Hot flashes are a common – the most common – symptom of menopause and perimenopause. One study indicates that an estimated 80 percent of American women experience moderate to severe hot flashes, and roughly 17 percent of menopausal women in the United States report experiencing mild hot flashes. They are caused by reduced levels of estradiol, the primary female sex hormone. The exact mechanics of how hot flashes work is not completely understood, nor has it been completely studied. Some research has indicated that hot flashes may be due to a change in the hypothalamus's control of temperature regulation.
But enough about what's happening under the hood. How can you get some relief from them?
One approach to dealing with hot flashes which has the added benefit of being wholly natural is to use phytoestrogens. As the name suggests, these are plant-based “dietary estrogens” which can bind to human estrogen receptors. They don't increase your estrogen levels, but they enable your system to increase the effect of whatever estrogen is already there.
In North America, phytoestrogens are found most commonly in lignans, contained in certain seeds. Flax and sesame are your best bet.
Another source of phytoestrogens is licorice root. One recent study found that menopausal women who took 330 milligrams of licorice extract three times daily for 8 weeks reduced the severity and frequency of their hot flashes.
Valerian, a flower which you may already have growing in your garden, is also a source of phytoestrogens. It is commonly available in extract form in most any health food store. This botanical has the added benefit of goosing your serotonin activity and so is a natural sleep aid.
Black cohosh is another flowering phytoestrogen, but it has considerably more baggage than valerian. Reported side effects include diarrhea; nausea and vomiting; sweating; dizziness, headaches, and seizures; constipation; low blood pressure and slow heartbeats; and weight problems. It can also interact with estrogens, progestins and birth control pills, as well as fertility treatments. At the extreme end of things, black cohosh has been accused of causing liver damage, and women who use it are cautioned to keep on the lookout for jaundice.
If you are serious about getting relief from your hot flashes, get serious about making some lifestyle changes. Give up or cut down on alcohol, smoking, spicy foods, hot beverages, and (as if!) stress.