Updated 19th April 2022

What to do if you’re experiencing hot flashes

Hot flashes are sudden and exaggerated surges of heat in your chest, neck, and face. They’re a common symptom of both menopause and perimenopause, the years leading up to this natural transition. 

When hot flashes occur during sleep, they’re referred to as night sweats. 

To help tackle hot flashes quickly, there are some steps you can take to be prepared, such as layering your clothes and bedding or carrying a small fan with you. 

There are also a number of natural approaches that may reduce the severity of hot flashes, and many of these are rooted in nutrition.

At ZOE, we run the largest study of nutrition and menopause in the world.

Our research has revealed that there are many differences between women before and after menopause, including changes to the way your body responds to food.

The ZOE at-home test analyzes your personal responses to foods so that you can find the best ones for you during or after menopause — or at any stage of life. You can take a free quiz to find out what ZOE can do for you.

Read on to learn more about how to stop hot flashes.

What changes in your body during menopause?

Menopause is a single moment in time when a woman hasn't had a period for 12 months in a row. Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause, when menopausal symptoms occur and periods change in nature and frequency. This can last for several years.

As you enter perimenopause, your body starts to make less of the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone (and also testosterone).

These hormones are involved in many different bodily functions, including regulating temperature. It isn’t completely clear what causes hot flashes, but it’s thought that fluctuations in hormone levels may be involved. 

Your risk of developing chronic health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes also increases during perimenopause and menopause. 

Eating the right foods for you may lower this risk by helping you to avoid the rises in blood sugar and blood fat after meals that are associated with these conditions in the long term. 

A decrease in muscle mass is common during menopause, too, so be sure to include enough high-quality sources of protein in your diet. 

You should also consider eating foods that promote bone health, as hormone changes can impact the strength of your bones and increase your risk of osteoporosis.

The ZOE at-home test can help you to understand how your body responds to different foods by analyzing your blood sugar and blood fat levels. You’ll also discover the unique range of bugs that live in your gut.

Below, we’ll look at changes you can make to your diet to help with hot flashes.

5 ways to help stop hot flashes fast

Menopause is different for every woman. Like many of the symptoms, hot flashes can vary in terms of frequency and severity.

You might continue to experience hot flashes for as little as 6 months or for as long as a decade, and sometimes even more. Some women may notice occasional mild discomfort, while others have regular extreme surges in heat that affect their overall quality of life. 

That’s why it's important to have strategies in place to help you stop hot flashes when they happen, and why you might want to look into natural remedies that could reduce them.

1. Quick help with hot flashes

Small things can make a big difference during hot flashes, and sometimes a little planning ahead can help you feel more comfortable. 

Some things to consider:

  • Keep a small fan with you. A handheld fan, maybe even one with a built-in mister, can provide immediate relief when your body temperature starts to rise.

  • Dress in layers. Being able to add or remove layers of clothes quickly as your temperature changes can help keep you comfortable.

  • Prepare for night sweats. If you often have hot flashes at night, consider sipping cold water before you go to bed and lowering the temperature of your room. Use layers of sheets and blankets that you can throw off, instead of a single heavy comforter.

2. Foods to eat and limit

Eating a diet that focuses on a variety of plants may help to reduce the frequency of hot flashes. 

A 9-year study involving over 6,000 women looked at the foods the participants ate and how often they experienced hot flashes.

Women who ate lots of fruit or followed a Mediterranean-style diet — including significant amounts of plants like garlic, peppers, mushrooms, and salad greens — reported having fewer hot flashes than women with different eating patterns.

The researchers noted that both the fruit and Mediterranean diets were high in fiber and had a low intake of trans fatty acids, which are found in many processed foods.

One of the reasons that eating more plants may help with hot flashes is that many of them contain compounds called phytoestrogens

Research into the effects of phytoestrogens is continuing. There are some studies that suggest they may be able to help reduce hot flashes by mimicking some of the functions of estrogen in your body. But better quality research is needed.

As well as eating more plants, you may also want to limit certain foods that can make hot flashes worse. These include coffee, spicy foods, and processed foods that are high in unhealthy fats and sugar. 

3. Lifestyle changes

Along with adjustments to your diet, there are other lifestyle changes you can make that may help with hot flashes:

  • Get help to stop smoking. If you smoke, quitting will not only benefit your overall health, but it could also reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes. According to research, the sooner you quit smoking, the better for your hot flashes. If you need support, there are lots of resources available to help you on your journey.

  • Maintain a moderate weight. Studies suggest that having a body mass index (BMI) above certain levels is associated with increased hot flashes and other health concerns during menopause. However, it’s important to be aware that there are limitations to BMI as a measurement and that everyone is different.

  • Try mindfulness. Although more research is needed, some early evidence suggests that mindfulness practices, such as hypnosis and meditation, may be able to help with hot flashes. 

4. Supplements and herbal remedies

Many women look to supplements and herbal remedies to help with hot flashes, but the evidence is not conclusive, and some come with health risks. Before taking any kind of supplement, make sure to talk to your doctor.

There is limited research to suggest that some supplements and herbal remedies might help with hot flashes. These include:

  • licorice

  • anise

  • pollen extract

  • black cohosh

  • ginseng

5. Medication

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a common treatment for women experiencing menopause symptoms, including hot flashes. HRT can help by rebalancing the levels of hormones in your body. 

For many women, HRT is a safe and effective treatment. But it does increase the risk of conditions like heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, and other complications for some women. 

HRT is available in a number of forms, including pills, patches, and creams. Recent evidence suggests that estrogen taken through the skin in combination with micronized progesterone when taken orally to be the best option for women who are at increased risk of complications.

Talk to your doctor to see if hormone therapy is right for you.

Summary

Hot flashes and night sweats are a common concern for women transitioning into menopause.

While the causes of hot flashes are not fully understood, many scientists believe they are related to changes in the levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone in your body.

To help stop hot flashes when they happen, you could choose to layer your clothing or your bedding so that you can remove it quickly, or to carry a small fan with you.

Hormone replacement therapy can be effective in reducing the number of hot flashes you get or how severe they are, but there are potential health risks to consider. 

Lifestyle changes may also help, like mindfulness techniques, quitting smoking, and maintaining a moderate weight.

There’s some evidence that the foods you eat are related to how often you get hot flashes. Consuming a high-fiber diet — including lots of fruits and vegetables — and reducing the amount of processed foods you eat may help reduce hot flashes.

At ZOE, our research has shown us that everyone responds differently to foods. The ZOE at-home test can help you to find the best foods for you at your current life stage.

You can take a free quiz today to see how ZOE can help you on your journey to better health.

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Cardiovascular risk in perimenopausal women. Current Vascular Pharmacology. (2019). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30280667/

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