Being a college instructor of the Science of Nutrition and a 49-year-old woman who grew tired of ripping off her winter coat due to the sudden eruption of yet another internal inferno, I set out to determine if women can follow a diet for menopause hot flashes relief.
What I found helped me tweak my already healthy diet, and while it did not completely stop my menopause hot flashes, the easy changes did cool things down considerably.
In this article, I share how you can change your diet for menopause hot flashes relief.
You’ll learn the fundamental food choices that work best as well as a few supplements that have been shown to be beneficial.
And, perhaps the best news of all is that the side effect of these natural, non-hormonal treatments for hot flashes is weight loss.
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[Video] Diet for Menopause Hot Flashes & Weight Loss
What Causes Menopause Hot Flashes?
Oh my gosh, it’s hot in here?
Is anyone else boiling?
Wait…what’s going on?
Your first hot flash can be quite an experience. And, because hot flashes often start before your periods become irregular, they can catch you off guard.
So what causes these personal sauna baths?
As it turns out that’s a good question that science has been trying to figure out for a long time.
While no clear cause of menopause hot flashes has been identified, there seems to be no doubt that they are triggered by the low levels of hormones that accompany menopause.
The average age of menopause is 51 years old. Around this age, the ovaries become less efficient at producing their two main hormones: progesterone and estrogen.
The simplest way to understand these hormones is this…
Progesterone is associated with ovulation, which is the monthly release of the egg from the ovary. During your reproductive years, ovulation is the short window in which pregnancy can happen.
Estrogen is associated with the buildup of the uterine lining. If pregnancy does not occur, this lining is what is sloughed off during your monthly period.
As you move into your late 40s, the routine production of progesterone and estrogen can misfire.
If progesterone is not produced, it indicates that you did not ovulate. This sets up a condition called estrogen dominance, which I discuss in my posts titled Menopause and Belly Fat. (If you have experienced weight gain and mood swings as a pre-menopausal woman, that post will help you understand why.)
If estrogen is not produced early in the menstrual cycle, the uterine lining will not build up and you will “miss your period.” When you’ve missed your period for 12 straight months, you’ve hit menopause.
Will My Hot Flashes Last Forever?
Since menopause hot flashes are associated with low estrogen levels, you might be thinking that you are doomed to have them for the rest of your life.
Fortunately, that is rarely the case. Although the duration of hot flashes varies among individuals as well as ethnic groups, they typically run their course in seven years (1).
While that provides some reassurance, seven years may seem like a long time to endure these blasts of heat.
Later in this post, I give you the dietary changes you can make to cool or stop hot flashes, but first, let’s explore how your current weight factors into the severity of your hot flashes.
How Your Weight at Menopause Affects The Severity of Hot Flashes
A study showed that women with the highest BMI (Body Mass Index) experience the worst hot flashes initially (1).
BMI is a basic measurement used to classify individuals from underweight to obese. If you have a high BMI, you’re classified as obese.
The initial spike in hot flash intensity among overweight women makes it seem as if the problem is linked to weight. However, after the initial onset of hot flashes, the data starts to blur.
There are some who believe that carrying around more fat (i.e. having a high BMI) could lessen the severity of hot flashes. Why?
The Diet-Related Factors That Make Menopause Hot Flashes Worse
To better figure out how diet and menopause hot flashes are linked, scientists decided to take a woman’s weight out of the equation.
A study done on women with normal BMIs (i.e. not overweight), found that those with the most severe hot flashes had these things in common:
- High leptin levels (indicates leptin resistance)
- High insulin levels, (indicates insulin resistance)
- High fasting glucose levels (indicates insulin resistance)
- Low adiponectin levels (adiponectin is a protein that protects against inflammation)
The Takeaway: Women with the most severe hot flashes were leptin resistant, insulin resistant, and had higher than normal inflammation (2). These are all problems that are directly related to a poor diet.
Severe Menopause Hot Flashes Related to Insulin Resistance and Leptin Resistance
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance and leptin resistance are the results of a poor diet, mainly a diet that is high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, grains, and processed foods.
Insulin resistance literally means that your body cells are resistant to the influence of insulin.
When the carbohydrates you eat break down into sugar, insulin is a hormone that tells the sugar where to go.
Some sugar goes into your muscle and liver cells, where they are stored as easy-to-access energy. The remaining sugar gets stored away in your fat cells as fat (i.e. your long-term energy reserves).
If you feed yourself a steady supply of sugar and carbohydrates, insulin stays elevated and constantly attacks your cells with orders to take in more sugar.
Over time, your cells get tired and stop responding to insulin’s demands. This is insulin resistance.
To force the cells to respond, your pancreas pumps out more insulin leaving you with the high blood insulin levels seen in women with severe hot flashes.
What is Leptin Resistance?
Leptin resistance is similar to insulin resistance. Leptin is a hormone made by your fat cells.
In a body that is functioning properly, the presence of leptin signals satiety and shuts down hunger. It also instructs the fat cells to start burning fat.
However, cells can become resistant to leptin’s influence in the same way they become resistant to insulin.
If you overfeed your fat cells with the daily (or hourly) intake of sugar, carbs, and processed foods, leptin loses its effectiveness, and you become leptin resistant, which, again, is a condition seen in women with the most severe hot flashes.
How to Eat to Relieve Menopause Hot Flashes
A diet for menopause hot flashes relief should be aimed at curing insulin and leptin resistance and reducing inflammation. There are also some supplements that have proven to be helpful.
Diet to Relieve Menopause Hot Flashes:
- Eat Whole Foods and Avoid Processed Foods
- Eat a High-Fiber Diet
- Include Healthy Fats
- Supplement your diet with Maca Powder
Eat Whole Foods
Foods that have not been refined or processed contain higher amounts of vitamins and minerals. These nutrients act as antioxidants and protect your cells from damage allowing them to perform at their best.
Nutrient-dense, whole foods are also free of preservatives and additives that can cause inflammation.
To give your diet a nutritional boost…
Eat These (Whole Foods):
- Non-Starchy Vegetables (fresh or frozen)
- Raw Nuts and Seeds
- Low-Glycemic Fruits (i.e. lemons, limes, avocados)
- Poultry, Seafood, Meats (preferably grass-fed)
Not These (Processed Foods):
- Fruit Juices
- Energy Bars
- Veggie Chips, Potato Chips, Crackers
- Processed Grains (i.e. bread, instant oatmeal)
- Processed Dairy (i.e. sugar-added yogurt, fake cheese products, ice cream)
- Processed Meats (i.e. lunch meats)
Eat a High-Fiber Diet
The average person takes in 15 grams of fiber per day, which is half of the amount I recommend.
A daily diet that consistently hits 30 grams of fiber or more keeps blood sugar and insulin levels low, putting you on the road to recovery from insulin resistance and leptin resistance.
Look for foods with the best fiber-to-carbohydrate ratio, such as non-starchy vegetables, beans, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Include Healthy Fats
We know that a diet high in sugar and starchy carbs (i.e. grains, rice, potatoes, corn) makes insulin resistance and leptin resistance worse, so these foods need to be avoided or strictly limited.
But, if you cut out fun carbs without replacing them with something even more satisfying, you’ll fall victim to cravings.
The solution is to make sure your diet includes plenty of healthy fats.
Foods that are naturally high in fat satisfy hunger without causing a spike in blood sugar and insulin.
Therefore, replacing carbs with healthy fats helps your body overcome insulin resistance and leptin resistance without the nagging hunger pangs.
Soy and Other Phytoestrogens: Do They Help?
Soy products are controversial. There is some evidence that eating soy products, like edamame, tofu, miso soup, and soy milk helps relieve menopause hot flashes. But, the jury is still out on the overall health of these plant foods.
How Does Soy Affect Menopause Hot Flashes?
Soy is classified as a phytoestrogen, which literally means “plant estrogen.” The chemical structure of soy mimics that of estrogen, so it acts as a weak estrogen inside your body.
The specific phytoestrogens found in soy are isoflavones called genistein.
A study published in the journal, Endocrine found this particular substance to be beneficial in lessening hot flashes in women with a lot of abdominal fat (3)
The Problems with Soy-Derived Foods are Many:
They are heavily contaminated with pesticides and they are one of the most genetically modified foods grown in the United States.
Soy contains goitrogens, which are substances that depress thyroid function.
Soybeans are high in phytic acid, which is a substance that can block your body’s ability to absorb essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc (4).
For these reasons, I do not recommend soy products, unless they are organically grown and consumed in small amounts.
Other Plant Estrogens That Might Relieve Hot Flashes
Because of the controversy that surrounds soy, I avoid it.
However, I have increased my intake of other natural phytoestrogens by eating more chickpeas and flaxseeds, which are two foods that have relatively powerful phytoestrogens.
Flaxseed contains lignans, which is a class of phytoestrogens. In her book, The Hormone Cure, Dr. Sara Gottfried discussed a study that showed how the addition of flaxseed into your diet could be used to reduce hot flashes.
The study showed that eating two tablespoons of ground flaxseed twice a day (a total of 30g) for six weeks reduced the frequency of hot flashes by half and lowered the intensity by 57%.
Maca Powder and Other Supplemental Ingredients
Home remedies claiming to stop menopause hot flashes are easy to find on the Internet. But many of these claims are not backed up by science.
Below, I include a few home remedies that have been shown to have some scientific basis, including my favorite – Maca Powder
Soon after I started experiencing hot flashes, I began adding Maca Powder to my morning smoothie, and wow! It was like a switch that instantly cooled my hot flashes.
Was this merely a coincidence?
I don’t think so. There is scientific evidence that Maca Powder works for relief from hot flashes and night sweats.
Maca is an herb from Peru that has been well-researched and proven to increase estrogen (mainly estradiol) in menopausal women.
Not only will this help with hot flashes, but it may also help you sleep better, improve your mood, and boost your energy level (5).
But, it’s important to note that there is no such thing as a magic pill.
If you eat a poor diet that doesn’t meet the nutritional needs of your aging body, no supplement in the world will help.
Do you need help crafting a menopausal diet plan? Then I invite you to follow this link and check out my Freedom Weight Loss Coaching Program.
Other Supplemental Ingredients That May Help Relieve Hot Flashes
To be complete, I am including a list of supplemental ingredients that you can add to your diet to help your body overcome hot flashes.
While the evidence to support the effectiveness of these products is not as strong, they are natural, non-hormonal treatments for menopause hot flashes. [SOURCE: The Hormone Cure]
Herbal Tea. There is some evidence that caffeine may increase hot flashes by lowering estrogen (i.e. estradiol) levels in your body.
You might benefit by replacing your caffeinated coffee with herbal tea with rhubarb. Rhubarb (which can also be eaten) has been shown to have some benefits for cooling hot flashes and improving sleep.
Pomegranate seed oil. A study published in the journal Menopause showed that 30 mg taken twice a day reduced hot flashes.
Vitamin E and Magnesium. Vitamin E (50-400 IU/day) and magnesium (400-800mg/day) have been shown to help cool hot flashes.
Black Cohosh. Black cohosh (40-80mg/day) has been shown to boost estrogen levels, but don’t overdo it. Taking in too much can harm your liver, so be sure to tell your doctor about your plans to add this to your diet.
Putting It All Together: How to Tweak Your Diet for Menopause Hot Flashes Relief
We’ve learned that the best diet for menopause hot flashes relief is one that corrects insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and inflammation.
You can get these conditions under control and lose weight by eating a whole food diet that is high in fiber, moderate-to-high in healthy fats, and low in sugar, refined carbs, and processed foods.
A few supplemental ingredients can be added to your diet to relieve hot flashes. My top picks are Maca Powder, ground flaxseed, and chickpeas.
(1) Santoro, N., MD. (2017, January). Feed a hot flash, starve a hot flash? Menopause. Retrieved June 18, 2017, from https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/Citation/2017/01000/Feed_a_hot_flash,_starve_a_hot_flash_.1.aspx
(2) Huang W-Y, Chang C-C, Chen D-R, Kor C-T, Chen T-Y, Wu H-M (2017) Circulating leptin and adiponectin are associated with insulin resistance in healthy postmenopausal women with hot flashes. PLoS ONE 12(4): e0176430. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176430
(3) Bitto, A., Arcoraci, V., Alibrandi, A. et al. Endocrine (2017) 55: 899. doi:10.1007/s12020-016-0968-8
(4) Fallon, S., & Enig, M., Ph.D. (n.d.). Newest Research on the Dangers of Soy. Retrieved June 19, 2017, from https://www.mercola.com/article/soy/avoid_soy.htm
(5) Brooks et al., (2008). Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content. Menopause 15(6)
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.