Did you know that there are certain foods that trigger hot flashes?
In menopausal women, estrogen levels plummet, and body temperature skyrockets, making our internal thermostats go on what feels like a permanent fritz.
As a result, we react to foods and external stimulants in crazy ways at this oh-so glorious time.
Scenario: Have you ever been at a table eating hot soup (in the winter), and in less than half a second, you want to dump a glass of cold water over your head and rip your shirt off simultaneously just to cool down the raging inferno that just erupted inside of you?
Welcome to the food-triggered HOT FLASH. Where there is no place to run. No place to hide.
If you want to gain some control over your menopausal symptoms, especially the hot flash, making lifestyle changes should be a priority beginning in your 40s.
A healthy diet adopted in perimenopause and carried out throughout the menopausal transition (and beyond) can help offset both the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
Adopting a diet of healthy fats, leafy greens, and calcium-rich foods while drinking plenty of water can be a great way to begin.
Regular daily exercise, including cardio and strength training, also helps our quality of life by:
- benefiting bone health
- reducing insulin resistance
- lowers the risk of breast cancer
THE CROWDING OUT THEORY
When I went through my Holistic Nutrition program, I learned a concept called the "Crowding Out" theory.
The idea was simple: crowd out all the foods that are not good for you with all the foods that are.
This allowed the body to be saturated with the nutrients it needed and not crave foods that weren't of value.
Humans typically crave calorie-dense foods: fried, fatty, sweet and savory.
Current nutrition reports that these food cravings usually occur in the late afternoon and evening.
Hunger and cravings are not the same, however.
Cravings are more psychological and emotional.
Therefore, finding the right foods to "swap out" can help create a healthy menopause diet.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF FOOD DEPRIVATION
Have you ever been told that you shouldn't eat something and you can't stop obsessing over it?
Or have you ever been on an elimination diet, and all you want are the foods you aren't allowed to have?
Psychological experiments show that short-term food deprivation increases your cravings for that food!
Yup, the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve happens.
However, there is a difference between knowing what triggers your uncomfortable symptoms and choosing differently to help change your outcome.
MY Clinical Experience
I treated a patient who was trying to get pregnant many years ago.
She revealed that she ate hot sauce with everything and had one bowel movement per week!
I told her it might be wise to forego the hot sauce for a month to see if she could stop scorching her gut.
Reluctantly, she gave up the hot sauce. Although, she began obsessing about not having her beloved sauce because she felt deprived of what she loved to eat!
She was shocked when she started having daily bowel movements and was pregnant the following month.
It seems crazy, but shows how foods can strongly influence our hormones and overall health.
THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Unfortunately, no specific dietary guidelines have been set for women in Menopause.
However, research from a popular nutrition journal recently reported that menopausal women would benefit from a Mediterranean diet.
The two most significant menopausal symptoms beyond hot flashes and night sweats are weight gain and increased abdominal fat storage.
Visceral fat, the fat around and/or in our belly, is the most dangerous place for fat to be stored.
The area known as the "menopot," "muffin top," or "spare tire" is due to hormonal changes.
Hormonal changes cause inflammation which can lead to heart disease and contribute to high blood pressure as aging women.
Eat plenty of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-promoting foods such as:
- extra virgin olive oil (high in essential fatty acids)
- flax seeds / nuts
- a glass of wine
- whole-grain foods
THE SAD DIET
The Standard American Diet differs from the Mediterranean-style diet plan.
Fast foods, white bread, and high sodium from packaged goods wreak havoc on menopause symptoms.
In addition, weight gain, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar all play a role in contributing to severe hot flashes and are a direct result of poor eating habits during menopause.
WHAT IS A HOT FLASH
The North American Menopause Society defines a hot flash as a vasomotor symptom. The vasomotor system is our internal thermostat control center.
Our core body temperature doesn't fluctuate too much unless we get sick and spike a fever or plunge ourselves into cold water.
Each of us have an internal temperature setting that stays constant to ensure that all our systems work correctly.
However, it fluctuates a bit with our sleep/wake cycles and is influenced by extremes of outside temperatures and exercise.
Estrogen has a strong regulating effect on this temperature control system. Therefore, when we lose this hormone over menopause, we lose our ability to control our thermostat.
- periodically come and go
- are moments of slight flushing to intense perspiration
- ranges from warmth to extreme heat on the upper body and face
- sometimes followed by chills
- some women experience feelings of anxiety right before
- can last 20 seconds to 5 minutes
Hot flashes have been linked to women that have high blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart disease.
What Happens During a Hot Flash
The moment is felt when the skin's blood vessels widen, allowing the internal heat to escape quickly, just like when you exercise, you sweat to let off heat.
A hot flush is when the neck and face gets red accompanying the hot feeling and sweating.
TOP 7 FOODS THAT TRIGGER HOT FLASHES
Foods high in a chemical compound called capsaicin trick our internal thermostat into turning on quickly.
The reaction of getting hot and sweaty is the way our body reacts to quickly cool us down.
Eating the following high capsaicin foods can quickly result in a hot flash:
- habanero peppers
- chili peppers
- tobacco peppers
- jalapeno peppers
Caffeine is the most widely consumed mood-altering and brain-changing drug in the world.
It is a known psychoactive that changes the function of the nervous system.
Coffee, tea, energy drinks, and cacao all contain caffeine.
A recent comprehensive study published in Menopause reported that postmenopausal women with hot flashes or night sweats benefit from less caffeine intake.
It was inconclusive in suggesting exactly how much caffeine can lessen symptoms but instructed that less is better overall.
The chemicals in cigarettes or nicotine gum can disrupt our hormone levels and negatively affect our internal thermostats.
For example, studies show that women who had smoked cigarettes ever had 1.6 times increased odds of experiencing hot flashes compared to women who had never smoked cigarettes.
In fact, being overweight and a smoker going into menopause can worsen the severity of hot flashes.
Therefore, weight loss and quitting smoking before age 40 are suggested to alleviate vasomotor symptoms (lessen hot flashes).
Sulfites in Wine
Sulfites are a food preservative often used in the wine industry to prevent grapes from rotting and being overtaken by bacteria.
In addition, sulfites help preserve the grapes' flavor and freshness during wine-making.
Some people have a sulfite sensitivity which could contribute to histamine reactions related to:
- wine hangover headache
- itchy nose and throat
- hive-like skin reactions
- face flushing
HOW TO UNDERSTAND SULFITES IN WINE
- low acidity wines need more sulfites than high acidity wines to help improve their shelf life
- White: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling
- Red: Cabernet, Merlot, Grenache
- high sugar wines or "sweet wines" need more sulfites to reduce the secondary fermentation from the sugar content
- White: Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Chenin Blanc
- Red: Port, Dessert wine
Contrary to what we think, white wine actually has more sulfites than red wine.
This is because wines with color need fewer sulfites during the fermentation process.
LOW SULFITE / LOW SUGAR WINES
Dry Farm Wines is a company that uses organic grapes and add no sugar or additives in their winemaking. They take pride in lab testing for purity.
I've been drinking Dry Farm Wines for years, and they are the only wines that do not cause me to have any histamine reactions (red face, itching, hives, or flushing). When I drink wines with sulfites, I break out in red blotches however never with DFW!
It helps to decrease any redness, heat, flushing or histamine response from the sulfites.
Nitrates / Nitrites
Nitrites, in general, are found in many foods organically.
The soil that produces vegetables and fruits contains these chemical compounds. Our bodies can actually create them as well.
When nitrites are found in high concentrations or used as additives to preserve foods such as cured deli meats, they can turn vey unhealthy.
Meats turn brown quickly without preservatives and deli meats turn pinkish in color due to the addition of nitrites.
Nitrites, when ingested, mix with the bacteria in our mouths and can turn into:
- Nitric oxide: dilates blood vessels (in low amounts, it is good for you...in high doses can contribute to hot flashes)
- Nitrosamine: a cancer-causing byproduct of a chemical reaction of nitrites and nitrates (in high amounts can cause cancer of the throat and esophagus)
FOODS HIGH IN NITROSAMINE
- cured animal products (deli meats)
- cooked bacon
- cottage and ricotta cheese
Monosodium glutamate has long been known as an additive that makes Chinese food so tasty.
MSG is a widely known and ingested food preservative used for decades.
Used as an additive in packaged foods, spices, and condiments.
Umami flavor is considered the 5th type of taste beyond salty, sweet, savory, bitter, and sour and is exaggerated by MSG..
Some common symptoms related to MSG toxicity include:
- metabolic disorders
- Chinese Restaurant Syndrome
- reproductive disruptions
MSG can make menopausal hot flashes more severe since it can trigger an inflammatory reaction in the body if you are sensitive to this chemical.
Other symptoms that MSG can spark along with flushing include:
- an increase in blood pressure
- runny nose
- watery eyes
FOODS HIGH IN MSG
- fast foods
- processed chips or packaged snacks
- canned soups
- condiments and salad dressings
It can take 72 hours for MSG to leave our system.
Increasing Vitamin A, C, D, E, quercetin, and curcumin can increase how quickly MSG gets excreted and act as a protectant for our nervous system when exposed to this chemical.
Sugar substitutes, zero sugar campaigns, and sweetening replacements significantly contribute to vasomotor symptoms.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener 200 x sweeter than sugar.
Without getting super sciencey, aspartame breaks down into toxins that can damage our DNA.
This sweetener has a lot of controversies that have surrounded it since the FDA approved it in 1974.
Even though it is used in "diet" products, it can have an adverse effect and cause weight gain amongst other symptoms such as:
- increased incidences of cancer
- cardiovascular disease
- stroke, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease
Our blood sugar begins to drop, which is common in menopause due to a decline in estrogen, causing a hot flash to trigger.
In fact, hot flashes are shown to be suppressed after eating.
FOODS HIGH IN ASPARTAME
- reduced sugar ketchup
- zero sugar soda
- sugar free gum / mints
- low sugar salad dressing
- diet soda
I personally have an immediate reaction when I eat anything with aspartame, particularly with gum (which is why I choose Pur gum over Trident). Within 5 minutes, my chest tightens and I cannot take in a full inhale. When I remove the gum from my mouth, my breathing returns to normal.
There is a connection between foods, their chemical makeup, and how our bodies can break down what we ingest.
Menopause and the decline of estrogen make regulating blood sugar hard, making it even more important to reach for nutritious and whole foods.
But unfortunately, relying on packaged goods, fast foods, or fake food enhancers will eventually cause our hot flashes to be worse than ever and our waistlines larger.
We have the information to make better choices!
Be mindful of what you put in your mouth...you are what you eat!
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TOP 7 FOODS THAT TRIGGER HOT FLASHES DURING MENOPAUSE
by DR. BIANCA BELDINI
September 7, 2022
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