbalist or natural hormone specialist and discover your hormonal levels so that you can begin the balancing act for a healthier and happier you.
If you are interested in more ways to live a healthier, more energetic life visit us at http://www.managingmenopausenaturally.com and pick up your free copy of ’9 Secrets to Feeling Energized and Staying Young’.