This normal and natural part of life happens when a woman exits her reproductive period; the body stops releasing eggs from the ovaries and hormone levels change. As the ovaries make less estrogen than before, a woman enters perimenopause. This stage occurs several years before menopause begins, but it’s in the last one or two years of perimenopause when women experience a severe drop off in estrogen levels, and menopause symptoms start.
Those symptoms range from vaginal dryness and mood swings to fatigue, depression and the dreaded hot flashes. The good news is there are several natural ways to combat hot flashes that can help alleviate the other uncomfortable symptoms of menopause at the same time. Here are eight natural foods and supplements that can help you weather this stage of your life.
1. Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil is one of nature’s powerhouse supplements, with 25 percent of the oil made of fatty acids including an omega-6 fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid or GLA, which can help relieve menopause symptoms. Numerous studies have found that evening primrose oil significantly reduces the intensity of hot flashes in menopausal women, and women at all stages of life swear by the supplement. A 2013 study found that subjects’ self-reported experience with hot flashes improved by as much as 39 percent when measuring frequency, severity and duration.
2. Soy milk
Soy products contain phytoestrogens, plant-based estrogen-like substances that can help balance out hormones in women who are estrogen-deficient. Since phytoestrogens mimic some of the natural estrogens in the human body, consuming them — in the form of soy milk and other soy products — can decrease hot flashes.
3. Fresh fruit
Fruit is rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin that also supports the production of collagen, something the body needs more of as we age. In citrus fruits — namely lemon — vitamin C pairs with hesperidin, which has been shown to calm hot flashes. In fact, according to a 2013 study, women who ate a Mediterranean-style diet with ample fruits, vegetables, red wine and pasta were less likely to experience hot flashes and night sweats. Over nine years, researchers found that the women in the experimental group of nearly 6,000 who ate pineapples, strawberries and melon and who followed the Mediterranean diet closely experienced a 20-percent decrease in symptoms when compared to the control group.
Omega-3 fatty acids help protect the body’s essential systems — the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal and immune systems — from wear and tear. These essential fatty acids can also help keep hot flashes to a minimum. Walnuts are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and provide a healthy plant-based alternative to other sources including salmon and shellfish.
5. Black cohosh
Studies since the 1950s have found that black cohosh helps to alleviate menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes. A review in 2010 found that black cohosh can reduce hot flashes and night sweats by 26 percent. Another review, this one published in 2013, found that women who took black cohosh experienced a significant reduction in multiple menopausal symptoms when compared to the control group. While there’s significant research to support the use of black cohosh for menopause symptoms, discuss this supplement with your healthcare provider before using it, as the herb may cause dangerous side effects for women with underlying medical conditions.
Flaxseed contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another essential omega-3 fatty acid. Ground flaxseed in particular — as opposed to flaxseed oil — has been shown to reduce hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. In fact, research shows that 40 grams of flaxseed, or roughly six tablespoons ground flaxseed, a day has a similar effect to hormone therapy for women suffering mild menopause symptoms. While getting six tablespoons of ground flaxseed in one meal might be difficult, it’s easy to add it to smoothies, oatmeal, rice dishes and homemade baked goods eaten throughout the day.
7. Coconut oil
One of my go-to ingredients is always coconut oil. Not only does it promote gut healing and weight loss, but it’s also incredibly useful when it comes to balancing hormones. The fatty acids in coconut oil help create, process and eliminate both progesterone and estrogen, bringing the two into balance.
Sage is another phytoestrogen food and as such makes for a great herb for combatting hot flashes and night sweats. Add a sprinkle of dried sage to your favorite dishes or look for herbal teas with sage in them to reap the benefits of this herb. Avoid the herb if you’ve had breast cancer, though, as it’s a powerful estrogen mimic.
Avoid these foods
While the above foods and supplements can help reduce the intensity and frequency of your hot flashes, the following foods are known to cause hot flashes. Women experiencing menopause should be wary of:
- Spicy food
- Hot drinks
- Excessive dairy
- Excessive red meat
Each of these ingredients is pro-inflammatory and can cause hormonal imbalances that will only make menopausal matters worse.
No matter what natural solution you choose for your hot flashes, remember they’re only temporary. Try to breathe through them, take care of yourself and exercise some self-compassion. Hot flashes are natural, no matter how uncomfortable they can be.