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Should you panic if you’re having hot flashes?
Many women experience hot flashes around the time of menopause, and that’s normal for the most part. However, if your hot flashes are really uncomfortable, and they interfere with your daily life, including sleeping, then you should pay closer attention to what might be causing them.
Your hot flashes might be your body’s siren going off, so don’t ignore their loud, repetitive message.
Your body gives you signals when it’s out of balance in some way. Like I said, it’s normal to experience some hot flashes, but we need to take a closer look if those hot flashes seem over the top. Most of us look to the outside world for answers about our body’s health, but often, we have the answers if we just get to know our bodies better.
Here are a few reasons you should look at your own body for evidence when it comes to finding answers about your hot flashes.
- There’s varied and conflicting research out there about what causes hot flashes.
- Why do some women have awful hot flashes that last for 10 years or more, while others have none or just a few hot flashes for a short time? There may be some genetic tendencies, but I’ve seen in my own family, this is not the case.
- Menopausal changes can vary in women based on their culture’s diet.
- Although women have similar experiences during menopause, individual responses can vary.
- Certain foods and beverages may or may not increase or decrease the frequency, intensity and duration of hot flashes.
If you want to take a deep dive into the research about what causes hot flashes and how you might reduce them, go for it, but there is no better evidence than your own body. I’m not a doctor or an expert on menopause, but I am an expert on my own body.
Here’s my hot and sweaty story, and how I discovered the real root of my hot flashes.
A few months after turning 50, I entered the early stages of menopause. My periods stopped, and the hot flashes began. It was kind of a love-hate relationship. It was awesome to no longer have to deal with my monthly flow, but the hot flashes were awful. I would’ve chosen to have my periods forever to get rid of the hot flashes.
Whether I was in the middle of teaching a class or whether it was in the middle of the night, there they were. Persistent. Never-ending. The internal inferno would come out of nowhere, build slowly and then consume me. I would brighten up like a beet and sweat profusely, while throwing off my sweater as quickly as possible. I had fans everywhere.
After a year or two with hot flashes, I was desperate, so I went on hormone therapy. I really didn’t want to take hormones because I knew there was a risk of getting cancer, but my doctor convinced me that there weren’t any dangers to it, since I was under 60.
I decided to give the hormones a try.
What happened? The hot flashes went away, and my periods returned. After several months, my original and instinctive feelings kicked back in, and I stopped the hormone therapy. I just didn’t want to take the risk.
So, the hot flashes returned, and I said goodbye to my periods once again.
Many women follow the menopausal patterns of their mothers. Not me. My mom told me she had some hot flashes for only a couple of weeks.
It’s been six years since I had my first hot flash, and I’m still getting them.
Over these years, I’ve paid attention to the pattern of my hot flashes, and I’ve made a huge discovery about what makes them frequent, intense and long-lasting. The culprit is the food and alcohol I put in my mouth.
Oh no, you might be thinking! Give up my wine?!! More and more women are using food and alcohol to cope with menopause (on top of their already stressful life). I get it. I used to do that too.
Whether it’s pizza, burgers, junk food, cupcakes or ice cream (or all of them) that light up your brain’s pleasure center, we’re eating too much of the food that’s not healthy for our bodies to function optimally. Whether it’s wine, cocktails, the hard stuff or beer, we’re drinking too much alcohol as well.
Here’s what I’ve discovered, based on a consistent pattern.
If I eat foods on a regular basis that are high in fat (meat, dairy, eggs, processed foods like potato chips), and when I drink alcohol (usually red wine) on a regular basis, that’s when the hot flashes interfere with my life.
When I commit to eating healthy and do so for several weeks or months, I drop the fatty foods and booze and eat whole plant foods that are naturally low in fat (and high in fiber). I eat vegetables (lots of raw veggies), fruit, potatoes, grains, raw seeds/nuts, and beans, and then my hot flashes decrease in…
- Frequency: they happen much less often
- Intensity: they are more warm than hot
- Duration: they last only a minute or two instead of several minutes
When I veer off track and succumb to the lure of the fatty-food world and red wine again (for several days or weeks), then I’m back to being a hot sweaty mess.
My body has shown me the way. I don’t make perfect choices every day, but I know from my six years of living with hot flashes that what I eat and drink directly impacts them.
This means that it’s up to me.
As I draft this post, it is 5:30 am, and I’ve been up for over an hour. Three times, in the middle of the night, I had to get up, grab a towel and put it on top of my sheets and pillow, which were wet with sweat. That’s three towels. Each one got too wet to sleep on comfortably. After the third towel, as I was lying in bed, I just couldn’t sleep, so I got up to write about what was happening.
I was thinking about the last five days of eating and drinking. It was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. My diet is far from perfect, but overall, I’ve been eating very well. It has been many months since I’ve had to put a towel on top of my sheets.
This weekend, I made the choice to eat foods I normally would not eat: turkey, mashed potatoes with butter, cheese, eggs and pumpkin pie. I had some potato chips, but that was it for processed food. I knew I was just treating myself for the weekend and thought a few days of eating off track would be fine.
But, the fatty food frenzy turned into five days, and my body said enough. My body showed me it wasn’t happy by giving me a horrible sleep with frequent and intense hot flashes.
So, here’s my thinking…
If I don’t have many hot flashes when I eat one way, and then I have lots of them when I eat another way, it just makes sense that something is off with what I’m eating when I’m having lots of hot flashes. The only thing that was different was the food I ate and the increase in my alcohol consumption.
Logic tells me my body is sending me a signal to stick to the healthier, low-fat way of eating, focused on whole plant foods.
The hot flashes might be about something more dangerous too. They could be a warning sign because I don’t know what other hidden effects there might be to eating a diet that includes plenty of high fat foods like meat, dairy, eggs and processed foods. (There is considerable evidence that such a diet contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases, but I won’t go into that here).
I had already been shocked by a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 54, so I’m fully aware of how health issues can not only surprise you, but sneak up on you. After my diagnosis, I discovered that there are three significant factors for a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer are:
- Being overweight
- Drinking alcohol (The World Health Organization says there is no safe level.)
- Being sedentary
I was all three. Since my diagnosis, I have lost 30 lbs and walk outside for 30 minutes or more almost every day
Note: I am NOT saying that if you have hot flashes, you will get cancer.
I AM saying that when your body produces symptoms that are uncomfortable or painful, you need to pay attention. Listen to your body. Investigate and do your own research. Don’t assume, and don’t count on your doctor or health care system to always know what’s best for you.
One other thing that helps keep my hot flashes at bay is keeping my stress levels low. I’ve noticed that often, a hot flash comes after a stressful thought. If you have a lot of daily stress, examine your thoughts and try to catch yourself when you have a negative thought or thinking that gives you significant stress. Sometimes, I can greatly reduce the intensity and duration of my hot flash when I catch myself in a negative or stressful thought.
Although we are all unique, I’m sure my body is not so unique that the things that have helped me reduce hot flashes wouldn’t help other women too. I hope my experience gives you some insight into your own journey with menopause.
Here are some general tips I would give to anyone experiencing hot flashes regularly, and especially if they are frequent, intense and last several minutes or more:
- Eat few processed foods.
- Limit your alcohol intake to a few drinks on the weekend.
- Go alcohol-free for 30 days. See the difference.
- Focus on getting as many vegetables in your body as you can each day.
- Experiment with different ways of eating (over a period of a week or more) to see if you notice any reduction in your hot flashes.
- Consider trying a whole food, plant-based diet that has very little oil, sugar or salt.
- Reduce your stress by finding healthy techniques or activities.
- Keep a health/wellness journal for a month or so to track what you eat and drink and to record your hot flash activity.
Many women will not make any dietary changes because they don’t want to give up alcohol or certain foods. I get it. We’re hooked on certain foods, and they’re hard to give up.
But, if you’re using food or alcohol to cope with menopause, consider trying the tips given above. You will likely be able to reduce your hot flashes to a point where you no longer need to cope.
I don’t have it all figured out; I still get hot flashes. Even though I haven’t been able to change my lifestyle permanently, yet, I have valuable information that can help me reduce my hot flashes.
It’s my hope that you’ll experiment with your diet and alcohol consumption and make your own discoveries.
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