I went through menopause at the age of 52 and will never forget the embarrassment of sitting in a sales meeting in a sleeveless top, feeling wet and combustible, fanning myself while my colleagues looked on with amusement. SO not funny, that feeling of heat that starts around waist level and rises til your face is flushed and you are bathed in sweat, hair stuck damply to your head and makeup running. Some women also experience heart palpitations, anxiety, irritability and even panic. (And why wouldn’t they??) Dad always said “Don’t sweat the small stuff” but this is seriously BIG stuff.
For most women, this side affect of menopause abates after a year or two. But some continue to experience the annoyance of hot flashes for 5 years or more. I’m now 66. A quick math computation puts me at 14 years past menopause yet, if I allow myself even one glass of red wine or some spicy salsa I wake up in the middle of the night, my hair, face and chest damp with perspiration. You’d think my few remaining hormones would be waving the white flag by now but evidently not. Smoking and stress as well as alcohol consumption and spicy food can exacerbate the sweats. At least mine are normally confined to the middle of the night. But when they started, it was round the clock. My home had a wine cellar that was temperature controlled to 55 degrees. I practically lived in there.
Hormone therapy was not an option for me as my Mom’s breast cancer at age 80 gave me the dreaded “family history.” Hormone treatment is supposed to be short term, to get you through the worst of the process but for some unknown reason, Mom was allowed to be on Premarin for 30 years. When she presented with cancer, they took her off it post haste and so she and I, 30 years younger, had hot flashes together. It was sort of a bonding experience.
Most doctors recommend the lowest possible dose of hormones to control the flashes and phase them out after a few years. For those who can’t, or choose not, to take hormone therapy which comes with serious risks, there are herbal remedies, most with black cohosh. Certain blood pressure medicines and anti-depressants can also be prescribed to help. I found relief with Effexor, a twofer that calmed the hot flashes AND made me a lot happier!
Over the counter options are plentiful, compounded with vitamin and herbal blends. Some of those I researched are Estroven, Availyn, and Amberen. Estroven is loaded with vitamins like E, B6 and 12, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Calcium and Niacin as well as phytoestrogens that mimic the effects of estrogen. Black Cohosh and soy are the major ingredients with green tea and chocolate compound also in the mix. Their “proprietary herbal blend” is date seed and magnolia bark.
Amberen makes greater claims than just helping support hormonal balance. It professes to boost low libido, and aid irritability, sleep issues and night sweats. But MSG and vitamins were the only ingredients I recognized and MSG is a deal breaker for me.
Another blend weighted heavily toward Black Cohosh is Availyn with other commonly known herbal aids for symptoms such as Dong Quai, soy, wild yam and chasteberry. I have to stress that just because something is “herbal”and “natural” doesn’t mean that it is “safe.” I once had a major reaction to Dong Quai. So please, if you are considering trying any of these herbal supplements readily available online, in health food or Whole Foods stores, please consult your doctor about the ingredients in the capsules before you start popping them.
New hope may be found in the first FDA approved non-hormonal drug specifically meant for hot flashes. Brisdelle (paroxetine) is available by prescription and shows real promise for sweaty sufferers but comes with possible side effects: headache, tiredness, nausea and vomiting. I am always amused by the prescription drug commercials on television extolling the virtues of the drug before giving you the FCC required, rapid fire, softly spoken listing of the 10 or more possible side effects, most of them worse than the condition the drug is supposed to treat! But you don’t know til you try, so have a heart to heart with your OB-GYN or primary physician and choose the best option to get some relief.
Don’t settle for sweating it out.