Hormones, like younger siblings, are often blamed for everything ― sometimes unfairly so. That said, hormones can be responsible for weight gain, weight loss, fatigue, pain, brain fog, fluctuating sex drives and more. They’re also responsible for the hot flashes and night sweats that women experience, especially before and during menopause.
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You likely know the feeling ― the heat wave and pool of sweat that cascades over your whole body out of the blue. These furious flashes can affect how you feel, how you sleep, and whether you’re mad, happy or some combination of the two (mappy?!).
Why you get hot flashes
Hot flashes happen because of changing estrogen levels. Estrogen, as you know, regulates many functions in your body, and plays a role in the development of secondary sexual characteristics (like breasts and hips). When interacting with other hormones, it also performs various functions, like giving women the ability to get pregnant and deliver children. As you age, those estrogen levels go up and down like a pogo stick.
This fluctuation interferes with your body’s ability to maintain a steady blood flow, because changing levels of estrogen can cause your blood vessels to constrict or dilate. When the levels bounce around, it creates a not-so-rhythmic change of pace between the constricting and dilating of these vessels, meaning that it’s very possible for you to experience surges of blood. That ― and the fact that estrogen has a role to play in regulating body temperature ― is what causes you to feel the heat.
Ultimately, eating the When Way (that’s eating only when the sun is up) ― with plenty of fruits and vegetables ― will help normalize blood flow, as fiber helps to stabilize everything. And if you’re experiencing a lot of hot flashes, wellness expert Michael Roizen, MD, says you can use food to help calm them down.
Of course, food cannot fix everything, so if your hot flashes are really bothering you, discuss them with your doctor.
Here, Dr. Roizen explains what foods to load up on and what to avoid:
MVPs: Soybeans. Soy contains compounds (called genistein and daidzen) that have been shown to help control hot flashes in some studies. Foods like tofu and soybeans contain phytoestrogens, which help mimic biological estrogen and may help control hormonal levels. Great news: Almost all edible beans, like edamame, may have a positive effect, so make sure your diet is rich with them. Even better news: Large trials of moderate amounts of soy do not increase breast cancer risk.
Key players: The traditional Mediterranean diet seems to be the long-term solution for helping control hot flashes. In one study, women who followed this diet ― with lots of vegetables, whole-grain noodles and red wine ― were 20% less likely to experience hot flashes and night sweats.
Cut from the team: Coffee. A study found that caffeine intake is associated with more bothersome hot flashes. The caffeine in coffee can also elevate your heart rate and cause dehydration, which may intensify those feelings. You can always have decaf if you’re craving it, and green tea (in moderation) to help prevent caffeine withdrawal.
This article was adapted from the best-selling book “What to Eat When” by Michael F. Roizen, MD, and Micheal Crupain, MD, MPH with Ted Spiker (©2018 National Geographic Books)