How To Get Rid Of Hot Flushes Without HRT
How To Get Rid Of Hot Flushes Without HRT
Hot flushes are probably the most well known of all the menopause symptoms and what a pain they are! You might think that a sudden flush of intense heat nothing more than a minor inconvenience, and for some women, that’s true. But for those who get hot flushes several times an hour, day and night, for years, they have a huge impact. Not only is the flush itself really uncomfortable, it’s embarrassing too, making the women feel really self- conscious when they’re around other people. Women who wear PPE at work don’t get to remove layers of clothing when they experience hot flushes, making them that much harder to cope with. And then there’s the effect on sleep. I’ve heard of ladies sleeping on the tiles of their bathroom floor every night to stay cool, and others who have had to leave their jobs because they were just too exhausted to function. So here’s how to get rid of hot flushes without HRT.
What Causes Hot Flushes?
Hot flushes usually happen in the later stages of perimenopause, as we move into menopause. This is when oestrogen levels drop sharply, although it’s not the oestrogen itself which triggers the flush, but other hormones higher up in the chain. Our ability to regulate body temperature changes so we’re much less tolerant to even very tiny changes in air temperature.
Other causes include:
Low progesterone in relation to oestrogen, particularly if the cycle is still regular. Low oestrogen, when flushes are continuing long after menopause. Low thyroid function, which is a natural part of the menopause transition. Low serotonin, which also contributes to anxiety, depression and insomnia.
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What Are The Options For Getting Rid Of Hot Flushes?
Mainstream treatments would be either HRT, or antidepressants, the idea being that antidepressants increase serotonin. These usually have a mild to moderate effect, and as the reasons behind taking antidepressants during menopause is often not explained properly, many women are reluctant to take them. Using SSRI antidepressants which increase the amount of available serotonin, also increases the risk of dementia later in life.
How Can Herbal Medicine Treat Hot Flushes?
In my experience, herbal medicine can be very effective in treating hot flushes, provided that the herbs are chosen and used correctly. Given that there are a number of potential reasons behind hot flushes, there’s a degree of skill involved in finding out the cause in an individual patient and treating it accordingly. It’s certainly possible to make flushes worse by choosing the wrong remedy!
Phytosterols are constituents found in herbs which have a weak hormonal activity, which isn’t as strong as your home made hormones, but strong enough to have a balancing effect. The main ones we talk about in perimenopause are the phytoestrogens, although some herbs have a progestergenic activity as well. With the phytoestrogens, there are eight different kinds, and they hook onto the same cell receptors as your own oestrogen's. That means that if you don’t have enough of your own oestrogen, the phytoestrogens will top you up. At the same time, if you have too much of your own oestrogen, the phytoestrogens will block some of it from getting onto the receptors. In this way, phytoestrogens can have a balancing effect upon hormone levels.
Some women with a history of oestrogen sensitive cancers have concerns about using phytoestrogens, and are warned by their Doctors to avoid herbs which contain them. Whilst this used to be the thinking, research over the past 20 years has shown that they’re perfectly safe, and even beneficial, because they can help to prevent natural oestrogen from linking onto any cancer cells.
My herbal medicine toolkit for hot flushes includes herbs like Sage and Red Clover which contain phyto-oestrogens. These have a mild oestrogenic effect in the body, which isn’t as powerful as the oestrogen you produce yourself, but is enough to calm the flushes where low oestrogen is a factor.
Other herbs like Vitex and Black Cohosh don’t contain phytosterols, but do influence the way your body makes and uses its own hormones. Both of these herbs are constitutional remedies, so only suitable for some women and at certain points in their menopause journey. This explains why the off-the-shelf products containing them work well for some women and make others worse!
Other herbs which are very effective in treating hot flushes are the ones which buffer the effects of stress on our hormone production. So many women notice that chronic stress, or suddenly finding themselves in a stressful situation will trigger their flushes, and it’s because the nervous and endocrine systems are always talking to each other. I’ve noticed that herbs like Oats and St John’s Wort can really help when this is the case.
Then there are the cooling herbs, for women who have a hot constitution in the first place. They would include plants like peppermint, yarrow, and limeflower which help to cool and calm the whole body energetically.
The herbal medicines that I use are blended together specifically for each patient, so that no two prescriptions are the same. This is vastly different to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of using mainstream medicine, or off-the-shelf herbal remedies, because the medicine is designed to work on the exact causes of the hot flushes.
What Kind Of Results Can We Expect When Using Herbal Medicine For Hot Flushes?
It really depends on which way you’d like to use herbal medicine! Many women choose to self-medicate, by trying remedies from their local health food shop, or online retailers. Whilst some strike gold and find a suitable remedy straightaway, others waste thousands of pounds on products which don’t work, and may even make matters worse.
Prescribed herbal medicines work differently because they’re tailor made to your needs. When I speak with my patients, I can assess which hormones are most likely out of balance from the symptoms they’re having. I then put the medicines together to address those symptoms perfectly.
Here’s what two of my patients have said about the treatment they had for hot flushes:
“I couldn’t believe how fast it worked! When I first started my herbal medicine, I was having 3-4 flushes an hour, day and night. I was completely exhausted. Within 4 weeks, I was down to 3 flushes in 24 hours and my energy was back!”
Martha from Wolverhampton
“Within 3 weeks we had seen a vast improvement upon my hot sweats both during the night and the day. Very shortly after this period they disappeared altogether. I also suffered from other conditions which were also treated successfully”
Sue from Staffordshire.
How To Manage Hot Flushes At Work
Most women don’t realise that menopause is now covered by the Disability Act. As a result, your employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to help you at work. That could mean all sorts of possibilities for the many menopause symptoms, but in terms of hot flushes you could discuss:
Having a desk fan if you work in an office. Being allowed to open a window, or pop outside to cool down if you need to. Wearing layers of clothing if you have to wear a uniform, and being allowed to remove layers when you’re flushing. Seeing whether there are any uniform options which use natural materials that are cooler to wear.
Women who have to wear PPE at work can really struggle to manage their flushes, but it’s still worth asking your line manager if they have any suggestions to help make things easier for you.
Easy Self Care For Hot Flushes
Here are a few ideas:
- Experiment with your bedding and nightwear. Try using sheets, blankets, pyjamas and a lighter duvet to help get the temperature right at night.
- Check that the weight of your duvet is suitable for the time of year. It sounds obvious but I’ve known a number of women cure their night sweats just by doing this!
- Wear layers that you can remove quickly & easily.
- Use a facial mist like this, to cool yourself down, and keep it in the fridge.
- If you’re struggling at work, you can ask your employer to provide you with a desk fan as a reasonable adjustment.
A Healthy Diet For Hot Flushes
Women from Asia, and around the Mediterranean have far less of a problem with hot flushes. Why? We think it’s largely to do with their diet. The Mediterranean diet is rich in beans, pulses, and legumes which are high in phytosterols and fibre. Fibre is key for carrying used oestrogen out of the body before it can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Likewise, there are lots of wholegrains, which contain phyto-oestrogens. Wholegrains are exactly what they say they are: unprocessed grains which have simply been removed from the plant, so that there’s maximum protein, fibre, and other nutrients. Good examples include:
- Brown or wild rice
Soya is commonly recommended as a source of phyto-oestrogens, but opinion is divided as to how good it really is for you, and whether it can be harmful. Having looked into it, I’d recommend only using limited amounts of fermented soya, like miso, tempeh or natto. Choose organic soya wherever possible, and avoid unfermented soya products completely.
And try to include one portion of probiotic food in your diet every day. Good options would be kefir, sauerkraut or miso.
Foods To Limit Or Avoid With Hot Flushes
Foods which can aggravate flushing include:
- Spicy foods
- Too much caffeine (start by limiting your drinks to a maximum of 2 a day)