Hot flushes – the science from the fiction…

Hot flushes. They are annoying, hard to treat and scientists have not yet found any conclusive research as to why they happen, why they stay so long for some women or why we cannot shake them very easily.

It is thought by many doctors and scientists that hot flushes are a result of the hypothalamus not working properly, which is the section of the brain that regulates body temperature. It is thought that this part of the brain also controls the release of certain hormones, therefore meaning that when your hormone levels change, your neurotransmitters cause you to overheat.

The following information is taken from the UK Cancer Research website, which is the one of few places online where one can find a more in depth explanation about why hot flushes occur, instead of ‘hot flushes happen because of menopausal hormone changes’.

“In the past, doctors thought that hot flushes were caused only by lowering levels of oestrogen in women and testosterone in men. Researchers now suggest that this is part of the process but it may be more complicated than they first thought. They are looking into a number of possible causes.

One example is that the part of the brain called the hypothalamus controls the production of many hormones. This part of the brain also controls our body temperature. It may be that the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) the hypothalamus produces cause the hot flushes. We need more research to find exactly what causes flushes so that we can develop treatments.”

Hot flushes don’t just happen during menopause, but this is when they happen most commonly and menopause is what hot flushes are most associated with. Hot flushes can also occur as a result of eating disorders and head traumas, due to the nature of the affected parts of the brain associated with these conditions.

According to the Cancer Research UK website, men as well as women can experience hot flushes after cancer treatment, due to the drugs that are used to treat prostate and breast cancer, which contain hormones. Despite this, menopause is the most common cause of these waves of warmth and many women find them a hinderance to their everyday routine. Not to mention the sleepless nights.

Hot flushes can also happen as a result of stress, due to the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine which are released in our brains during stressful situations. So according to the research so far, I think it is safe to say that hot flushes are definitely hormone related.

But what can you do to try and reduce these overwhelming symptoms? There are many ‘old wives tales’ and sometimes it can be hard to differentiate the facts from the fiction. Below is a list of “do’s” and “don’t bother’s” to help you find a happy medium in the long list of supposed hot flush treatments talked about all over the internet.


– See your doctor about possible hormone management options for you if you feel that it is necessary.

– Adjust your diet to a more healthy one, this will boost your overall levels of health and help your brain to function better.

– Drink water – 2 litres a day – and keep cool generally by using light clothing, fans, cool sprays, natural fibres on your bed, and have cooler baths or showers. This will also do wonders for your skin and stop it feeling so dry.

– Avoid food and drink that is going to naturally turn up your heating – such as hot spices, caffeine, alcohol and hot drinks. This is because these foods trigger stimulation of nerve endings and dilate blood vessels which in turn causes your brain to produce a hot flush.

– Acupuncture has been known to reduce hot flushes and research on this subject looks promising, though more does need to be done to prove that this actually works for everyone.

– Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – which can be arranged via your local health service and helps you to manage your symptoms and stress, and train your brain to think in a different way which may in turn help you to overcome the everyday barriers of menopause – or generally any – symptoms or stressful situations which – let’s face it – we all face whether we are menopausal or not.

Don’t bother’s:

– Black Cohosh, soya, ginseng, evening primrose oil, angelica sinensis, red clover, wild yam and any other ‘herbal remedy’ that has no scientific research to back up it’s claims. Many women around the world have claimed to see a difference after using some of these remedies but as of yet, there are no scientific studies that have produced definitive results. On many occasions when some of these theories have been tested, the overall results often showed that there were no significant differences in the symptoms of women that had used these extracts, in comparison to women who had been given a placebo.

So there you have it, a starting point as to what to do next if you are worried about your menopause symptoms, or if you have started experiencing hot flushes but you are not sure why. You can also refer to our Helpful Hints and Tips page on the Menopause Skin Care Blog for how to look after your skin during menopause. The two links below will take you to the sites that you may find most useful/accurate, rather than having to trawl the net for information.

You’re welcome!

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