Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of menopause. They’re characterized by sudden body heat, flushing, and sweating. Other unpleasant symptoms often coincide with hot flashes, including:
- weight gain
- mood swings
- loss of libido
- sexual dysfunction
Luckily, there are several treatment options for hot flashes. Your choices range from medications and herbal supplements to lifestyle changes. Keep reading to learn about remedies you can use to help stay cool.
Hormone replacement therapy
Traditionally, the most effective treatment for hot flashes has been estrogen supplementation. It’s often referred to as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Estrogen may be taken alone or in combination with progesterone. Women who’ve had a hysterectomy may be able to safely take estrogen alone, while all other women using HRT should take estrogen and progesterone together.
Estrogen isn’t recommended for everyone, especially women with a history of breast cancer, blood clots, or certain other medical conditions. Also, estrogen is believed to increase the risk of future health problems, including heart disease, breast cancer, and blood clots.
Soy contains large quantities of phytoestrogens, chemicals that act like estrogen in the body. Soy is particularly high in isoflavones, which bind to estrogen receptors. This can help reduce hot flashes.
Soy continues to be studied in terms of menopausal relief. According to the National Institute on Aging, research is unclear as to whether soy is as effective as, or even safer than, conventional medications.
Marji McCullough, ScD, RD, writing for the American Cancer Society, suggests if using soy, choose soy sources from food rather than supplements. The amount of isoflavones in supplements is much higher than those occurring naturally in food. Good sources of soy foods are soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and edamame.
Black cohosh is among the most popular herbs for treating hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. The root of the plant is used in capsules and, less commonly, tea. Both forms are found in most health food stores and available online. Although the exact mechanism of black cohosh is unknown, researchers believe it binds to estrogen receptors or stimulates serotonin receptors.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports that studies lasting up to 12 months didn’t show any harmful effects of the herb. However, there are currently no long-term studies.
Minor side effects reported include stomachache and rash. There are reports of liver failure, which is life-threatening, in individuals using black cohosh. It isn’t recommended for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have breast cancer.
As with other supplements, talk to your doctor before taking it.
Take some ‘you’ time
It’s true that hot flashes can strike at any time of day, but they’re also more frequent during times of stress. Stress reduction techniques may decrease the frequency of hot flashes. Consider taking some time for:
- meditation and visualization
- guided breathing
- tai chi
Some of these techniques also have the benefit of improving sleep quality. Even taking a few minutes alone to read a book, sing out loud, or simply sit outside can do wonders in terms of relaxation.
Cool it down
Even slight increases in your core body temperature can trigger hot flashes. Lower your room temperature by turning down the thermostat, turning on the air conditioner, installing a fan, purchasing a cooling gel pad to lie on, or opening a window.
If the temperature of the room is out of your control, dress in layers. When you start to feel your body temperature rise, you can remove a layer or two to cool your body down. Wear cotton whenever possible, as other fabrics, such as spandex, nylon, and rayon, tend to trap body heat.
Watch what you eat
Certain foods and drinks that naturally increase body temperature can worsen hot flashes. Spicy foods, caffeinated beverages, high-fat and high-sugar diets, and alcohol have all been implicated in increasing the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
One study that reviewed women’s experiences over several years indicated that the Mediterranean diet, which features fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, reduced hot flashes. Your experience might be different, but eating plant-based foods is associated with better health outcomes for virtually everyone, so it can’t hurt to try.
Learn what foods and drinks trigger your hot flashes and limit or completely avoid them if you can. Regularly sipping on cool beverages throughout the day may help keep your body temperature down and thereby reduce hot flashes.
Kick the habit
There’s one more thing to add to the list of negative health effects of smoking: hot flashes. In fact, smoking may trigger and even increase the severity of hot flashes.
Quitting may help reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes. The benefits don’t end there, though. Smoking cessation also helps reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and a wide variety of cancers.
Low doses of antidepressants may improve symptoms in women with mild to moderate hot flashes. Examples of effective antidepressants include venlafaxine (Effexor XR), paroxetine (Paxil), and fluoxetine (Prozac). Antidepressants can also treat other menopause symptoms, such as mood swings, anxiety, and depression. The downside to these medications is the risk for decreased libido, which is also a common symptom of menopause.
Gabapentin (Neurontin), an anti-seizure medication, may be particularly effective for women who experience hot flashes at night. Possible side effects include:
Clonidine (Kapvay), which is generally used to lower high blood pressure, may also reduce hot flashes in some women. Possible side effects include:
- dry mouth
The bottom line
Once your body begins menopausal changes, the symptoms can last for a few years or longer. Still, this doesn’t mean you have to suffer through the discomfort of hot flashes. By making simple lifestyle changes, you can reduce the heat before it creeps up on you.
Be sure to discuss any remedies, concerns, or unusual symptoms with your doctor, especially if you’re taking any medications.
Want to learn more? Get the facts in our guide to menopause.