Natural Remedies for Hot Flashes

menopause sign. Sue Smith/Shutterstock

Hot flashes, the private power surge, a personal summer — no matter what you call it, the rushes of heat and sweat that accompany menopause are the stuff of legend for the middle-age woman.

Many women seem to wear their hot flashes as a well-earned badge of honor, and flamboyantly fan themselves in public, while others hide their temperature spikes by whatever means possible. But whichever tack you take, the heat can be mighty uncomfortable and can take a toll on a good night’s sleep.

Because hot flashes are triggered by the withdrawal of estrogen from the body, doctors often prescribe estrogen (or progesterone) to counter the effects. It is considered the most effective treatment, but hormone therapy comes with a bevy of potential side effects, like blood clots in the legs and lungs, and a possible increased risk of heart disease and stroke. In addition, some brand-name estrogen medications are derived from the urine of pregnant horses, a practice that animal rights activists whole-heartedly protest. Half of all women will get hot flashes again once they stop taking the hormones. These factors and others are why many women choose not the take the hormone route.

Nearly 80 percent of women experience hot flashes, which can occur during any phase of menopause, including before it starts. Menopause can start anytime between the ages of 45 and 55 and last as long as five years — so it’s no wonder that natural remedies are a hot topic (so to speak). Here are three approaches to try.

Reduce risk factors

  • Quit smoking: Women who smoke are likely to have increased hot flashes.
  • Lose weight: Women with a high body mass index (BMI) have more hot flashes.
  • Get moving: Women who don't exercise, are more likely to have hot flashes.

Make lifestyle adjustments

  • Keep cool: Even minimal increases in the body's core temperature can start hot flashes. By dressing in layers, clothes can be discarded as needed. Keep air flowing by opening windows or using a fan. Turn down the heat. Drink cold drinks.
  • Watch what goes in the mouth: Hot and spicy foods, caffeinated drinks and alcohol can bring about hot flashes. Everyone has their own triggers in terms of food and beverages, so it’s important to recognize your own triggers to avoid the consequences.
  • Get Zen: Some women swear by knocking out hot flashes with stress-reduction by means of yoga, meditation, relaxation or other calming techniques.

Try supplements

  • Plant estrogens: Women in Asian countries report fewer hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms than do women in Western countries. One theory is that their diet includes estrogen-like compounds, like those found in soy, red clover and many other plants.
  • Black cohosh: This herb is popular in the fight against menopausal symptoms, although no studies have been able to conclusively confirm its efficacy. (Note: Too much can harm the liver.)
  • Ginseng: Ginseng hasn’t been proven scientifically to reduce hot flashes, but it does seem to improve the mood and help sleep — which can help smooth out the other symptoms.

Some women have success with natural supplements. But just because they're natural doesn’t meant supplements are always safe, so check with your doctor first. (Supplements can also interact with medications being used for other medical conditions.)