Experts discuss ways women can reduce incidence of hot flashes
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Chances are if you’re a peri-menopausal woman you experience hot flashes as one of the 75 percent of American women who do, according to the North American Menopause Society.
“Some hot flashes are easily tolerated, others are annoying or embarrassing and others can be debilitating,” the organization’s website states.
James Woods is an OB-GYN physician at University of Rochester Medical Center and author of “The Little Book of Menopause” (available on Amazon.com). He would agree that the effects of menopause are significant.
“They are more than an inconvenience,” Woods said. “Beyond being a little embarrassing, it is biologically based.”
Woods explained that during women’s younger, reproductive years, their bodies have a half degree of thermal tolerance. As environmental factors affect their body temperature (such as an extra blanket, thick socks, a hot cup of coffee), their bodies don’t signal the brain about the change. Woods said that menopause happens when the ovaries slow down during what he calls the “20-year window.” As the body makes fewer estradiol hormones, the skin becomes more sensitive to minor changes in temperature and overreacts, causing a perception of much more extreme heat and triggering a perspiration response to cope.
Woods wants more women to consider treating their menopausal symptoms since losing estradiol hormones permits inflammation to increase in the body. Inflammation is associated with numerous disease processes.
Woods said that women and their doctors can select from various treatments, including low-dose estradiol creams and patches.
“It’s enough to calm the body,” he said.
He added that patients have a 25 to 60 percent success rate.
Physician Leila Kirdani, board-certified in both metabolic medicine and family practice, operates Quality of Life Medicine in Rochester. She believes that stress to the body, in addition to hormonal changes, causes hot flashes.
“If we’re stressed too long and the adrenal glands struggle to supply enough cortisol, one of our stress hormones and one of the primary hormones that regulate the body, that can be experienced as a hot flash as well,” Kirdani said. “I find it important to look at where people’s stress levels are to know how best to balance their hormones.”
She believes that healthful diet, including leafy green vegetables and balancing the electrolytes — sodium, potassium and chloride — help prevent the body from being depleted at the cellular level.
Kirdani also encourages patients in menopause to consider replacing their DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a hormone the body produces in smaller amounts as it ages.
“If the adrenals struggle to make DHEA and cortisol and the ovaries are shutting down because of menopause, we have trouble,” she said.
She said that 25 mg. of orally dissolved DHEA in the morning supports better energy and if hot flashes are caused by low adrenals, it will help reduce hot flashes, too.
Environmental controls she recommends include medication, relaxation, a reduction in the to-do list and some personal time.
Kirdani recommends menopausal patients exercise, as that helps de-stress the mind and body, and reduce sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
“When our metabolism is slowing down, we don’t metabolize carbs as well,” she said. “Women realize if they eat carbs before bed, they’ll have more hot flashes.”
Instead, they should eat more produce, serve meat as a side and include whole grains while eschewing processed foods.
Supplements she suggests include chaste berry, black cohosh, and dong quai, depending upon the patient.