When it comes to hormones, keeping them at optimal levels is a life-long balancing act. It’s no secret that shifting hormone levels can wreak havoc during puberty, but things don't necessarily get easier as we age, or during biologically stressful situations such as pregnancy or menopause.
If you’re currently going through menopause, the sensation during 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. Sweating, palpitations and facial flushing can add insult to injury.
But what exactly happens to cause these symptoms?
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Hormones are involved in nearly every bodily function. They can regulate growth and development, increase or decrease energy levels, and modulate sexual function to name a few. Estrogen alone is involved in the development of female sexual characteristics, regulation of body temperature and the facilitation of blood flow. Understandibly then, a decline in estrogen and other sex hormones, which occurs with menopause, can throw these processes out of balance. Hot flashes are one unfortunate side effect of this disregulation.
While it’s easy to blame hormonal changes alone for the ill-effects of menopause, lifestyle habits can also have a substantial effect on the intensity of symptoms. Everything from the amount of exercise we do (or don’t do), to the food we eat, ultimately impacts the frequency and severity of hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
What to eat or not to eat; that is the question. Read on to find the answers you’re looking for.
What foods should I eat to alleviate hot flashes?
Eating a healthy, nutritious, and well-balanced diet is fundamental to keeping hot flashes in check. But what does that look like, exactly? In fact, there is good evidence that following a traditional Mediterranean diet that is rich in a wide range of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats, is a great way to temper your symptoms.
- Foods high in antioxidants such as spinach, kale and broccoli, and colorful fruits and vegetables like berries, bell peppers, eggplants, mangos and carrots help prevent fluctuations in estrogen.
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and anchovies are an excellent source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which help keep your blood pressure in check.
- Cooling foods help regulate the body’s core temperature and keep your hot flashes at bay. Load up on water-rich foods like cucumber, watermelon, apples, strawberries and papaya.
- While on the topic of water-rich foods, if you are indeed experiencing hot flashes, it’s important that you also drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- There is evidence to support that legumes like soybeans, chickpeas and fava beans can help control hot flashes, thanks to their high isoflavone content. Isoflavones mimic estrogen, and can therefore help balance levels of natural estrogen in the body.
What foods should I avoid?
As much as we would like to tell you that eating good food is sufficient for controlling hot flashes, it can be a fruitless endeavor if you aren’t eliminating, or at least limiting, your intake of certain other foods.
It would be best to avoid the following food items on your next trip to the grocery store:
- Not surprisingly, hot and 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 foods that can make you sweat, like jalapenos, habaneros or cayenne peppers.
- Alcohol and caffeine are notorious for triggering hot flashes. 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.
- Not all fats are created equal. While healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds are good, hydrogenated fats from fast foods such as burgers, fries and fried chicken, should normally be avoided.
- Foods with added sugar and processed carbs can 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 pastries.
- Meat and dairy consumption is a controversial topic, and there are many opinions on the effects of animal proteins. As a rule of thumb, we suggest consuming such foods in moderation.
Is there anything else I can do to help with hot flashes?
Other than keeping a great diet, there are other measures you should implement to look and feel healthy as you age:
- Keep fit to fight flashes: As counterintuitive as it may sound, regular exercise and strength training actually helps reduce the body’s core temperature by improving blood flow and reducing sensitivity to heat. As a bonus, exercise can also help preserve bone health and maintain a healthy weight.
- Give yoga a go: Many women will attest to the benefits of yoga and meditation in alleviating the undesirable symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, insomnia and depression.
- Ditch the cigs: Chemicals in cigarettes can lower estrogen levels. Therefore, women who smoke, have a higher rate of intense hot flashes when compared to their non-smoking counterparts - as good a reason as any to kick the habit.
- Be prepared: Dressing in layers is the smart thing to do. When a hot flash strikes, you’re primed to remove layers of clothing to help regulate your temperature. Consider also carrying a portable fan to help cool down quickly.
You’ll be surprised how simple diet and lifestyle changes can work wonders for lightening the heavy load of menopause. Watching what you eat and exercising frequently, can be the key to improving the frequency and severity of your symptoms. Give it a try and see how living with menopause can quickly become 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