I always wondered how my mother’s generation dealt with hot flashes. My mother never mentioned having one, and neither did any of the women in her age group whom I knew. It was only with the later generation (by that I mean women aged 40-plus) that hot flashes made their grand entrance into the common consciousness – despite the fact that the effects of menopause have been treated with estrogen since the late 1800s.
I became a physician in the 1970s, and my training did not cover preventive medicine, menopause, or specifically the use of hormones either to aid in menopause or prevent disease. It’s only in the past decade that true prevention, a topic covered mostly by the media, is starting to penetrate our health-care system.
In the process, research – such as the work of scientists who have studied hot flashes and heart disease for decades and presented their findings at a meeting of the International Menopause Society in Rome in 2011– has demonstrated that hot flashes may be warning signs of heart disease when they are persistent, extremely frequent, and occur later rather than earlier in menopause.
Heart disease is the biggest killer of women in the U.S. More than 350,000 women die of heart disease every year, while around 28,000 die of complications from therapies for breast cancer or the disease itself.
While I don’t want to minimize the need of a cure for breast cancer, I want to stress the possible connection between hot flashes and heart disease since most women die of heart disease.
Hot flashes – which also can occur before your period, during pre-menopause, and after childbirth – are caused by pulses of hormones released by the pituitary gland as we age, asking our ovaries to produce the hormones of youth, which are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. At menopause and even before, the production of these much-needed hormones decreases, resulting in hot flashes.
Thus hot flashes are not just a nuisance, and we are best advised to do something to get rid of them rather than grin and bear them. We can eliminate them easily and safely with bio-identicals (human identical hormones made from plant extracts) – estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, and thyroid. With the exception of testosterone, all these hormones are available in FDA-approved creams, tablets, and/or patches by prescription at your local pharmacy. But make sure your doctor knows how to use hormones in wellness and disease-prevention or else you will continue to suffer and risk chronic illness.
Supplements like oil of evening primrose, used occasionally for short periods of time; black cohosh; vitamin E; omega-3 and omega-6 fish oils; and vitamin B complex support hormone balance. But they won’t help prevent heart disease, even if they can get rid of the hot flashes for a while.
But what about the link between hormones and breast cancer? That suspected association dates back to the Women’s Health Initiative, an eight–year study that looked only at Premarin, an estrogen made from the urine of pregnant mares, which is not identical to the human hormones.
If you take bio-identical hormones; change your diet to a more natural, vegetable-based one; minimize alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, and sugar; do more exercises that improve and maintain your cardiac status and keep you bones strong; sleep eight hours a night; and take some of the supplements I’ve mentioned, hot flashes will quickly disappear.
You will feel better, continue contributing to society, and be an active participant in preventing the chronic illnesses of aging like heart disease from robbing you of a high-quality life.
It’s your choice after all: Live in fear and discomfort, accepting hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and other symptoms of menopause, or do something about it. Take control of your life and find the doctor who cares and knows enough about you, bio-identical hormones, and disease prevention to help you feel better.
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