Are you feeling frustrated by your hot flushes? Wondering why you feel so hot all the time? Well, don’t entirely blame menopause! It’s also because your body is holding onto inflammation. So, with the weather heating up down-under, then it’s time to turn down the internal heat and focus on two organs that help to regulate your body-heat – your skin and your feet!
Last night I had the pleasure of presenting to numerous women who work in their various careers at the University of Waikato. When I took them through the symptoms of menopause and asked them who was feeling hot all the time, there was a palpable moan and groan of agreement around the room. I told them how lecturing here at the university a few years ago, was where I first began to think about whether or not I was in menopause!
There are a range of topics that exercise and sport science students need to know about. When you live in New Zealand or Australia, one of these topics is all about training and competing in the heat. Hence, I was giving a lecture about body-temperature regulation in athletes competing in hot and humid environments. This is a dangerous condition which can lead to over-heating and heat exhaustion/ heat-stroke and can quickly accelerate into a critical medical event as many athletes have discovered! As I was doing this particular lecture a few years ago, I had rivulets of sweat running down my back. At the time, I was also explaining how our body is very ‘heat-sensitive’ and we know that our temperature regulation operates on a very small range of tolerance between 36.5 – 37.8 degrees celcius. Only during prolonged exercise, fever due to illness, or other extreme conditions of heat does the body deviate from this normal range. Whenever this balance is disrupted or disturbed, body temperature changes. *
As I explained to the women last night, it was taking these lectures about temperature regulation, that sent me down the path towards exploring why, when I wasn’t sick, and I wasn’t doing extreme exercise, I was still feeling hot, sweaty and heat intolerant throughout the day and night. I was sick of changing sheets with all the night sweats I was experiencing!
It was taking these sport-science lectures, that helped me realise that my hot flushes were actually a positive thing! With rivulets of sweat running down my back, my body was putting me into survival mode, and helping me to cool down.
This evolutionary survival response allows people to tolerate the heat build-up in the body. But it’s not sweat dripping off the skin that we need because, this doesn’t cool the body. Sweat must evaporate to provide cooling. Evaporation is the primary avenue for heat dissipation during exercise and at rest. As body core temperature increases, sweat production increases. As sweat reaches the skin, it is converted from a liquid to a vapour and heat is lost from the skin in the process. So, sweat evaporation becomes increasingly important as body temperature increases.
Thinking about all this led me down the path towards understanding how to cool my body when oestrogen is low in menopause. You see, when oestrogen is lowering, this has a profound effect on our blood vessels. Tiny blood vessels that take blood to our skin and our sweat glands become more constricted when oestrogen is low. So, blood flow to the skin, which is a necessary part of our cooling mechanism, can be disrupted in menopause. Both our skin and sweat glands rely on oestrogen to function optimally (another reason why over-heating in pre-pubescent girls who do lots of exercise, occurs too – they have low levels of oestrogen).
But here’s the thing. Although our skin is where we lose heat, our body’s thermostat regulation is actually begins in the brain (the hypothalamus). When our body temperature is elevated, the hypo-thalamus is stimulated to increase blood flow to the skin (vaso-dilation) and produce sweat to eliminate excess body heat. For many of you, this powerful connection means that when you feel stressed and tired or you are doing too much exercise or you aren’t sleeping all night, then your hypo-thalamus gets a bit out of balance and affects your heat regulation mechanisms (including your thyroid function). So, too does being over-weight. When we are putting on belly-fat and gaining weight (mainly because we aren’t sleeping) then this can cause over-heating and dysregulation of your temperature too. Your hypothalamus, thyroid, metabolism and skin are all connected because they are all areas which respond to oestrogen.
That’s when I began to explore why our body heats up. Because it’s not just our changing oestrogen levels and blood vessel constriction that makes us feel hotter than normal. There are many reasons that our body becomes sensitive to heat – yes, too much heavy exercise is one of these factors, as is our exposure to electricity, cell phones, computers and other electronic stimulants (this exposure can over-stimulate our nerves), but with our skin being our largest organ and as it’s vital in heat-regulation and evaporation, then we need to also be mindful of how we look after our skin.
Through thinking about heat regulation in the body during sports and exercise, I began to think about how we live our lives and what we do each day that might impact on our heat production. That’s when I thought about the fact that those of us in our 50’s have been exposed to a lot of marketing about putting all sorts of potions, creams and moisturisers over our skin. But in menopause, to allow evaporation and natural heat dissipation to occur, we must allow our skin to breathe.
We also need to allow our skin to absorb Vitamin D from the sun in times when the sun doesn’t burn. Both of these strategies are necessary to help our body to cool down.
But there’s also one more thing. Heat regulation also occurs via our feet. I had no idea about the need for us to walk barefoot, especially to help control our temperature regulation and the build up of inflammation in the body. I spoke about this last night at my seminar and I particular emphasised the need for ‘grounding’ i.e. walking around in bare-feet outside, for the women present who worked in front of computers all day.
There is mounting evidence that we need to walk around in bare-feet more. As Chevalier, Sinatra et al., state,
“Throughout history, humans mostly walked barefoot or with footwear made of animal skins. They slept on the ground or on skins. Through direct contact or through perspiration-moistened animal skins used as footwear or sleeping mats, the ground’s abundant free electrons were able to enter the body, which is electrically conductive. Through this mechanism, every part of the body could equilibrate with the electrical potential of the Earth, thereby stabilizing the electrical environment of all organs, tissues, and cells.” ** (p. 2).
In other words, grounding or ‘earthing’ is one strategy that will help to cool you down. It helps to reduce inflammation in your body which, during menopause arrives from poor liver health, not sleeping, too much damage from lots of exercise over the years, poor gut health, changing joint health and more!
Humans are bio-electric beings. Our body has electric charges that regulate nearly every function in our bodies, from neuro-transmitter signals to circadian rhythms. Our body charge is slightly positive, building up in our cells on a day-to-day basis. The earth also generates an electric charge but it is a negative charge, so when we walk barefoot for around 30 minutes a day (preferably outside), then our body loses some of the inflammatory positive electrons. For those of you in menopause, who always feel hot, this can be one powerful strategy you can put into place to help you to cool down.
We also have numerous blood vessels in the soles of our feet, which help to carry heat out of the body. So, using the research from sports science, we can also cool the soles of our feet with an ice-bath or by rubbing a frozen water bottle under the soles of our feet too. Very cooling! Especially at the end of the day, if you are on your feet all day and walking or working in a physical job.
I always reassure women that menopause is a natural biological event. But for most of our generation, it has been viewed as a ‘sickness’. But it’s not. This is what I had to tackle myself. My beliefs were that with all the symptom chaos I was experiencing myself (as were many women on my research studies), I thought I needed to take lots of medications for all my various ailments, as most of our generation do too.
But when I began to un-tangle what was actually going on as our hormones change and I positioned this up against healthy ageing studies, I began to understand that many of our symptoms arise, because we are living our lives in ways that we did when we had oestrogen and progesterone! This includes with our exercise and nutritional choices. On top of this, we are also a very unique generation of women, because never before have women lived through societal changes that have caused so much inflammation and internal chaos in our cells and tissues. Using computers daily is one of these changes,which I reminded the university women at my seminar about.
As I began to understand that chronic inflammation (which causes an increase in our stress hormone, cortisol) creates extra heat production in our body, then I knew that I had to bring lifestyle changes and some sports science research too, to the strategies that I have in the programmes I’ve designed for you. Our body doesn’t like heat. So, we need to make sure that we aren’t over-heating in menopause. But when we don’t sleep, when we feel stressed, when we work in front of computers all day and when we are doing the wrong exercise or eating the wrong foods for our menopause transition, we suffer from more hot flushes. Feeling hot all the time is made worse by being overweight too.
I loved opening up the conversation about menopause last night at my seminar. It can be such a confusing time and we don’t deserve not to have the energy and vitality that we need at this stage of our lives. When you are ready to find a new way to reduce your symptoms in menopause, then please check out the MyMT website and read about the programmes or listen to my video or read the stories that women like you have shared.
Then, when you are ready to take a new approach to your menopause symptoms and turn around your health, so that you enjoy the next 20-30 years of healthy living ahead of you, I hope you can join me and the hundreds of women on the 12 week online MyMT programmes too.
* Wilmore, J., Costill, D. & Kennedy, L. (2008). Physiology of Sport and Exercise. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Publ.
** Chevalier, G., Sinatra, S., Oschman, J. Sokal, K. & Sokal, P. (2012). Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, Article ID 291541