What Causes Hot Flashes?
The Hot Flash is still not fully understood; researchers have only recently determined that measured hormonal changes take place during a flash. Diminished estrogen levels are somehow responsible, but exactly in what way remains a bit unclear. Withdrawal of estrogen causes an increase in the levels of the hormones FSH and LH. The brain center that secretes these hormones, the hypothalamus, directs many body functions, including body temperature, sleep patterns, metabolic rate, mood, and reaction to stress. The higher the levels of FSH and LH, the more the blood vessels dilate, or enlarge, this increases blood flow to the skin, which in turn raises its temperature.
Other hormones and body chemical levels also seem to fluctuate in response to altered estrogen levels, and may participate in triggering a hot flash. Two neurotransmitters, epinephrine and norepinephrine, interact with the hypothalamus, thus helping to control dilation and contraction of blood vessels. The beta-endorphins which are the brain's natural mood controller, drop in response to lowered estrogen and progesterone levels, and may also be involved. Hormones do not operate in a vacumn, and a rise or fall in any one creates a cascading interplay that can affect any number of bodily functions.
Natural Treatments for Hot Flashes
Fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fruit eaten as unprocessed as possible and uncontaminated by insecticides, artificial coloring agents or preservatives, or other toxic ingredients, means good nutrition. Considering the present methods of meat production, it makes sense to minimize consumption of these. Eggs are fine, as well as modest servings of ocean fish and fowl (most insecticides are fat soluble and found primarily in the skin of fowl and fish). While vegetable and seed oils obtained by high-pressure squeezing should be avoided because of trans-fatty acids, olive oil does not require such high-pressure squeezing and is O.K. Flaxseed oil, walnut oil, Evening Primrose oil, and pumpkin oil are all especially nutritious because of their complement of oil essential fatty acids ( i.e. linoleic acid and a-linolenic acid).
Treatments that stabilize the autonomic nervous system (which controls involuntary responses) may temper hot flashes. Regular moderate exercise decreases FSH and LH levels, reducing and possibly eliminating symptoms. The hypothalamus regulates the menstrual cycle, body temperature, and the autonomic nervous system. During menopause, it becomes supersensitive to outside signals exercise can stabilize it and help restore more normal hormonal levels.
Supplementation with natural progesterone is a clinical decision based on signs and symptoms of estrogen dominance, listed below.
Signs and Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
Breast swelling, fibrocystic breasts
Water retention, edema
Premenstrual mood swings, depression
Loss of libido
Heavy or irregular menses
Craving for sweets
Weight gain, fat deposition at hips and thighs.
Hot flushes are not a sign of estrogen deficiency, per se, but are due to heightened hypothalamic activity ( vasomotor lability) secondary to low levels of estrogen and progesterone which, if raised, would produce a negative feedback effect to the pituitary and hypothalamus. Estrogen receptors in these areas become more sensitive, and hot flushes usually subside, once progesterone levels are raised. Measuring FSH and LH levels before and after adequate progesterone supplementation, will validate this mechanism.
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