One of the most disruptive things about the peri-menopause/menopause part of life is the experience of having hot flashes. Understanding what causes hot flashes in women through the menopause transition can be both enlightening and incredibly helpful toward controlling them!

What Causes Hot Flashes Through Menopause?

Hot flashes occur in up to 80% of women over the age of 40. Hot flashes can begin years before menopause and linger for just as many years afterward.

You probably guessed that estrogen - or lack thereof - is largely responsible for these incredible fits of sweat at any given point in the day. Estrogen is a family of steroid hormones that represents three different forms of estrogen: estriol, estradiol and estrone. Estriol is made by the placenta during pregnancy. Estrone is a weaker form of estrogen produced primarily in your fat cells. Estradiol is a very strong estrogen that is produced primarily in your ovaries. It's this hormone, when it diminishes, that creates the greatest amount of change in a woman's body throughout menopause. 

When you're officially in menopause - one year after your last menstrual cycle - your ovaries are done producing eggs. If you've had a hysterectomy and your ovaries have been removed, you're immediately in menopause. In an effort to motivate your ovaries to keep producing, your brain releases another hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). Even though your ovaries are maxed out on egg production, FSH is still hopeful you might be able to squeak out a few more so it increases the amount of this hormone.

It's this rise in FSH compounded with low estrogen that's responsible for your hot flashes.

In fact, if you suspect menopause is quickly approaching, one of the markers your doctor will look for in a blood test is the your level of FSH. Higher levels (over 30 IU/L) may indicate the transition toward menopause.

It's also worth noting that hot flashes are twice as likely to happen in women who've had a hysterectomy. In no way does this mean that a woman should avoid hysterectomies as many are done as a precaution or in response to cancer. It's just good information to know!

The Menopause Meal Plan

How Can You Help Control Hot Flashes Through Menopause?

While hot flashes are more of a nuisance than anything, nothing could be worse than sweat suddenly dripping from all parts of your body while at the grocery store or in the middle of a meeting at work. There is nothing wrong with you. It's perfectly normal.

Talk to your health care provider, preferably someone who has experience in women's health, like a gynecologist, about safe, alternative therapies.

On the lifestyle side, there are a few things that have shown promise in combatting hot flashes. Even though there is no guarantee that hot flashes in women through menopause will disappear completely, there are several ways to help control them. 

Lose 10 Pounds

I know! Easier said than done. However, a study of over 17,000 women published in the medical journal Menopause showed that those who lose just 10 pounds of fat were able to significantly reduce or eliminate hot flashes. Download the 6-week Menopause Meal Plan to start losing weight. 

Cut Back On Caffeine

You'll hear me say this a lot for other hormonal reasons, but again, research has shown that caffeine is often a culprit of hot flashes. If you don't think you can live without a cup of coffee in the morning, then try to limit caffeine consumption to no later than 9:00am.

Stop Smoking

The connection between smoking and hot flashes is great. Women who smoke have higher levels of testosterone to estrogen and lower levels of progesterone. It's the alteration in these hormones that increase hot flashes.

Ground Flax Seeds

Ground flax offers a 4-for-1 benefit. They're a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which are great for your brain, they're a good source of fiber, they're a good source of protein, and they're a good source of estrogen. While the research goes back and forth on the benefits of ground flax seed toward hot flashes, some studies show promise that 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed a day (in a smoothie or in oatmeal, for example), may help to control hot flashes.

Red Clover Extract

Some promising research has been done on the use of red clover extract as a treatment for peri-menopausal/menopausal women who are experiencing hot flashes.

Hormone Therapies

Of the most effective treatments of symptoms associated with menopause are hormonal therapies - either estrogen alone or estrogen with a form of progestogen. It's important that you discuss the best option for your body with a medical provider. All women have varying levels of certain hormones and different circumstances affect us (hysterectomy/no hysterectomy, etc.).