When it comes to our hormones, it’s pretty much a lifelong balancing act keeping them at optimum levels so that all our bodily processes can function as normal. It’s no secret that shifting hormones can wreak all sorts of havoc during puberty, but walking this precarious tightrope can become especially challenging as we get older and our hormones become ever more volatile, particularly during stages such as pregnancy and the menopause.
If you’re currently going through the menopause, the feeling of a hot flash will be all too familiar – a sudden and overwhelming surge of unrelenting heat engulfing your body, making you feel like you’re a furnace in human form; throw sweating, palpitations and a flushed face into the mix and you’re guaranteed to be feeling a hot mess. But what exactly happens to get us so heated?
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With great power comes great responsibility, and hormones certainly are no exception to this rule – without them, our body would break down; they literally tell it how to breathe, grow, drink, eat, and so much more. In addition to developing female sexual characteristics, the hormone estrogen is also responsible for regulating body temperature and maintaining steady blood flow. So as we approach the menopause, a decline in estrogen and other sex hormone levels throws these processes off balance, thereby triggering those furious flashes.
At times, hormones get an excessively bad rep for being the cause of undesired changes during the menopause such as weight gain, mood swings, fatigue, and those pesky hot flashes. While it’s easy to blame them for these far-from-ideal fluxes, often, our lifestyle habits play a leading role in the intensity of our menopausal symptoms. Everything from the amount of exercise we do (or don’t do), to the food we put on our plates ultimately impacts the frequency and severity of hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
To eat or not to eat; that is the ultimate question. Read on to find the answers you’re looking for.
What foods should I eat to alleviate hot flashes?
Ultimately, eating a healthy, nutritious, and well-balanced diet is fundamental to keeping those fuming flashes in check, but what does that look like, exactly? Well, experts all agree that following a traditional Mediterranean diet that is rich in a wide range of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats is the way forward for long-term success in handling your hot flashes.
More specifically, these foods are the most valuable players in the hormone-balancing game:
- Foods high in antioxidants like dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and broccoli, and colorful fruits and vegetables like berries, bell peppers, eggplants, mangos, carrots, and the like help prevent chemical changes to estrogen because of their high vitamin content.
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and anchovies are an excellent source of essential omega-3 fatty acid, which helps to keep your blood pressure in check.
- Cooling foods help to regulate the body’s core temperature and keep your hot flashes at bay, so it’s worth loading up on water-based foods like cucumber, watermelon, coconut, apples, bananas, papaya, basil, and green tea. As a bonus, these foods also have a wealth of disease-fighting properties, so it’s a win-win.
- While on the topic of water-based foods, it’s super important that you also drink plenty of water if you frequently experience hot flashes, as the last thing you want is to become dehydrated. On the plus side, not only will drinking water help to keep your weight in check, but it will also help your body to absorb the nutrients from your food and flush out any lingering toxins.
- There is evidence to support that legumes like soybeans, chickpeas, and fava beans can help control hot flashes, all thanks to their high isoflavone content, which basically mimics the estrogen in our bodies and thereby helps to balance out hormone levels.
What foods should I avoid?
As much as we would like to tell you that eating the right foods is sufficient to pipe down those temperamental hot flashes, unfortunately, it’s all fruitless if you aren’t eliminating or limiting your intake of certain other foods.
You may want to skim past the following food items on your next trip to the grocery store:
- It’s not rocket science that hot, spicy foods are likely to trigger a hot flash, especially if you’re not used to eating them. So you’ll likely want to steer clear of any culprits that will have you working up a sweat, like jalapenos, green chillies, and cayenne peppers.
- Alcohol and caffeine are notorious for triggering hot flashes; of course, if consumed in moderation, they probably won’t worsen your symptoms but too much most definitely will. What’s more, they could also disrupt your sleep, which is the last thing you need if you’re already suffering from night sweats.
- We’ll have you know that not all fats are created equal. While healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds are good, other fat-laden foods from fast and fried foods are extremely bad and should not be eaten excessively.
- Foods with added sugar and processed carbs are known to raise blood sugar levels rapidly; coincidentally, the rate of hot flashes is also higher in women who are diabetic. So, as difficult as it may be, it’s a good idea to cut out things like white bread, crackers, and baked goods – you’ll thank yourself later.
- Meat and dairy are a contested category; while some experts claim that women in places like Japan, whose diet is much lower in animal products, rarely complained of menopausal symptoms, others contend that eating dairy and animal protein can decrease the risk of early menopause and its associated symptoms. As a rule of thumb, we suggest consuming such foods in moderation, because you can’t go wrong with striking a happy medium.
Is there anything else I can do to help with hot flashes?
Other than having your diet up to snuff, there are other measures you should implement to stay healthy as you age and look and feel your best:
- Keep fit to fight the flash: As counterintuitive as it may sound, regular exercise and strength training actually helps to reduce the body’s core temperature by improving blood flow and sensitivity to sweating, thereby helping to minimize the frequency of hot flashes. As a bonus, such activity can also help to preserve bone health and maintain a healthy weight.
- Give yoga a go: Over the years, many women have attested to the benefits of yoga and meditation in alleviating the undesirable effects of menopause including hot flashes, insomnia, and depression.
- Ditch the cigs: Women who smoke cigarettes have a higher rate and frequency of intense hot flashes, as compared to their non-smoking counterparts, probably because the chemicals in cigarettes lower estrogen levels – as good a reason as any to kick the habit for good.
- Be prepared: Dressing in layers is the smart thing to do, so when a hot flash strikes, you’re primed to remove items of clothing as it suits you. Besides, you could also carry a portable fan with you to cool you down during a fiery episode of a flash.
You’ll be surprised how simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can work wonders for lightening the heavy load of menopause. If your hot flashes are preventing you from living your best life, watching what you eat could be the key to improve the frequency and severity of your symptoms. Go ahead, give it a try and see how it can make your time living with the menopause more bearable.
- National Institute on Aging 2017, Hot Flashes: What can I do?, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, viewed 5th August https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/hot-flashes-what-can-i-do
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 2020, A Natural Approach to Menopause, viewed 4th August 2020 https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/a-natural-approach-to-menopause