When I was a teenager, I remember my mother saying she woke up at night drenched with perspiration. Each night she had to change her nightgown and sheets. During the day – especially in the summer – she would perspire profusely. At that time, didn’t realize she was going through menopause; I just knew something was wrong. My mother wasn’t alone. About 80 percent of menopausal women in this country have hot flashes, some for as long as 15 years! And these hot flashes and flushes can last for a few seconds or up to five minutes.
Hot flashes drive thousands of women into taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) even when they have no other menopausal symptoms. This is unfortunate, because there are natural solutions with no side effects or risks of cancer, heart disease, or other illnesses.
These surges of intense heat appear to be caused by the hypothalamus gland, which regulates your body’s temperature. Heat occurs when it isn’t able to adjust to changing hormone levels. Even a slight alteration in this thermostat can cause flushing and periods of intense heat. Low estrogen may be one reason for a malfunctioning hypothalamus, or it may be due to an imbalance of naturally occurring brain opiates caused by lowered estrogens and progesterone.
Some researchers believe that hot flashes are caused by too much dopamine. They are testing the effects of the herb sage to block the neurotransmitter that signals the brain to release more dopamine. Preliminary studies show that sage is one solutions that seems to work well for hot flashes. But there are other steps to take before taking this herb or any other supplements.
First, cool down your diet
The first thing you can do is lower foods that create heat in your body, such as fatty foods, sugars, and spicy foods. Tone down any spicy foods you might like from “very hot” to “warm.”
- Reduce caffeine —— it can contribute to hot flashes. Black tea contains less caffeine than coffee. Green tea is lower in caffeine than black. And herb teas have none. Rooibus, or red bush tea, is a hearty herb that looks and tastes a lot like black tea and contains no caffeine at all. At the very least, reduce the number of cups of caffeinated beverages. And remember, colas have caffeine and sugar (or artificial sweeteners that may cause other reactions).
- Add more fruits and vegetables —— they cool your body. Lemon water is a very good coolant, as are salads and fresh fruit. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Make a lemonade sweetened with stevia if you like.
- Add soy to your diet. Isoflavones found in soy foods may help reduce your hot flashes even better than soy isoflavone supplements. There are co-factors in soy, missing in the isoflavones alone, that may reduce hot flashes. In Japan, where soy is more prevalent in diets, there is no word for “hot flashes.” The phenomenon simply doesn’t exist.
- Hesperidin is a flavonoid found in lemons and oranges. I stumbled upon it more than a dozen years ago and have found it works like a miracle for many women to eliminate hot flashes and night sweats. Hands down, hesperidin is my favorite nutrient for excessive heat.
This nutrient seems to act directly on the hypothalamus, helping it to regulate temperatures more easily. Studies show that it also decreases the permeability of tiny blood vessels, which makes it valuable for all vascular conditions from hot flashes to hemorrhoids. Simply put, hesperidin supports the integrity of the vascular system, which is weakened by hormonal fluctuations.
A placebo-controlled study on hot flashes using hesperidin with extra vitamin C found that hot flashes were eliminated in 53 percent of women participants and were reduced in 34 percent of them. My patients take 500 mg morning and night. You need that much to reduce hot flashes. The amount found in bioflavonoid formulas is simply not enough.
- Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) Many women with hot flashes have successfully used products containing black cohosh root (Cimicifugae racemosae) to cool them down. You may have decided not to take this herb because of its reputed estrogenic effect. If you have had estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, or are at high risk for breast cancer, you may be leery of taking anything that increases estrogen. An estrogenic effect can also increase your risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers. However, it appears that black cohosh doesn’t affect estrogen levels in any negative way.
Remifemin® is a popular menopause supplement made from standardized amounts of black cohosh. But it wasn’t the first black cohosh supplement used for menopausal symptoms. Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, developed in 1875 for “female complaints” contained black cohosh, among other herbs. This herb appears to reduce hot flashes by suppressing the secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH). Black cohosh alone works well for many women, but if it doesn’t, there are other single nutrients you can try, or a combination formula to see what works best for you.
- Red Clover Isoflavones. The most effective isoflavone supplement I’ve found is a product from Australia called Promensil® made from red clover. This supplement was shown in a study to reduce hot flashes by 56 percent. However, the study also pointed out that women who took the placebo had a 40 percent reduction in their symptoms. Personally, I prefer supplements containing the whole plant with all of its co-factors, rather than a portion of it, such as either soy or red clover isoflavones. But the makers of Promensil have studies to back up the product, so it’s worth a try.
- Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a simple plant that’s been overshadowed by more highly processed hot-flash formulas. It has been used since ancient times to stop hot flashes because it works so well. Many herbalists know sage as the Hot Flush Herb for its ability to reduce all kinds of excessive perspiration.
Sage has long been licensed in Germany as a tea to treat night sweats and is used extensively in England for this purpose. Almost all of the health practitioners surveyed in England found that sage tea or sage tincture helped hot flashes and night sweats. One Scottish survey showed that women taking sage had 85 percent fewer hot flashes after three months.
You can drink a few cups of the tea a day or take the herb as a supplement.
Steep a teabag of sage tea — or one teaspoon of the dried herb — for five to 10 minutes. Drink three cups a day in between meals and increase this amount if you like to four or five per day. You may need less. Herbalist Susun Weed found that just one serving can cool down some women within two hours and last for a day or more. Some herbalists find that sage works best to cool down hot flashes when it’s served cool or cold. Experiment to see whether a few cups of warm or cold sage tea work best for you.
If you’d rather take a supplement, sage is included in Women’s Preferred Hot Flash Formula, a formula I developed many years ago. This supplement also contains hesperidin. An Italian study gave 30 women with hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, headaches, and palpitations an extract of sage and alfalfa. Hot flashes and night sweats disappeared in 20 of them, and the other 10 had a reduction of their symptoms. This study used 120 mg of sage a day, the same amount found in the Hot Flash Formula. You can order this product from my website, www.womenshealthletter.com, or call 800 728-2288.
Whether you’d rather drink a number of cups of sage tea every day for a while or try a product with sage, this herb may be the solution to your uncomfortable heat.
- Vitamin E and Evening Primrose Oil may reduce hot flashes, but you might need to take as much as 1,200 IU of vitamin E each day. This is a lot, especially since vitamin E thins the blood —— not a good choice for someone on Coumadin or other blood thinner medications. Evening primrose oil, on the other hand, is quite safe in any quantity and is high in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid. You may want to try one capsule twice a day and gradually increase it up to six or eight capsules a day until you get relief.
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