Most of us get HOT during perimenopause and menopause. Sometimes we wake up in a huge sweat, enough that we have to change our sheets in the morning. Sometimes at work we are desperate to strip off our jackets and sweaters only to put them right back on again. Vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats) are super common – 80-85% of us get them. Research suggests hot flashes occur when declining estrogen makes the hypothalamus (the body’s thermostat) extra sensitive to temperature changes. It seems that when the hypothalamus thinks our bodies are too warm, it sets off a chain of events – such that the hot flash ultimately cools us down.
While vasomotor symptoms can occur for the 1-2 years before menopause, they can persist for 7 years and sometimes more than 10. Black women experience the highest incidence of vasomotor symptoms, for the longest period of time, and report the most disruption in their lives as a result. Asian-Americans report the fewest hot flashes. Smoking, depression, anxiety, fewer years of school, and a history of childhood abuse have all been shown to correlate with a higher incidence of vasomotor symptoms. Also, women who are overweight are at greater risk of more disruptive hot flashes early in perimenopause.
Research shows that women who get vasomotor symptoms are at greater risk for cardiovascular illness, osteoporosis and cognitive challenges. Hot flashes are associated with higher LDL cholesterol, higher triglycerides, insulin resistance, hypertension and adverse vascular changes. Hot flashes should absolutely be considered wake-up calls for self-care! We must make the changes that support our bodies in making enough estrogen in order to reduce our vasomotor symptoms and reduce our longer-term risks.
Foods that Help with Hot Flashes:
- Add in Maca root, 1-2 tsp/day. Maca can increase the body’s natural production of estrogen while at the same time lowering stress hormone levels. Maca can reduce vasomotor symptoms, as well as improve sleep, mood, and energy.
- Add in Freshly-ground Flaxseed, 2-4 TBS/day. This is huge in terms of the difference it can make. Flaxseed can help regulate the menstrual cycle, lower inflammation, keep the vagina lubricated, and cut hot flashes in half!!!
- Add in Beans, Seeds, and Greens of all kinds – as they are the foundation of an anti-inflammatory diet for menopause and are full of phytonutrients that can help reduce hot flashes, slow bone loss and improve cardiovascular risk. In midlife, it is critical to increase our vegetable consumption to 4+ servings/day so as to reduce inflammation.
Foods that Trigger Hot Flashes:
- Reduce/eliminate alcohol and caffeine. This is a big one. Caffeine and alcohol trigger hot flashes, and mess with our sleep and our blood sugar, which in turn messes with our hormones. Sleeping well improves our mood and is associated with lower cardiovascular risk.
- Reduce/eliminate added sugar. Eating processed foods (and foods with added sugar) raises our blood sugar. This decreases our sensitivity to insulin and makes it harder to get sugar out of our blood. Chronic high blood sugar becomes toxic to the body, and gets stored as fat. Excess sugars also alter the function of antioxidants, thereby increasing the risk of disease. Read more about sugar and vasomotor symptoms here.
More on Vasomotor Symptoms and Long-term Prevention
- One way to keep our hearts healthy is by increasing our consumption of unsaturated fat from plant foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and from wild, fatty fish, lowers our “bad” LDL cholesterol and raises our “good” HDL cholesterol!!
- One way to keep our bones healthy is by increasing our consumption of Omega-3s, which improve bone building by affecting calcium balance and lowering inflammation. They are found in fatty fish, fish oil and eggs, as well as nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds, walnuts and chia.
- One way to keep our brains healthy is by increasing our consumption of Turmeric. Turmeric can reduce systemic inflammation and improve the conversion of plant-based omega 3s into DHA in the brain, thereby protecting the brain from inflammation.
Superwoman Smoothie: A Recipe for Vasomotor Symptoms
Serves 1-2 (intended to be a full meal)
1 frozen banana
1 packet frozen acai packet
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 Tbsp. organic peanut butter or almond butter
1 Tbsp. hemp hearts
2-4 Tbsp. freshly-ground Flax seeds (or whole flax seeds, which should grind in the in a high-powered blender)
1 Tbsp. Maca powder
1 Tbsp. fresh turmeric grated or chopped
½-1 tsp. Shatavari powder
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger grated or chopped
1 1/2 cups almond milk
Water, as needed
- Add something crunchy like cacao nibs or sunflower seeds after blending.
- Keep fresh ginger and turmeric washed and cut into 1-inch pieces (skins on) in the freezer.
- Throw in mild-tasting veggies to get a jump start on 4+ daily veggie servings.
- Substitute prunes (for the banana) which do not raise our blood sugar as much due to their high fiber content, and also serve to preserve bone mineral density.
Flax Cookies: A Recipe for Vasomotor Symptoms
1 ½ cups almond flour
½ cup freshly ground flaxseed (ideally raw, organic, milled)
½ tsp. sea salt
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
¼ cup maple syrup
⅔ cup Lily’s chocolate chips (made with stevia)
Pinch of hemp hearts
Pinch of flakey sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the first 6 ingredients, and then press them out to form a square about 8×10”, ½ inch thick. Sprinkle with hemp seeds and press them in a bit. Cut 20 squares and sprinkle with the flakey sea salt. Place on a baking sheet and cook for about 11 minutes, or until edges are just golden.
Click here if you would like to learn more about vasomotor symptoms and how to reduce them through our Hot Flashes Project.
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