Watching women go through menopause, you understand immediately why hot flashes are such a big deal. The rush of heat, flushing and blotchy skin, and perspiration can be distressing and embarrassing at the best of times—and when these moments occur at night, they may be even worse. Menopausal women often deal with the rapid heartbeat and uncomfortable flushing multiple times per day (or per hour) and can experience chronic insomnia as a result. Depending on the woman, this perfect storm of discomfort can last anywhere from five to ten years or more. Combine hot flashes with the mood swings, vaginal discomfort, and other widely varied symptoms of menopause, and it’s no wonder women are seeking relief.
The best treatment for hot flashes is hormone replacement therapy—an option that provides your body with the estrogen and other hormones it once produced naturally. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, in particular, is often an ideal treatment for menopausal women who want a customized plant-based alternative to traditional therapies. Before starting treatment, however, it’s important to understand what science has to say about the causes of and effective treatments for hot flashes, as well as which alternative remedies might prove useful alone or in combination with hormone medication.
What Causes Hot Flashes?
While the exact physiology of menopausal hot flashes is not fully understood, plenty of research is being done to explore what triggers this uncomfortable phenomenon. Significantly, it’s possible that estrogen plays a big part in regulating body temperature, and that declining hormone levels impact the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that acts as the body’s thermostat). Scientists have yet to determine precisely how hormones impact vasomotor symptoms, but we do know that hot flashes begin with the autonomic nervous system.
Counterintuitively, your body produces hot flashes in order to quickly cool everything down. A hot flash occurs when slight changes in the body’s core temperature trigger the nervous system to rapidly cool down the body. Blood vessels in the skin widen, allowing more blood to move closer to the surface of the skin. This brings heat and causes perspiration, which is the body’s primary coolant. This process can occur multiple times per hour, a few times per week, or not at all during the menopausal transition.
Not every woman experiences hot flashes during menopause. Several risk factors increase your probability of experiencing this symptom. Smoking is known to increase your risk for having hot flashes during menopause, and to increase the number and severity of your hot flashes. Other possible risk factors could be higher body mass index (BMI), previous oral contraceptive use, mood disorders, and even your genetic or ethnic background.
The Best Treatment for Hot Flashes
While determining the cause of hot flashes might not be an exact science, treatment for this particular symptom of menopause is fairly straightforward. Estrogen therapy is widely known as the best treatment for hot flashes and is highly effective at reducing other uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. Recent studies also suggest that progesterone alone could be a preferable treatment for hot flashes in some cases. Regardless of which specific hormones are prescribed, hormone replacement therapy has been proven to reduce the severity and the frequency of hot flashes. This is a life-changing outcome for women who struggle with this symptom for years surrounding their last menstrual cycle.
Hormone therapy comes in the form of pills, creams, patches, pellets, and injections. This means it’s easy to take a dose and a preparation that fits your individual needs and preferences. Further customization is possible through bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), which is a powerful plant-based alternative to conventional hormone therapy.
BHRT works by replacing the body’s declining hormones with bioidentical equivalents. These medications are made entirely from plant sources and are compounded in a custom amount and ratio that fits each individual. Because estrogen alone brings the risk of endometrial cancer for women with uteruses, doctors usually prescribe a combination of estrogen with other hormones (including progesterone) to treat hot flashes. BHRT easily allows you to take a custom blend of the exact hormones your body needs to maximize benefits and minimize side effects.
Alternative Remedies for Menopause Symptoms
If hormone therapy doesn’t seem right for you, there are plenty of other alternative treatments you can experiment with. Many of these remedies also work well in conjunction with hormone replacement therapy, which is why practitioners in the BodyLogicMD network recommend them as part of a combined and integrated treatment approach.
Women who really struggle with hot flashes already know to lower the thermostat, use fans, and wear loose natural-fiber clothing. If you’re looking for a more effective alternative treatment, try the following tips:
Track your symptoms
Keep a written record of when and how often you experience hot flashes. Do your best to note what you were eating, doing, or thinking about in the moments prior to each hot flash. This will help you notice patterns and identify potential triggers.
Regular cardio exercise raises your body’s core resting temperature. It may sound small, but this means your body can get a bit warmer before responding with a hot flash. For women who really struggle with vasomotor symptoms, one degree can make a big difference.
Avoid spicy foods
Hot peppers of all kinds contain a chemical called capsaicin, which sends burning signals through the nervous system. If a food feels hot in your mouth, it’s likely to trigger a hot flash in your body.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, smoking, and secondhand smoke
Caffeine, alcohol, and cigarette smoke can interfere with healthy blood vessel dilation, increasing the risk of hot flashes.
Acupuncture has long been associated with stress relief, and recent studies have shown that this traditional remedy has a significant impact on hot flashes. Acupuncture was also found to reduce hot flashes as an integrative treatment for women with breast cancer.
Stress can both contribute to hot flashes and be caused by hot flashes. Reducing stress using techniques such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness have been found to reduce the number and intensity of hot flashes while also helping women cope with hot flashes when they do occur.
Take other medications
If hormone therapy isn’t right for you, ask your doctor about other medications that might help with hot flashes. Antidepressants, blood pressure medications, anti-seizure drugs, and even new experimental medications have all been found to reduce vasomotor symptoms to some degree.
Starting Treatment for Hot Flashes
Many women seek relief from their hot flashes through changing their diet, altering their daily lifestyle choices, or experimenting with herbal supplements—but the most powerful treatment for the symptoms of menopause is much simpler. Hormone replacement therapy is effective at relieving hot flashes and bioidentical hormones may be more well-tolerated than alternative methods. When examining your treatment options, consider bioidentical hormone replacement therapy as one highly recommended method for finding relief from hot flashes.
BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioners are experts in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy and can help you start treatment for the uncomfortable hot flashes you experience. Our network is built on a foundation of expert experience and extensive education, and the BodyLogicMD practitioners are among the top certified medical professionals in hormone health. When you partner with a practitioner in your area, they will work with you to create a holistic treatment plan that addresses your hormone needs as well as your optimal nutrition and lifestyle choices. With the right support, you can take control of your health and regain the confidence and peace that you felt before menopause. Contact a local practitioner today to get started on the road toward healthy hormone balance. We also recommend taking the BodyLogicMD Hormone Balance Quiz to further understand and identify how symptoms of menopause impact your body.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.