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Menopausal in the summertime: How to fight hot flashes

Lisa Armstrong is the mother of two grown daughters, a yoga practitioner, an educator and a long-time freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness, and historical topics that affect humanity's personal and collective well-being.

Cool down your internal heat

Opening the fridge door to cool off? Feeling down but don't know why? You could be starting perimenopause. Here are some useful tips to navigate this life change.
Woman having hot flash in office

Perimenopause — the transition that starts in your 40s — can last as long as a decade, so new paths through this stage of life can be more than handy!

Anatomy of a hot flash

You've probably heard about the most common symptoms of this phase — hot flashes. "Although 75 percent of women experience hot flashes, their underlying physiology isn't well understood," says Rebecca Thurston, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh researching connections between hot flashes and the risk of heart disease.

What is known is that hot flashes result from changes in estrogen levels and to the area of the brain that regulates your body's temperature. During a hot flash, your body dilates the blood vessels near the skin's surface to disperse an internal heat wave that flows up your neck to your face and head. Your heartbeat increases, and you may experience slight nausea. When the cycle of a hot flash is over, you could even shiver from a chill.

Fun, right? Well, hold onto your hormones, as here are some expert tips to help you survive hot flashes during even the most intense of summer's blazing temperatures!

Tips to tame the hot-flash monster

  1. Keep a cold towel or scarf around or near your neck. Personal cooling devices can be as simple as a wet towel that has been iced in the freezer. More sophisticated devices can be worn around the neck during the day or while you sleep. Scarves, vests and even cold palm-sized pouches can relieve a sudden flood of heat.
  2. Carry a spray mister filled with rose water or other fragranced waters in your purse. Spray the mist over the back of the neck. Or dab undiluted lavender essential oil on your wrists or temples.
  3. Eat regular, light meals and drink lots of water. Combat hot flashes by eating more calcium- and magnesium-rich foods, and foods containing vitamin E — like cold-pressed oils, green leafy vegetables, almonds and other nuts, whole grains and fresh vegetables. Herbalist Susun Weed also recommends sea vegetables such as kelp for their beneficial effects on hot flashes. Besides your diet, "One of the best things you can do during this time is to drink plenty of water — at least two quarts daily," writes Phyllis Balch, author of Prescription for Dietary Wellness. "Drinking water replaces fluids lost to perspiration during hot flashes and can even prevent or minimize the hot flashes themselves."
  4. Some women have hot flashes from eating heavily spiced foods and high-carb meals. Tone down your seasonings and rely on fresh fruits and veggies, and lean meats or other sources of protein. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, both of which can trigger hot flashes.
  5. Invest in a personal fan. Besides getting that blown-back high-fashion look, a personal fan can come to your aid when you're sweating and your face is turning beet-red. Based on her own discomfort from hot flashes, Dr. Laurie Klein, a dermatologist, was inspired to create the ReJuvenAir Medical Fan. complete with an automatic timer.
  6. Sleep may be difficult to come by if you're sweating from surges of hormones. Consider meditation or light yoga before bed, to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
  7. Relax. You might find relief from deep breathing or using other stress-reduction methods. "Women complain that they have more hot flashes when they're stressed," says Judith Volkar, physician at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Specialized Women's Health. Deep breathing exercises, called paced breathing, may help regulate your body temperature and decrease hot flashes. Take slow, deep breaths from your belly. Practice twice a day for 15 minutes, and any time you feel a hot flash coming on.

Try something new and enjoyable to do. Express yourself through music, acting or dance to help deal with stress and anxiety as your body (and mind) change.

Need a little more convincing? One group of filmmakers decided to take a humorous approach to address menopause symptoms and treatments. The result? Hot Flash Havoc, a laugh-out-loud documentary that mixes expert advice with everyday conversation.

"We have worked four years with over 57 experts and hundreds of organizations to make this movie change the course of women’s health," said executive producer Heidi Houston. Here's a look at the official trailer.

Contact the North American Menopause Society for a list of practitioners who specialize in working with women going through perimenopause or menopause.

More tips on managing menopause

Perimenopause: Leading up to menopause
Managing menopause: Hot flashes
Menopause: Celebrating the change

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