What Can I Do About Hot Flashes?
I recently received a question from a woman who wanted to know what she could she do to help with hot flashes. Since I am a middle aged-woman myself and I specialize in personal wellness for middle age women, this is a subject I have spent some time researching.
While I don’t pretend to be an endocrinologist and steer clear of providing direct protocol for menopausal treatment, I can share with you some thoughts and recommendations.
At the root of hot flashes we are dealing with hormonal fluctuations in the body so there are some things women can do that may help their situation.
Again talk with your health care provider about hormone regulation, but here are some exercise and nutrition related suggestions that may help with hot flashes.
Exercise and Hot Flashes
While aerobic and cardiovascular exercise is certainly helpful for menopausal women from a holistic perspective, it’s not going to have the same impact as resistance training.
It’s been my experience that most women gravitate towards cardio for the perceived calorie burning benefits with weight loss, but middle age and older women are best served by putting more emphasis on strength training.
Specifically, I’ve found the best results when resistance workouts are done in ‘burst training’ fashion. This is where resistance exercises are completed with short bursts of high intensity effort, followed by brief, often incomplete recovery then repeated.
So why resistance training and why in burst training fashion?
Well this goes back to the hormonal responses which can be produced with various forms of exercise. Aerobic and cardiovascular exercise, while they do create caloric expenditure, they have very little impact on hormonal responses.
If anything when cardio is done in excess, especially in a caloric deprivation state, this can lead to increased cortisol production which can make hot flashes more prominent and pronounced.
The benefit of resistance and strength training based exercise is the impact it has on testosterone levels and lean muscle regulation. The short bursts of high intensity effort done with burst training helps to not only stimulate testosterone and growth hormone release, but also triggers powerful fat burning hormones from the adrenal glands.
So in short, yes you still want to do some aerobic exercise, but make sure you’re regularly completing resistance based exercise a minimum of 2-3 times per week. Think more along the lines of working your muscle and optimizing hormonal production, than burning calories with cardio.
Nutrition and Hot Flashes
Without question a well-balanced healthy diet can help mitigate the severity and frequency with hot flashes. Your top priority is to reduce sugar consumption as that will have the biggest impact. Sugar consumption will impact the hypothalamus, which as you may know is the part of the brain which controls body temperature.
In general, you’ll want to have a balanced diet of carbs, proteins, and fats, predominately from natural, whole foods. Processed and refined foods will negatively impact blood sugar regulation and contribute to increased inflammation in the body, decreased insulin sensitivity, etc.
A few years back there was a lot of attention on flaxseed being the next super-food for reducing hot flash symptoms. If I recall correctly, even Dr. Oz was reported telling his audience at one of his shows that 2 tbsp of ground flaxseed a day may help cut symptoms of hot flashes in half. He was probably getting this from a 2007 study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic. Click here to read more.
More recent research has shown that flaxseed had little impact over a placebo so the reality is even the experts are unsure. However, I still think flaxseed is a good addition to the diet of menopausal women due to its excellent omega fatty acid ratios and antioxidant properties.
Here are some foods you may want to increase in your diet if you’re suffering from hot flashes. These are all nutrient dense, healthy whole foods so they certainly won’t hurt.
- Sunflower Seeds
- Cold Water Fishes
- Olive Oil
- Flaxseed Oil
- Ground Flaxseed
- Pumpkin Seeds
Alcohol and hot flashes
My next recommendation would be to take a good hard look at your alcohol consumption. While there’s certainly little harm with having an occasional glass of wine, regular alcohol consumption can definitely make hot flashes worse.
What’s the deal with alcohol?
Well it goes like this…immediately after alcohol is consumed, blood levels of estrogen start to increase. This could contribute to the first sign of a hot flash. After the alcohol is broken down in the liver and exits the blood stream, estrogen levels start going back down. It’s the yo-yo effect here with estrogen levels which is the problem.
In addition, drinking alcohol indirectly impacts the hypothalamus through increased blood flow. When the brain detects an increase in temperature, a signal is sent to release chemicals that cause the skin’s blood vessels to dilate and dissipate excess heat (hence a hot flash).
Bottom line, go easy on the booze if you want to better control hot flashes and night sweats.
Input from Shane Doll CPT, CSCS, certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts in Charleston. Thank you Shane!