Is it hot in here? Get seven effective, non-hormonal approaches for dealing with the dreaded hot flash, a sign of menopause, from Michael T. Murray, N.D., author of What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know: The Alternative Treatments That May Change Your Life — and the Prescriptions That Could Harm You.
Exercise: Regular physical exercise definitely reduces the frequency and severity of hot flashes. In one study, women who spent an average of 3.5 hours per week exercising had no hot flashes whatsoever, whereas women who exercised less were more likely to have hot flashes.
The most important dietary recommendation may be to increase the consumption of plant foods, especially those high in phytoestrogens, while reducing the consumption of animal foods. Phytoestrogens are plant-derived substances that are able to weakly bind to the estrogen receptors in mammals and have a very weak, estrogen-like effect in some tissues and a weak antiestrogen effect in other tissues. Soybeans and flaxseeds have a high content of phytoestrogens. Many other foods, such as other legumes, apples, carrots, fennel, celery, and parsley, contain smaller amounts of phytoestrogens. A high dietary intake of phytoestrogens is thought to explain why hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms appear to occur less frequently in cultures consuming a predominantly plant-based diet. In addition, such a diet is promising for disease prevention; some research shows a lower incidence of breast, colon, and prostate cancer in those consuming high-phytoestrogen diets.
Soy: Some clinical studies have shown eating soy foods (the equivalent of 2?3 cup of soybeans daily) to be effective in relieving hot flashes and vaginal atrophy. Not all studies show a consistent benefit, but when an increased soy intake helps reduce hot flashes or night sweats, it is generally in the range of a 30 percent to 55 percent reduction in these symptoms. This means that soy can help, but it is not likely to eliminate hot flashes. Currently, many soy products can be found in most grocery stores, and some unusual ones can be found in natural foods stores. They include dried soybeans, soy oil, soy milk, soy flour, roasted soy nuts, tofu, tofu pate, tempeh, miso, soy sauce, natto, edamame, soy ice cream, soy cheese, soy candy bars, soy burgers and hot dogs, and soy marshmallows. The active components of soy are thought to be phytoestrogens known as isoflavones, but there is evidence that eating soy foods is more effective than taking soy isoflavone supplements. Nonetheless, supplements containing soy isoflavones can also be used to deal with menopausal symptoms as well as possibly promote bone and cardiovascular health. The dosage should be in the same range as the dietary level of isoflavones in the traditional Asian diet, i.e., 45 to 90 mg per day of isoflavones. Again, my experience is that soy can help, but it is not strong enough on its own to eliminate hot flashes. For the greatest benefit, I would recommend focusing on dietary sources rather than taking a supplement.
Flaxseeds: Flaxseeds contain lignans, a different class of phytoestrogens. These are fiber compounds that can bind to estrogen receptors. Possibly, they help reduce menopausal symptoms and at the same time interfere with the carcinogenic effects of estrogen on breast tissue. Clinical studies in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women show that flaxseed can improve the body’s ability to metabolize estrogen in a manner associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. The best and by far the easiest way to gain the benefits of flaxseed is to use FortiFlax from Barlean’sOrganic Oils. This product is available at most health food stores; it contains ground flaxseeds in a special nitrogen-flushed container for maximum freshness. Grinding makes flaxseed lignans more bioavailable. Take 1 or 2 tablespoons daily. It can be easily added to foods like salads, smoothies, spreads, and yogurt.
Also, you can choose one or more of the following:
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa). Black cohosh extract is the most well-researched and most popular herbal treatment for menopausal symptoms. Many, but not all, studies show very positiveresults. For example, in one study, when 80 patients were given either black cohosh extract (two tablets twice daily, providing 4 mg of 27-deoxyacteine daily) conjugated estrogens (0.625 mg daily), or a placebo for 12 weeks, the black cohosh extract produced the best results. The number of hot flashes experienced each day dropped from an average of five to less than one in the group taking black cohosh. In comparison, flashes dropped from 5 to 3.5 in the group taking estrogen. Even more impressive was the effect of black cohosh on building up the vaginal lining. The dosage of black cohosh extract used in the majority of clinical studies has been enough to provide 2 mg of 27-deoxyacteine twice daily. I prefer to recommend herbal combination products for menopause that provide additional components such as dong quai (Angelica sinensis) and chaste berry (Vitex agnus-castus). However, the dosage of these products is still based on delivering the effective dosage of 2 mg of 27-deoxyacteine twice daily from black cohosh.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) extract. Red clover is very rich in phytoestrogens similar in action to soy isoflavones. Promensil is a patented red clover extract that has shown beneficial effects in some double-blind studies in women with menopausal symptoms at a dosage of 40 to 80 mg daily.
Gamma-oryzanol (ferulic acid). This compound is found in grains and isolated from rice bran oil. Gamma-oryzanol was first shown to be effective for menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, in the early 1960s. Subsequent studies have further documented its safety and effectiveness. In one study, 85 percent of the subjects who took 300 mg daily reported improvement in menopausal symptoms.