Vasomotor flushes, also known as hot flashes, occur when blood vessels dilate more than usual in the skin of the upper body and face, allowing more blood to flow to the area and resulting in heat and redness. Some may also experience perspiration and an increase in their heart rate, which can lead to difficulty sleeping, weight gain, and mood disturbances. Hot flashes can occur in both men and women for a variety of reasons but are most commonly experienced by women in their perimenopausal and menopausal years.
While western medicine would tell us that hot flashes are a result of declining estrogen levels, researchers suggest these vascular changes are due to alterations in neurotransmitter activity in response to changing hormone levels. The truth is that the cause of hot flashes is not entirely known, but there are some common triggers to be aware of, including:
Stress and Anger
I emphasize the importance of stress management and adrenal health in all hormone-related posts and it's certainly relevant here, too. Increased levels of cortisol, the long-term stress hormone, can increase the frequency and intensity of hot flashes. Bottled-up anger can also affect stress hormones. Writer Louise Hay has written that the liver, the organ where estrogen and testosterone are manufactured and where all hormones are metabolized, is the seat of anger and primitive emotions. In other words, repressed anger may be disrupting the liver's healthy functioning, subsequently affecting hormone balance. Food for thought!
Blood Sugar Imbalances
Blood sugar spikes and drops illicit a stress hormone response from the adrenals that is ultimately intended to liberate stored sugars (glycogen) from the liver and fat cells and prepare our bodies for fight or flight. It's important to maintain blood sugar balance with regular eating (breakfast an hour after wakening, meals every four hours, snacks as needed) and healthy whole food choices.
Hot, spicy foods may provoke hot flashes in some women, but not all. Refined, processed foods and a diet high in carbohydrates is depleting to anyone, but particularly exacerbating for hot flashes as it's hard on the liver. Sugar alone may initiate heart palpitations. Keeping a food journal can help identify which foods are triggering and which aren't, but the foundation begins with a rainbow of low-glycemic vegetables (particularly cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts), antioxidant-rich fruits like dark berries, quality proteins, and unrefined fats. Yes, I did say FATS! The belief that fat is bad for you is archaic, disproved, and harmful to hormonal health. Grass-fed butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, nuts and seeds are very health-promoting when consumed in moderation. It's those adulterated 'vegetable" fats like shortening, margarine, canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, and more that should be avoided.
Caffeine, Alcohol, and Tobacco
Caffeine, alcohol (particularly red wine), and tobacco are all taxing to the adrenals. Caffeine can be a trigger for a hot flash regardless of where it's coming from: coffee, tea, energy drinks, even chocolate. Alcohol behaves similarly to sugar in the body and can prompt the release of adrenaline, thereby leading to a hot flash. It can also be hard on the liver and adrenals. Red wine often contains sulfites that can cause a skin rash, so those already sensitive to red wine may want to avoid it if they're experiencing hot flashes.
During perimenopause, the stage leading to menopause (defined as the absence of menstruation for at least 12 consecutive months), a woman's ovaries will reduce ovulation until it ceases entirely in menopause. In women of child-bearing age, progesterone will predominantly be made by a temporary endocrine gland known as the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum forms from the empty follicle (after releasing the egg) left behind during ovulation (day 14 of a menstrual cycle). This is such an important piece of women's health to understand because while the adrenals do manufacture some of our progesterone, the bulk is coming from the corpus luteum until we reach perimenopause and menopause when that responsibility falls to the adrenals. As ovulation ceases, we lose that source of progesterone, a hormone that in many ways counteracts the effects of estrogen. Estrogen also declines, but at about half the rate that progesterone does, often resulting in estrogen dominance marked by weight gain, low-functioning thyroid, decreased libido, and potentially hot flashes.
As is common of women in the Western World, stress is endured in ways not experienced by past generations. Women are working full-time jobs while still maintaining the family, the household, and extremely busy school and after-school activity schedules. As a result, stress can deplete the adrenals so critical to a smooth transition into menopause. It is for this reason that I always come back to adrenal health first!
No post on hot flashes would be complete without mentioning Black Cohosh! Black Cohosh, Actaea racemose or Cimicifuga, belongs to the buttercup family and is native to North America. While the exact mechanism of action in the body is unknown, black cohosh is a selective estrogen receptor modulator. Through balancing the action of estrogen, acting as an antioxidant, and/or modulating inflammation — this is how black cohosh has come to be known for its benefit with hot flashes. Well-publicized trials in the National Institute of Health database have shown black cohosh to "reduce menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and combinations of symptoms."
In the Hot Flash Mitigating Tonic formula from WishGarden Herbs, you'll find black cohosh root leading the way with additional support from raspberry leaf, vitex berry, wild yam root, borage aerials, bugleweed aerials, burdock root, and Lemon Balm leaf. This team of herbs helps to tonify, support healthy progesterone levels, strengthen the adrenals, cleanse and calm. This formula is a tonic and should be taken daily to reap the most benefit.
- Hooker, Linnea, et al. "Causes of Symptoms According to Louise Hay." The Alchemy of Healing, 22 July 2014.
- Mercola, Joseph. "Simple Strategies for Stopping Hot Flashes Naturally." Mercola.com, 31 July 2010.
- Northrup, Christiane. "Hot Flashes." Christiane Northrup, M.D., 30 Apr. 2015.
- "Office of Dietary Supplements - Black Cohosh." NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 30 Aug. 2018.
Writer Danielle Cicak is the Northern Colorado and Wyoming Sales Representative and Regional Educator for WishGarden Herbs located in Louisville, Colorado. In 2003, Danielle began her career working in the supplement aisles at Natural Grocers. Inspired to help others with their health and wellbeing, she pursued an education in holistic nutrition from the Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver, Colorado. As a Master Nutrition Therapist (MNT), Danielle served as a Nutritional Health Coach (NHC) before advancing to become the NHC Development Specialist where she led and developed the NHC training program for Natural Grocers. As a Colorado native, Danielle is thrilled to work with another local, family-owned business that promotes health and activism through education: WishGarden Herbs! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, creating healthy dishes in her kitchen, and enjoying the beauty Colorado has to offer!
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or to sell any product.