Menopause: 5 herbs to help with hot flushes
Posted on: 11 May 2015 by Claire Ward
5 herbs that can help to manage, and reduce hot flushes as experienced by menopausal women.
A very common symptom experienced by women going through menopause is hot flushes. This often has an impact on sleeping and can effect one’s general day-to-day life, which can be very distressing. The important thing to remember is that every woman may experience this at some stage, so you are not alone in what you’re going through.
These symptoms are thought to be due to the fluctuating levels of hormones: mainly oestrogen. During menopause, oestrogen levels fall dramatically. It is believed this fall in oestrogen has an effect on the way the hypothalamus (control centre in the brain) senses body temperature, which may result in over-heating. This then leads to a counter-response in an attempt to cool the body down. More blood is directed to the skin (one of the causes of hot flushes and reddening of the skin), and so the sweat glands start working to cool the body down (menopausal sweat).
Herbs to alleviate hot flushes
It is believed the main mechanism behind black cohosh and the reduction of hot flushes could be its ability to act similarly to the hormone oestrogen in the body due to it containing phytoestrogens (compounds that act like oestrogen). In mimicking oestrogen, black cohosh can work to reduce the incidence of hot flushes. A good dose would be somewhere between 40-80 mg per day.
This herb may help to reduce the incidence of night sweats. It contains oestrogen-like properties that can help to increase levels of oestrogen. More specifically, the sclareol (a chemical compound) it contains mimics the effects of oestrogen, and has an oestrogenic structure which is responsible for stimulating the body to make more oestrogen. A good dose per day would be 2500mg.
This herb also works to increase oestrogen via the isoflavones (chemical compounds with oestrogenic properties) it contains, which helps to reduce the severity of hot flushes both in the day and night. This can also help to improve sleep. The increase in oestrogen also helps to slow down loss of bone density, which can be another issue associated with menopause. The recommended dose per day for this is anywhere between 40mg to 200mg to treat hot flushes.
This herb is most useful in perimenopausal (pre-menopausal) symptoms, which normally pertains to hot flushes. Agnus castus is an adaptogenic herb, which means it can work to increase or decrease oestrogen levels in the body depending if there is a deficiency or not. A dose beneficial for hot flushes would be 200mg of the standardised extract per day, for at least three months.
As this herb helps to increase oestrogen also throughout the body, this is thought to aid in the reduction of hot flushes and night sweats. It also has a calmative effect on the system, helping you to go back to sleep if you have woken up due to night sweats. A dose beneficial to alleviate menopausal symptoms would be a minimum of a ¼ teaspoon per day, for at least 4 weeks.
Diets high in omega 3, organic foods, lean animal and plant proteins, whole grains and antioxidants, and low in saturated fats are generally beneficial for hormonal balance, as these are rich in the vitamins and minerals needed to balance hormonal levels. They also have anti-inflammatory properties which may help to manage symptoms such as hot flushes.
Spicy foods, alcohol, chocolate, lemon, hot liquids, caffeinated drinks, monosodium glutamate, and sodium nitrate found in cured meats such as hot dogs, bacon and ham, and sulphites found in red wine, dried fruits, and cheddar cheese are all common ‘trigger’ foods: that is, foods which can bring on hot flushes. Keeping a food diary may be useful in determining which of these may be causing your hot flushes.
Other triggers for hot flashes may be smoking, tight clothes, stress or hot environments, as these can affect hormonal balance, and trigger the hot flushes by causing inflammation, or by simply over-heating. That means that avoiding these may be helpful, or even minimising some of these may have a positive effect.
Things to consider
Please exercise caution if you are on any medication, as certain herbs should be avoided in some cases. It is best to inform your GP or a medical herbalist before starting any supplementation in case of any contra-indications.
Also certain conditions like diabetes may be affected by taking herbs such as sage, as this lowers blood sugar. People with heart disease should avoid taking motherwort. It is not advisable to take black cohosh, agnus castus or red clover in the case of liver disease, endometriosis, or cancer.
Claire Ward is a nutritional therapist and contributing author to Menopause Advice, a complete informational hub on menopause.