any women ease gently into menopause,
experiencing only minor symptoms. Their hot flashes may call for no more
than a little discreet fanning now and then. For other women, though,
these episodes may seem more like close encounters with a blast furnace.
Whether your own hot flashes are experienced as delicate flushes or
the engulfing flames, rest assured they're normal. Hot flashes are the
body's reaction to a decreased supply of the hormone estrogen, which
occurs naturally as women approach menopause.
Not all women experience hot flashes, but more than half do. In some,
estrogen production decreases gradually, producing few hot flashes. But
for others, the ovaries stop estrogen production abruptly. Or estrogen
production may stop and start a couple of times before it ceases
altogether. "For these women, hot flashes can be a real
roller-coaster ride," says Brian Walsh, M.D., who is an assistant
professor of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard
Medical School and director of the Menopause Unit at Brigham and Women's
Hospital in Boston.
If you're suffering from hot flashes, you'll recognize this
description from Veronica Ravnikar, M.D., professor of obstetrics and
gynecology and director of the Reproductive Endocrine and Infertility
Unit at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Boston.
"First, you may get an aura—a feeling that something strange
is coming on. Then, your internal core temperature drops abruptly. In
response, your skin sweats to give off heat and balance itself with the
drop in internal temperature.
"You may have one hot flash after another. Most occur at night,
and when you do wake up, it will be a bolt upright awakening. Then you
get hot and sweaty. Finally, you get so chilled you feel like you need a
down comforter to get warm. Sleep is constantly interrupted."
There's plenty you can do to turn down
the heat on those hot flashes.
Solve it with Imperial Gold
There's a startling
difference in the rate of hot flashes and menopausal symptoms between
cultures. One study showed that over 50 percent of U.S. and Western
European women reported menopausal symptoms, while in Japan it was only
9 or 10 percent.
A joint study done by American, Finnish and Japanese researchers
singles out soy products as a possible treatment for menopausal
symptoms, says Barry Goldin, Ph.D., a biochemist and associate professor
of community health at the Tufts University School of Medicine in
Boston. Japanese women eat much more soy than Western women do, he says,
and soy foods contain a natural estrogenic compound that may serve as a
hot flash reliever.
Try adding soybeans, tofu, miso and other soy products to your diet,
Dr.Goldin suggests. An added benefit is that these foods are low-fat.
Get help for bad habits. Doctors have noticed that smokers and
heavy drinkers have more difficulty with hot flashes than those who
don't, says Dr.Ravnikar. Talk with your doctor about support for beating
these bad habits.
Cut back on coffee. Drinking more than a few cups of coffee a
day can also turn on hot flashes, says Dr.Ravnikar. "Don't drink
excess amounts of coffee," she advises. Any sort
of chemical stimulant like caffeine can slightly raise blood pressure
and heart rate—and trigger a hot flash.
Breathe them away. A recent study has shown that women given
training in slow, deep-breathing exercises were able to reduce their hot
flashes by 50 percent. Women participating in the study received eight
one-hour treatment sessions every other week.
Ask your doctor to refer you to an expert in deep-breathing relaxation
techniques. (Many experienced yoga instructors can provide this kind of
Try commonsense cool-downs. Anything that will make you feel
cooler and more comfortable is an appropriate response to hot flashes,
says June Lavalleur, M.D., director of the division of general
gynecology at the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic in
"Wear cotton clothing, which leaves you feeling cooler since it
won't stick to your skin," she suggests.
Other relievers? Take a small fan to work to flip on when a hot flash
hits, and dress in layers so you can easily shed or add clothing, says
Lane Mercer, M.D., chief of gynecology at Northwestern University
Medical School in Chicago.
Ease hot flashes with estrogen. If your hot flashes persist,
you may want to discuss hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with your
doctor. While HRT is not appropriate for everyone, there is no question
that it relieves the misery of hot flashes.
"Estrogen comes in pills, transdermal skin patches, vaginal
creams and in pellets that
can be surgically implanted under the skin of the abdomen," says
For women who need medical relief but can't take estrogen because of
a current or
past breast cancer, the prescription blood pressure medication clonidine
bring relief, says Dr. Lavalleur.