Nutrition for Hot Flashes: Can Diet Help?
Menopause, the significant biological and psychological shift in a woman’s life, can represent the entrance into an age of more profound wisdom and freedom for a woman. But this transition can feel less than idyllic.
By definition, menopause is the point when a woman has not had her menstrual cycle for the twelve prior months. However, signs that accompany the transition can last for many years before and after. 1
While physiological responses to menopause vary from woman to woman, hot flashes and night sweats tend to be the most common.2 One study found that hot flashes can last about ten years on average, so addressing them is vital to ensure your quality of life isn’t negatively affected. 3
As women often turn to natural approaches to feel better, nutrition can be the first step.
Why do women experience hot flashes and night sweats with menopause?
As mentioned, hot flashes and night sweats are the most common signs women experience in the menopause years. They can last seconds or much longer, interrupting daily activities and significantly impacting sleep. Some women have only mild, occasional hot flashes. In contrast, others struggle with more frequency, even up to twenty times a day. 4
While the causes of hot flashes are not entirely understood, researchers agree that they stem from a change in the body’s thermoneutral zone. The thermoneutral zone is where your body temperature is comfortable, the fine line between sweating and shivering.5 As estrogen levels drop during the menopause years, this zone becomes smaller, so the slightest temp changes or stimuli can cause an overreaction.
Estrogen also supports the regulation of norepinephrine activity in the brain. Norepinephrine acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter and hormone involved in the stress response, including increasing heart rate and blood flow.6 Elevated norepinephrine is associated with hot flashes as it may also impact the thermoneutral zone. 5
What role does nutrition play in hot flash management?
There are several important ways you can use diet and nutrition to support you through the menopause transition:
Maintain a healthy weight
A foundational way that diet can help is through weight management support. This relationship is not well understood, but the effects may be because adipose (or body fat) tissue can disrupt normal temperature or hormone regulation. 7
Several studies suggest that women with a higher body mass index (BMI) or greater percent body fat have severe hot flashes more often.8 Weight gain may also increase the incidence of hot flashes, but they are also reduced as a women reach a healthy weight. 9
Eat more plants
Eating plants can help to maintain a calm and comfortable menopause and sign associated such as hot flushes, sweating, restlessness and irritability. Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) or Black cohosh Help women coping with the telltale signs associated with menopause, such as hot flushes, sweating, restlessness and irritability. Alfala Is an effective dietary supplement for the improvement of quality of life in menopausal women.
Women in a study also lost more weight than the control group because of the healthy diet changes. Those who lost weight also reported fewer symptoms. Interestingly, women in the study who gained weight also experienced improvements in menopausal signs, suggesting that diet still helped independently from weight loss.
Diet as a simple strategy for menopause support
Studies suggest that women who feel supported generally have a better experience throughout the menopause transition. Eating well also helps you feel better overall and more in control of your health. Depending on the signs, diet can be a simple way to address hot flashes and the health concerns associated with menopause.
1 National Institute on Aging. “What Is Menopause?” Accessed April 13, 2021. http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-menopause.
2 Avis, Nancy E., Sybil L. Crawford, and Robin Green. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America45, no. 4 (December 2018): 629–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ogc.2018.07.005.
3 Freeman, Ellen W., Mary D. Sammel, Hui Lin, Ziyue Liu, and Clarisa R. Gracia.Obstetrics and Gynecology117, no. 5 (May 2011): 1095–1104. https://doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0b013e318214f0de.
4 Thurston, Rebecca C., Joyce T. Bromberger, Hadine Joffe, Nancy E. Avis, Rachel Hess, Carolyn J. Crandall, Yuefang Chang, Robin Green, and Karen A. Matthews. https://doi.org/10.1097/gme.0b013e318168f09b.
5 Freedman, Robert R. “MENOPAUSAL HOT FLASHES: MECHANISMS, ENDOCRINOLOGY, TREATMENT.” The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology142 (July 2014): 115–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsbmb.2013.08.010.
6 Bylund, D. B., and K. C. Bylund. “Norepinephrine.” In Encyclopedia of the Neurological Sciences (Second Edition), edited by Michael J. Aminoff and Robert B. Daroff, 614–16. Oxford: Academic Press, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-385157-4.00047-6.
7 Al-Safi, Zain A., and Alex J. Polotsky. “Obesity and Menopause.” Best Practice & Research. Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology29, no. 4 (May 2015): 548–53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2014.12.002.
8 Kroenke, Candyce H., Bette J. Caan, Marcia L. Stefanick, Garnet Anderson, Robert Brzyski, Karen C. Johnson, Erin LeBlanc, et al. https://doi.org/10.1097/gme.0b013e31824f606e.
9 Kapoor, Ekta, Maria L. Collazo-Clavell, and Stephanie S. Faubion. “Weight Gain in Women at Midlife: A Concise Review of the Pathophysiology and Strategies for Management.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings92, no. 10 (October 2017): 1552–58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2017.08.004.