Hot flashes are a nemesis for 75 percent of women during menopause. They begin during perimenopause and intensify during postmenopause.
A recent study found that
- Hot flashes and night sweats persist for an average of 7.4 years
- For many women they persist for more than a decade
- 42% of women aged 60-65 have moderate to severe hot flashes
What influences the number of hot flashes that you experience?
Stress increases the number of hot flashes that you experience. When you experience stress, your body automatically goes into a hardwired inbuilt survival mechanism called “fight or flight”, to help you deal with a threat or stressful event. It produces increased amounts of cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone.
The stress response also alters the levels of chemicals in your brain, called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters transmit thought from one brain cell to the next, allowing your brain cells to “talk to each other” in order to regulate the systems of your body.
The neurotransmitters associated with stress are epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and GABA.
Epinephrine and norepinephrine are excitatory neurotransmitters. They make you more alert. Your brain increases the levels of these neurotransmitters when you are stressed.
Serotonin and GABA are calming neurotransmitters. Your brain reduces their levels when you are stressed.
You will experience an increased number of hot flashes when your cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine levels are high and your serotonin and GABA levels are low.
How the stress response triggers hot flashes
What follows is the anatomy of the stress response and a hot flash
- cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine cause blood vessels to constrict (narrow)
- serotonin and GABA have the opposite effect on blood vessels. They cause them to dilate (expand)
- in the presence of increased levels of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine and decreased levels of serotonin and GABA, blood vessels are constricted
- when blood vessels are constricted, the flow of blood through them increases
- the increase in blood flow causes the body temperature to increase
- the body’s response to increased body temperature is a hot flash
Stress is the biggest trigger for hot flashes.
How much of an effect does stress have on hot flash frequency?
A study was conducted to determine the effect that stress has on hot flashes. The researchers found that
- Women who rated themselves as “moderately anxious”, due to life stresses, experienced three times as many hot flashes compared with women who were within “normal” anxiety range
- Women with “high” anxiety scores experienced five times as many hot flashes
How to reduce the frequency (and severity) of your hot flashes
Researchers have found that doing yoga, meditation, relaxation therapy or some other stress reduction technique, significantly reduces stress.
Yoga and its various techniques, increases tranquility and clarity of the mind.
Meditation is a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath etc for an extended period of time. This has a calming effect.
Relaxation therapy is a technique involving breathing therapy, which focuses on helping you relax each of your muscle groups. It has a calming effect.
These techniques slow the rate of your breathing and lowers your stress level. Cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine levels fall. Serotonin and GABA levels rise.
It has also been found that listening to music has the power to improve mood and reduce stress. Listening to music that you love, and that fits whatever mood you’re in, has been shown to lower cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine levels … while boosting serotonin and GABA levels.
Additionally, it is advisable to increase your intake of foods that are rich in vitamin B6, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), and vitamin C. These nutrients play an important role in your body’s regulation of cortisol and neurotransmitter levels. The levels of these nutrients are depleted by stress.
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