One day everything is fine , the next it feels like you are the guy on the bonfire on Guy Fawkes night and so it begins... welcome to the perimenopause !
Not all women experience perimenopausal symptoms but for the majority of us, changes in our hormones during this phase brings with it some surprising and unwelcome changes.
One of the least welcome are hot flushes. I have been there and it's not fun. Whether your face goes red, your chest flushes or perhaps no visual signs are apparent , the heat soaring up from nowhere and with no warning is uncomfortable at best and distressing at worst.
What causes hot flushes?
Around the time of perimenopause, a gland called the hypothalamus starts to overproduce two hormones
follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)
luteinising hormone (LH)
It does this in an attempt to stimulate any remaining eggs to develop. This disrupts the normal levels of oestrogen and progesterone in the body. Oestrogen levels start to fall, progesterone decrease rapidly and ovulation becomes less frequent .
This can have the knock on effect of disrupting the hypothalamus’s job of regulating body temperature.
What can you do ?
Taking steps to stabilise oestrogen and progesterone can help minimise hot flushes. Here are some ideas.....
Increase Phytoestrogens Studies indicate that phytoestrogens approximately halve the incidence and severity of hot flushes. Food sources include flaxseeds, soy, sesame seeds, chickpeas, beans, lentils, fennel, oats.
Keep blood sugar balanced I know, boring, it's all you ever hear, but it's crucial . Blood sugar that is out of balance adds to the likelihood of hot flushes. So have regular, spaced out meals , eat protein and fat with each meal...you know the drill.
Stay hydrated How do you know if you are hydrated? . Well, as unpalatable as it sounds , you need to check your urine! If its a pale straw colour, you are hydrated. The darker your urine , the more dehydrated you are.
Increase Vitamin E Vitamin E can help stabilise hormone levels. Food sources include egg yolks, sunflower seeds, almonds , avocado , spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables.
Increase Vitamin C Studies indicate that peri and menopausal women tend to have lower levels of vitamin C and Vitamin C dilates capillaries, which can reduce flushing.
During perimenopause and menopause, the body begins producing oestrogen at sites other than the ovaries. Vitamin C is considered an essential nutrient for optimal functioning of the adrenal glands which is one of these alternative sites . Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables though oranges are not typically a great source and fruit on its own can unbalance blood sugar.
Increase Essential fats
Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) such as omega 3 and omega 6 are hormone-balancing fats. Food sources are fish (especially oily fish like salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, herring) and nuts and seeds.
Foods can trigger flushes A number of foods can trigger a hot flush. This is going to be a try it and see approach - common foods are those containing sulphites e.g. red wine, cheddar cheese, dried fruit and many pre-packaged foods and foods containing sodium nitrate e.g. cured meats like bacon, ham, salami . Other culprits can be red wine and chocolate (sorry!) and MSG.
Diet changes take time to have an effect, so it may be worth considering one or more supplements to help. Not all supplements may be relevant for you and this is where a nutritional therapist can help.
A nutritional therapist can analyse your diet, lifestyle and other symptoms you are experiencing and provided specific and tailored advice on food and supplements to help ease you through the perimenopausal years.
1. Use of Plant-Based Therapies and Menopausal Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis Franco OH, Chowdhury R et al. JAMA. 2016 Jun 21;315(23):2554-63. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.8012.
2. Soybean isoflavones warrant greater consideration as a treatment for the alleviation of menopausal hot flashes Messina M Womens Health (Lond). 2014 Nov;10(6):549-53. doi: 10.2217/whe.14.38...
3. Efficacy of phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis and systematic review Chen MN, Lin CC, Liu CF .Climacteric. 2015 Apr;18(2):260-9. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2014.966241.Epub 2014 Dec1
4. Effects of ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on hot flashes and quality of life among middle-aged women: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial Lucas M, Asselin G, et al Menopause. 2009 Mar-Apr;16(2):357-66. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3181865386.
5 Resveratrol, tryptophanum, glycine and vitamin E: a nutraceutical approach to sleep disturbance and irritability in peri- and post-menopause Parazzini F Minerva Ginecol. 2015 Feb;67(1):1-5.
6. Hot flashes--a review of the literature on alternative and complementary treatment approaches Philp HA. Altern Med Rev. 2003 Aug;8(3):284-302.