Outside of the mood swings and erratic, unpredictable cycles, night sweats and hot flashes consistently rank up there as one of the most bothersome symptoms of perimenopause for most women. Personally, I would easily rank mine back in the day, as third, only behind the crazy cycles and mood swings.
You’ve probably all heard stories from your menopause sisters, who stood outside in snowy, sub-zero weather, taking in the “crisp night air” in efforts to cool their short-circuited internal furnaces. Heck, maybe even you were one of them.
I know I certainly couldn’t strip off enough clothing or lower the thermostat enough to get relief, while my family padded around the house in flannel jammies and hoodies.
So what causes those notorious hot flashes and night sweats and what can you do about them? As usual, ladies, blame it on estrogen.
The Role of Estrogen in Perimenopause
Most women begin to experience a shift in their hormones in their mid to late thirties. By the time we reach our early to mid forties, many of us are in full blown perimenopause, a time when estrogen and progesterone levels begin to fluctuate wildly.
During perimenopause estrogen levels are rising and falling erratically. When estrogen levels are high, it is referred to as estrogen dominance. Too much estrogen, as we all know, packs quite a punch. It causes us to become hyper-sensitive, emotional, and down-right bitchy. Raging mood swings are common when women are experiencing estrogen dominance, and it ain’t no fun!
Estrogen dominance causes bloating, irritability, and swollen and painful breasts. It also causes acne break-outs, heavy periods with blood clots, migraine headaches, and excessive weight gain.
On the other hand, when estrogen levels are low, we experience an entire host of other symptoms, such as:
- Foggy thinking
- Short-term memory loss
- Vaginal Dryness
- Loss of libido
- Low Energy
- Hot flashes & night sweats
So there you have it, ladies. Low levels of estrogen during perimenopause contribute to hot flashes and night sweats.
Natural Remedies for Hot Flashes & Night Sweats
Given all of the negative press surrounding synthetic hormones for the treatment of menopause symptoms, many women are opting out and searching for natural remedies instead. While there is no guarantee that alternative methods will always work, there is enough evidence that some of these things work for some women. There is certainly no harm in trying some of them.
Soy – If, like me, you do any reading on the subject of perimenopause, you have likely run across conflicting information on the benefits of soy for hot flashes. For example, recently, CNN Health and a few other websites ran this story, citing a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, “Soy Isoflavones in the Prevention of Menopausal Bone Loss and Menopausal Symptoms”
The study was a randomized double-blind study. What that means is there are two groups in the study. One group is given a placebo and the other group is given whatever is being studied – in this case, soy – and neither the groups nor the researchers know who has been given the placebo and who hasn’t. Hence, “double-blind.” The obvious benefits of this approach is that there is no bias by the researchers and therefore, they cannot influence the outcome of the research.
If you are interested in reading the study for yourself, you can. However, the long and short of the results stated that soy did not help in the prevention of osteoarthritis or the prevention of menopause symptoms. The abstract does not indicate specifically what those “menopause symptoms” were, though it did state that some of the women in the study reported hot flashes and night sweats. The suggestion being, that soy caused them.
I would also like to point out that the reason for the study(taken from the abstract) was this:
Background Concerns regarding the risk of estrogen replacement have resulted in a significant increase in the use of soy products by menopausal women who, despite the lack of evidence of the efficacy of such products, seek alternatives to menopausal hormone therapy. Our goal was to determine the efficacy of soy isoflavone tablets in preventing bone loss and menopausal symptoms.
May I also point out that the FDA was involved in the study. It should also be noted that there remains a divide in the medical community as to the safety of synthetic estrogen and hormone therapy – approved by the FDA. This has been the major catalyst in the growth in popularity of bioidentical hormones, and natural and alternative treatments for menopause symptoms. Take from that what you will, ladies, I’m just saying. Okay?
Having said all of that, here’s my take on soy for hot flashes and night sweats: it worked for me. You may also know someone who says it worked for them. Maybe it worked for you too. The point is, you need to decide for yourself if it works or if it doesn’t. In fact, I highly recommend that you do.
There have been many studies over the years that have looked specifically at the effect of soy for hot flashes and night sweats. Not bone lose or any other symptoms. But, hot flashes and night sweats. While those studies were “inconclusive,” they did report that some women found relief from hot flashes and night sweats.
Which, of course, fits exactly with my point of view: some women will find relief from using soy, others will not. You need to decide if you are one of them or if you are not.
Finally, the theory behind why soy works for some women is the phytoestrogens which are in soy. Phytoestrogens mimic estrogenic activity in your body. If you are interested in reading exactly how, I wrote an article on it that you can read here.
Femestra – In my “Resources for You” section, you will find a page on Alternative & Complementary Treatments. I have Femestra listed under Supplements.
If you are looking for natural remedies for hot flashes, Femestra might be an option for you. I’ve never tried it. But, they do have some good information at their website if you would like to check it out for yourself.
They cite a Japanese research study (available here at PubMed.gov) which was done on the main ingredient in Femestra, rice bran extract, to support the effectiveness of their product as a viable option for over the counter hot flash remedies.
I may hit them up for some free samples to do a giveaway in the future. In the meantime, though, if you are interested in trying it, you can buy it at their website and also at GNC locations.
Black Cohosh – Back in the day – meaning back when I was crazy from perimenopause symptoms – my physician actually recommended black cohosh. She made a point that she was generally not too keen on recommending herbal and alternative supplements for perimenopause, but, that she had been impressed with some of the research she had read on it.
I never tried it, because, as I’ve said, soy milk helped with mine. However, a lot of women have used it with some success. Project-Aware has an article at their site you might be interested in reading regarding black cohosh and hot flashes. Here’s an excerpt that I found interesting:
Black cohosh was widely used by the American Indians and later by American colonists for relief of menstrual cramps and menopause. Recent scientific investigation has upheld the effectiveness of black cohosh as a treatment for dysmenorrhea and menopause. Clinical studies have shown extracts of black cohosh to relieve not only hot flashes but also depression and vaginal atrophy. In addition to these vascular effects, black cohosh reduces LH levels; thus the plant has a significant estrogenic effect. The use of 10-15 drops once or twice a day for several months significantly reduces LH but not FSH. Black cohosh has also been found to aid digestion by increasing digestive juices; use 3- 5 drops with meals.
There is also a warning that you should not use black cohosh if you are pregnant or if you have heavy menstrual flooding. Personally, I highly recommend that you do plenty of reading on the product before you try it anyway. That’s always a good policy in my opinion.
And finally, I found this at About.com that you might also be interested in reading.
Black cohosh is popular as an alternative to hormonal therapy in the treatment of menopausal (climacteric) symptoms such as hot flashes, mood disturbances, diaphoresis, palpitations, and vaginal dryness. Several studies have reported black cohosh to improve menopausal symptoms for up to six months, although the current evidence is mixed.
The mechanism of action of black cohosh remains unclear and the effects on estrogen receptors or hormonal levels (if any) are not definitively known. Recent publications suggest that there may be no direct effects on estrogen receptors, although this is an area of active controversy. Safety and efficacy beyond six months have not been proven, although recent reports suggest safety of short-term use, including in women experiencing menopausal symptoms for whom estrogen replacement therapy is contraindicated. Nonetheless, caution is advisable until better-quality safety data are available.
Use of black cohosh in high-risk populations (such as in women with a history of breast cancer) should be under the supervision of a licensed healthcare professional.
So the moral of the story is, ladies, that you need to do your homework on these alternative treatments. I know it’s frustrating when what you would probably like is for someone to hand you something and tell you it will cure-all.
Unfortunately, that’s just not available. But, it certainly won’t hurt you try this suggestions, and by all means, if you know of anything else you can recommend, please share!
“Hormones for Dummies (Everything you Ever wanted to Know But were Afraid You Wouldn’t Understand)”. October 1, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.bermansexualhealth.com/sexual-health/lifestyle/menopausal-health/75-hotflashes/159-hormones-for-dummies-everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-but-were-afraid-you-wouldnt-understand
Lundin, Mia, R.N.C., N.P., “Female Brain Gone Insane: An Emergency Guide for Women Who Feel Like They Are Falling Apart”. (2009). Deerfield Beach, FL., Health Communications, Inc.
Hotze, Steven F., M.D., “Hormones, Health & Happiness: A Natural Medical Formula for Rediscovering Youth with Bioidentical Hormones”. (2005). Houston, TX., Forrest Publishing.