A hot flash is described as a sudden reddening of the skin over the head, neck and chest or even the entire body, accompanied by a feeling of intense body heat. The hot flash may last from several seconds to several minutes, rarely up to an hour. The frequency varies from rare to occurring every half hour. Some women sweat profusely; others just a little, or not at all. Hot flashes are usually preceded or followed by chills. Within two years after the last period, hot flashes will subside completely for the most part. However, for one third of women, they may continue well after that.
Hot flashes may be visible to others, but not usually. They can also be triggered by hot drinks, spicy food, alcohol, emotional stress, hot weather or overheated rooms. The key to handling hot flashes is to keep cool, dress in layers, carry a portable fan, avoid the triggering factors, and keep a sense of humour. The good news is that hot flashes are harmless.
Some women experience incapacitating hot flashes that seriously interfere with their sleep or work. They wake up drenched in sweat and have to change their nightgown and sheets three to four times a night. They may want to consider the risks and benefits of taking estrogen.
Alternative remedies, except for Ipriflavone, a patented soy derivative approved for the treatment of osteoporosis in Japan and Italy, have not been studied for their effect on bone loss. A recent New England Journal of Medicine article reported that soy protein reduces cholesterol. The antioxidant vitamins, especially vitamin-C and vitamin-E reduce the risk of heart disease.
Soy proteins contain 75 percent plant estrogens known as isoflavones which have been shown to relieve menopausal hot flashes. Two tablespoons of ground flax seed (which has a nutty taste) or two servings of soy foods daily should help get rid of hot flashes. A new cookbook entitled, Estrogen the Natural Way, Over 250 Easy and Delicious Recipes for Menopause , by Nina Chandler (Villard, 1997) provides new ways to add soy and flax seed to your diet.
In Chinese acupuncture, the twelve energy pathways of the body are balanced with acupuncture needles and herbs. Many women have had excellent relief of menopausal symptoms when they receive acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatments from an experienced practitioner.
Dong quai root (angelica sinensis) is famed in Chinese medicine for its affinity for the female constitution. It contains many plant estrogens that are about 1/400 as strong as prescription estrogens. Dong quai balances the amount of estrogen in the body and usually relieves hot flashes.
Panax ginseng, either Oriental or North American, will increase energy levels and metabolic rate, stimulate the immune system, and help normalize body functions. It works well for hot flashes, as well as stress, and mental and physical fatigue. It is not recommended for those who are anxious, or have insomnia or high blood pressure.
Vitamin-E enhances the effect of estrogen in the body and is helpful for hot flashes. One controlled study of 94 women showed that of women who received 200mg of vitamin-C combined with 200mg of bioflavonoids six times a day for hot flashes, 67 percent reported complete relief and 21 percent reported partial relief. Bioflavonoids have a very weak estrogenic effect about 1/50,000 that of estrogen.
Two food supplements, evening primrose oil and bee pollen are safe and effective for hot flashes.
Standardized black cohosh root has been well studied in Europe for over forty years. It improves all menopausal symptoms and has a good safety record. One randomized double blind study compared the results of 80 women selected to take Remifemin (black cohosh extract) premarin or a placebo. The first two groups both reduced their symptoms the same amount and both did better than the placebo group.
Natural remedies empower women with more choices during a challenging and often trying life transition.
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