You’re sitting there minding your own business. Next minute you’re boiling. Sweat starts to trickle down your back. You look around. Is anyone else looking hot? What on earth!?
Your first hot flush (or flash) can be quite a confusing experience. And, because they often start before your periods become irregular, they can catch you completely off guard.
For me, they started as warm incidents where I would feel heated but show no outward signs. Then about a year later, they developed into full blown sweaty, drippy, and embarrassing episodes.
Cue menopause striptease!
And sometimes sleepless nights!
They are truly baffling, as they can appear to spring out of nowhere, and science has been trying to figure out what really causes them for a long time.
Your hypothalamus controls your temperature and at menopause it seems this gets affected. Your brain thinks you’re hot and so tries to cool you down. But why does this happen?
While no clear cause of menopause hot flushes 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. By this age, your ovaries have become much less efficient at producing their two main hormones: progesterone and oestrogen.
Your adrenals also play part in sex hormone production, and if they are depleted due to stress, they won't produce these hormones in the correct amounts, and possibly not at all!
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.
Oestrogen is associated with the build-up of the uterine lining. If pregnancy does not occur, this lining is what’s discarded during your monthly period.
Then in your 40s (and sometimes earlier!), the routine production of progesterone and oestrogen can start to misfire.
If progesterone is not produced, it indicates that you did not ovulate. This sets up a condition called oestrogen dominance. And it can carry on for years!
Basically, you end up with a hormone imbalance, and you may not know it.
Then, once oestrogen stops being produced in the right quantities 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 months in a row, you’ve hit menopause.
Will My Hot Flushes Last Forever?
If you’re battling with hot flushes right now, you might be thinking that you are doomed to have them for the rest of your life! Especially now that you know menopause hot flushes are associated with low oestrogen levels.
Fortunately though, that is rarely the case. Although the duration of hot flushes varies among individuals as well as ethnic groups, they typically only last seven years.
While that provides some reassurance, seven years probably seems like a long time to have to be hot and sweaty and embarrassed!
So, over the next few weeks I will discuss some factors that can both positively and negatively affect your flushes, including your nutrition choices, and how body fat and weight play a role.
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Click below to listen to a podcast episode I was interviewed for, about building resilience and my journey to being a Health Coach