In case you missed it, PBS recently interviewed the lead researcher about her study of women and the duration of hot flashes and night sweats.
And the news wasn’t good.
Her team studied nearly 1500 women (aged 42–52 at baseline) who reported frequent vasomotor symptoms (6 days or more over a 2-week period) at least once during roughly 13 years’ follow-up. Vasomotor symptoms include hot flashes and night sweats.
The most common duration of VMS was 7.4 years. Women who were premenopausal or early in perimenopause when they first reported frequent VMS had the longest total VMS duration (most common duration >11.8 years) and these symptoms most commonly lasted 9.4 years after the last menstrual period.
That’s a lot of “personal days at the beach”.
Women who were postmenopausal when they first experienced symptoms had the shortest duration of problems (3.4 years).
African American women reported the longest total VMS duration (10.1 years). Additional factors related to longer duration of VMS were younger age, lower educational level, greater perceived stress and symptom sensitivity, and higher depressive symptoms and anxiety at first report of VMS.
What’s a Girl to Do??
VMS are one of the problems my clients most commonly complain about (right after weight gain and insomnia). Hormone replacement therapy helps, but I most commonly work with women who are hesitant about going this route for a variety of reasons.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers would have you believe that hormones and antidepressants are the way to go, but the truth is that lifestyle changes can be very effective. These include:
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol. These 2 are huge and in some cases have completely eliminated hot flashes and night sweats.
- Avoiding spicy foods.
- Avoiding processed foods. Eliminating sugar and lowering carbohydrate intake can be very effective.
- Exercising regularly. In perimenopausal women, frequency is more important than duration.
Consider the Alternatives
What’s interesting to me is the link between stress, anxiety and depression, and length of symptoms. Given this relationship, it’s clear that learning to de-stress and take personal time outs can make a difference in your experience.
Depression and anxiety are symptoms of perimenopause, but the study wasn’t designed to delve into whether or not the women in the study were suffering from clinical depression or a hormone imbalance. Distinguishing between these is important because the treatments are very different. Antidepressants can be useful for hot flashes, but they don’t solve the underlying imbalance.
Alternative practices such as acupuncture, mindfulness and meditation can also help reduce suffering. And using specific breathing techniques has been shown to reduce hot flashes by 44%. That’s better than any thing else that’s been studied (and it’s free!). Read more on that here.
Herbs and Supplements Can Make a Difference
The data on supplement use is lacking, but it’s unlikely that large scale studies will be done to prove efficacy. Supplements to consider include chasteberry, black cohosh, soy, clary sage oil, crinum latifolium (Crila®), fish oil, dong quai, DHEA, and progesterone cream. Many of these supplements are not appropriate for women with a history of estrogen sensitive cancer (breast, uterine), so if you have a personal history of this, ask your pharmacist before taking them. In my experience, clients have gotten the best results with progesterone cream.
As with all supplements, quality matters. Make sure you are buying from a quality manufacturer. You can read more about choosing supplements wisely here.
And remember, just because the symptoms CAN last up to 14 years doesn’t mean they will for you. Each woman’s journey is very unique. If you’re having trouble managing your symptoms, don’t suffer in silence. There are well-trained practitioners out there who can help you find relief. If you’re looking for a different direction for your menopause experience, I’d love to chat with you