Ah, summertime. Long, sunny days. Outdoor cookouts. Lounging by the pool.
Say what??? Make that: Long, sweaty days. Internal cook-offs. Lunging for the pool.
Summer can be a difficult if you’re in the midst of perimenopause or menopause.
About 75 percent of perimenopausal women experience symptoms such as hot flashes, according to the North American Menopause Society. If you’re one of them, you know the symptoms — a flushed face, drenching sweat and rapid heart rate — will be multiplied exponentially during the hot summer months.
Blame It on the Bad Guy: Estrogens
What’s causes these sudden spikes in body temperature? Estrogens are the culprits, as they affect your body’s thermostat. During perimenopause and menopause, your body’s estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone begin to fluctuate. The hypothalamus, an area at the base of your brain that regulates body temperature, becomes more sensitive to slight changes in body temperature, according to the Mayo Clinic.
As estrogen levels begin to drop, they can trigger your body’s thermostat to send a signal that you are overheated. This causes your body to send out an OMG! alert: your heart pumps faster, the blood vessels in your skin dilate to circulate more blood, and your sweat glands go crazy to cool you down.
The result? You’re left soaking wet in the middle of a board meeting like me or in the middle of a (rare in this stage of your life) good night’s sleep. If you’ve had your ovaries surgically removed and suddenly enter menopause, you can suffer severe hot flashes immediately after surgery that typically last longer than those in women who undergo natural menopause.
Regardless of how you got ’em, these hot flashes can disrupt daily activities, nighttime activities (i.e., sleep and intimacy), and cause you to feel anxious or out of control. Oh, the joys of being a woman.
You’re In It for the Long Haul
For most women, hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms can last anywhere from six months to two years. For others, symptoms can stick around for 10 or more years. If you’re in your first two years of perimenopause, the forecast calls for record highs. If you’re in the midst of menopause, you may get a bit of a reprieve. However, hot flashes have been known to strike women even into their 70s.
Here are a few tips on how to nip hot flashes in the bud, or at least tame them.
Look at Your Lifestyle
If you like your latte and doughnut in the morning, a smoke and a cocktail after work, and turn into a coach potato at home, you may want to revisit your lifestyle choices. Think about reducing your intake of caffeine and alcohol, as well as refined sugar and spicy foods — all of which can contribute to hot flashes. And we know that smoking is detrimental to our health on many levels.
Your first step to finding hot flash relief is recognizing how they affect you personally. Chart your symptoms to pinpoint your personal hot flash triggers. Sign up for my free Menopause Mondays Newsletter and receive a Menopause Symptoms Chart to help with daily tracking. This chart will also help you communicate with your menopause specialist.
A Soy-ful Solution
Researchers at the University of Delaware did their homework. They reviewed 19 studies on 1,200 women and found that taking in at least 54mg of soy isoflavones a day, for six weeks to one year (about two glasses of soy milk or 7 ounces of tofu) eased hot flashes.
However, soy has gotten a bad rap when it comes to breast cancer. However, Breastcancer.org reports that for most women it’s safe to eat moderate amounts of soy foods (1 to 3 half-cup servings) of soy a day as part of a balanced diet. If you’re concerned about soy affecting your breast health, consult your physician.
Aim for Less Stress
Reduce stress in your life! (I know, it’s easier said than done.) Not only can stress lead to high blood pressure and heart attacks in women, it also can increase hot flashes.
Take advantage of opportunities to relax this summer. Take an outdoor yoga class, for example. Recently, I went to a TM (Transcendental Meditation) class and learned how to meditate. I now do this for twenty minutes, 2X a day. I find I am more focused, calm and joyful. There are many ways to fight menopausal stress.
Find a Menopause Specialist
If you don’t already have a menopause specialist, find one. Talk to your specialist about what tests can pinpoint where you are in your menopausal journey. Don’t forget to bring your filled-out Menopause Symptoms Chart with you to your appointment. You and your specialist discuss your labs and health history, and develop an individualized plan for you.
Your specialist may recommend Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which can treat hot flashes in a flash! Women with low progesterone but normal estrogen levels may experience hot flashes and night sweats. Various selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been approved for the treatment of hot flashes. SSRIs are antidepressants that affect the brain’s use of a neurotransmitter chemical called serotonin, and can conquer hot flashes, according to a 2014 study.
If you’d rather go the natural route, black cohosh is a popular choice. Some women find help with acupuncture.
A non-hormonal product called Relizen has made its U.S. debut. While Relizen is very new here, it has been used for more than 15 years in Europe. Ask your menopause specialist about it!
So stop singin’ those sweat-drippin’, fan-flippin’, iced tea-sippin’, hot flash blues. Start treating those hot flashes now, and you’ll be singing a new tune this summer.
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!