Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of the perimenopause to menopause transition. For many women they can range from mildly annoying to completely devastating.
But there are natural ways to get relief and feel cool and comfortable in your skin again, including getting a series of acupuncture treatments.
What do hot flashes feel like?
Some women describe it as if “their blood is getting hotter”. Typically these feelings of heat are more focused on the upper body: chest, torso, back, neck and head and often hands and feet.
Your face may turn red, and your hands and feet may get clammy or sweaty. Afterwards, body temperature drops and may bring on a chilly feeling instead. Flashes may occur intermittently throughout the day, or even numerous times during one hour.
Are hot flashes the same as night sweats?
Hot flashes occur during the day time and can be a gradual or rapid increase of temperature, but don’t always involve intense sweating. Night sweats are essentially hot flashes happening while you are asleep, typically with heavier sweating. Although our body temperature naturally fluctuates at night, extreme heat flashes can disrupt your sleep.
It’s important to note that not ALL night sweats are actually hot flushes as they relate to the menopause transition. They can also be indicative of other health issues or even be a side effect of certain medications.
Hot flashes do not mean you are already in menopause.
Not every woman will get hot flashes, but they might show up at various times throughout the peri/menopause transition (or even afterwards, once she is post menopausal). Hot flashes can be one of the more obvious symptoms of perimenopause, but they do not always mean you are already menopausal.
The perimenopause to menopause transition can happen over an extended period, sometimes up to a decade. Hot flashes may come and go during that time. Menopause officially occurs on the 1 year anniversary of your last period.
What triggers hot flashes?
- Often its just common daily situations such as getting stuck in traffic, having a difficult conversation or making a presentation – to name just a few possibilities. For some women, even slight elevations in stress levels can cause a feeling of heat in the body, and this may mean they heat up multiple times per day or even per hour. Suggestion: paced breathing exercises have been shown to bring down stress levels in the moment. Acupuncture can help your body build up better resilience to deal with daily stressors.
- Although less obvious there can be a link between feeling long term stress and hot flash frequency. Even if this is ‘low grade stress’, over the long term it can affect overall health balance. In TCM, this type of emotion can overuse the body’s resources and affect multiple body systems. In midlife, this often means depleted energy of the Kidney organ system (similar to what we often think of as adrenal fatigue). Although ebbs in hormone levels are a natural part of mid life, long time stress can affect how strongly symptoms such as hot flashes are felt. The Kidney organ system strongly relates to reproductive health, and is usually included in acupuncture treatment protocols throughout the midlife years.
Caffeine and alcohol
- Even small amounts of caffeine and alcohol can become triggers for various symptoms around peri/menopause, including hot flashes, insomnia, and anxiety. Suggestion: I’ve seen in practice that cutting down, omitting or “scheduling caffeine” can often bring quick and noticeable results. Teas that may help replace caffeine cravings include: green tea with matcha, rooibos tea, or roasted dandelion tea (my favorite no-caff substitute).
Hot flash trigger foods
- Spicy foods, fried foods, red meat, and even gluten and dairy can become hot flash triggers. Note that digesting heavy meals later in the evening can also raise body temperatures at night. Suggestion: Keeping a food diary and noting your reactions can go a long way to naturally managing hot flashes. Remember that perimenopause is a time where your body may react differently to familiar foods that were not an issue earlier in life.
- Hot, humid weather can be especially tough if you are experiencing hot flashes. Ironically, winter is no picnic either – as you may quickly overheat in heavier clothing. Suggestion: Strategically wearing layers as well as clothing made of natural fibers can help. Sleeping in a cooler room, with cotton or linen sheets can make a difference.
How does acupuncture work for hot flashes?
From a biomedical perspective, acupuncture needles placed at specific points in the skin stimulate pathways that travel through peripheral nerves to the spinal cord and brain. This causes your body’s natural painkillers (called endorphins) to rise, and make chemical shifts in the body.
Acupuncture has also been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, and can calm the mind and relieve pain. It allows your body to get back into balance, into a state of relaxation and homeostasis. Much like after meditation or light exercise, you can feel a boost of the “feel good” hormones after a treatment.
What are the acupuncture points for hot flashes?
Although there are a number of acupuncture points that are utilized to address hot flashes, your practitioner will select the best combination to use based on your individual health situation.
Typically, points are used that help release excess heat in the body, as well as nourish the cooling “yin energy” of the Kidney organ system. Points to calm the mind, reduce stress and help you sleep better may also be incorporated into a session.
Kidney 7 (Chinese Name: Fuliu / English translation: Returning Current) on the lower leg is a point traditionally used for hot flashes and night sweats.
Heart 6 (Chinese Name: Yinxi /English translation: Yin Cleft) near the wrist is often used for night sweating and to calm the anxious mind (two common complaints in perimenopause).