Hot flashes, or more correctly called hot flush, is the most common complaint of menopausal women. Up to 80 percent of women experience them to some degree, with up to 40 percent suffering enough to seek medical attention. While some women never have a hot flash, most are inconvenienced for a year of two. For some women flashes may persist up to 5, even 10 years.
Hot flashes usually begin when periods are still regular or are just starting to fluctuate. Hot flashes are often one of the first indications that menopause is approaching. Hot flashes are most uncomfortable in the first stages of perimenopause, gradually decreasing in frequency and intensity as the body adapts to the hormonal changes.
Duration, frequency, and intensity of hot flashes differ. Episodes may last for two to three minutes or they can also linger for up to an hour. They can occur several times a day or night, or only once or twice a week.
As harmless as the hot flash is, nevertheless the body’s temperature control system vacillates between very hot and cool, other body systems are strained as well. When flashes occur too often they may be accompanied by unexpected and even frightening side effects: loss of sleep, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, a racing pulse, heart palpitations, headaches, itchy skin, and numbness in the hands and arms. These symptoms can take you unaware and cause concern as thoughts of more serious causes race through your mind.
What Causes Hot Flashes?
The Hot Flash is still not fully understood; researchers have only recently determined that measured hormonal changes take place during a flash. Diminished estrogen levels are somehow responsible but exactly in what way remains a bit unclear. Withdrawal of estrogen causes an increase in the levels of the hormones FSH and LH. The brain center that secretes these hormones, the hypothalamus, directs many body functions, including body temperature, sleep patterns, metabolic rate, mood, and reaction to stress. The higher the levels of FSH and LH, the more the blood vessels dilate, or enlarge, this increases blood flow to the skin, which in turn raises its temperature.
Other hormones and body chemical levels also seem to fluctuate in response to altered estrogen levels, and may participate in triggering a hot flash. Two neurotransmitters, epinephrine and norepinephrine, interact with the hypothalamus, thus helping to control dilation and contraction of blood vessels. The beta-endorphins which are the brain’s natural mood controller, drop in response to lowered estrogen and progesterone levels, and may also be involved. Hormones do not operate in a vacuum, and a rise or fall in any one creates a cascading interplay that can affect any number of bodily functions.
Natural Treatments for Hot Flashes
Fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fruit eaten as unprocessed as possible and uncontaminated by insecticides, artificial coloring agents or preservatives, or other toxic ingredients, means good nutrition. Considering the present methods of meat production, it makes sense to minimize consumption of these. Eggs are fine, as well as modest servings of ocean fish and fowl (most insecticides are fat soluble and found primarily in the skin of fowl and fish). While vegetable and seed oils obtained by high-pressure squeezing should be avoided because of trans-fatty acids, olive oil does not require such high-pressure squeezing and is O.K. Flaxseed oil, walnut oil, Evening Primrose oil, and pumpkin oil are all especially nutritious because of their complement of oil essential fatty acids ( i.e. linoleic acid and a-linolenic acid).
Treatments that stabilize the autonomic nervous system (which controls involuntary responses) may temper hot flashes. Regular moderate exercise decreases FSH and LH levels, reducing and possibly eliminating symptoms. The hypothalamus regulates the menstrual cycle, body temperature, and the autonomic nervous system. During menopause, it becomes supersensitive to outside signals exercise can stabilize it and help restore more normal hormonal levels.
Natural progesterone plays an important role in restoring balance to the body. One of the safest hormonal supplements, progesterone is essential in regulating estrogen, testosterone, aldosterone and cortisone. This simply means that progesterone is a precursor hormone that can be converted by the body, as required into the other essential steroid hormones. If the body is deprived of its required amount of progesterone, the production of the other related hormones can be severely imbalanced. Taking progesterone will not create an excess of these other hormones, but rather act as a normalizer by helping to decrease any excess or correct any deficiency.
Signs and Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
- Breast swelling, fibrocystic breasts
- Water retention, edema
- Premenstrual mood swings, depression
- Loss of libido
- Uterine fibroid
- Heavy or irregular menses,
- Craving for sweets
- Weight gain, fat deposition at hips and thighs
Hot flushes are not a sign of estrogen deficiency, per se, but are due to heightened hypothalamic activity (vasomotor ability) secondary to low levels of estrogen and progesterone which, if raised, would produce a negative feedback effect to the pituitary and hypothalamus. Estrogen receptors in these areas become more sensitive, and hot flushes usually subside, once progesterone levels are raised. Measuring FSH and LH levels before and after adequate progesterone supplementation, will validate this mechanism.
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