Every day I get emails from women who are thinking about joining me on the MyMT programmes [Circuit-Breaker’ for thinner women and ‘Transform Me’ for women who want to lose weight]. In these emails, I read descriptions about their night sweats and hot flushes, despite already being on HRT or Bio-identical hormones. Sleepless nights with sweats is no fun. All it does is grow the washing pile. But here’s the thing – I had this experience too and a few years on, I now understand why.
When my own hot flushes and night sweats were frustrating me, I was on already on HRT (Menopause Hormone Replacement Therapy). I became confused as to why my hot flushes became worse in the evening and as I’m sure women the world over do, I would call out – “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?” My family’s response was always, “It’s just you Mum!”
At the time I was 50 years old – bang on the average age that our oestrogen production in our ovaries declines, heralding in our changing hormone production in menopause. With a body that was over-heating and energy levels at rock-bottom, my sleep was also disrupted by night sweats too. Dark clouds were filling my normally upbeat moods and I was confused as to why oh why, the lovely HRT tablets that my Doctor had prescribed and the supplements I took, weren’t doing their job.
When nobody else had the answers I sought I decided to put on my ‘physiology-hat’ and really get to the bottom of understanding what was going on when we can’t beat the heat. Most importantly, I was desperate to discover what was going on in a body that was not coping with the ‘change of life’. I’m so pleased that I did.
If you’re feeling like this too, then take a couple of minutes to read what I have to say … because I know that many of you are just like I was at the time – coping with work, busy-days, family matters on the home-front, exercising when you can and trying to cope with a body that’s taking it’s own course as you go into or through menopause. Many of us have so much going on in our lives and often feel stressed and time-poor. That’s why I have a question for you:
Did you know that when you are experiencing hot flushes and/or night sweats, this is a sign that your body is under dis-stress and trying to cool down?
As I began to unravel the physiology of hot flushes, it wasn’t too long before I realised that because our temperature regulation is under the control of our hormonal system, then when oestrogen lowers in peri-menopause, temperature-regulating hormones in the pituitary region of the brain and our thyroid are affected too.
Can you see from this image that our pituitary and thyroid glands are connected? The powerful hormones secreted by these glands also send messages to our adrenal glands and ovaries too.
Hormones are chemical messengers and throughout the body, the messages are connected. Our hormones control all sorts of functions in the body, from heat management, to blood pressure control, to blood sugar regulation to our sleep cycles and feelings of hunger!
That’s why, when our oestrogen production decreases during menopause, this has a flow-on effect on other hormones in your body as well. This includes your heat regulation hormones too.
If you can’t beat the heat, no matter the temperature outside, then please have a read of my ‘top-10’ factors that increase your hot flushes:
1. The type and timing of your food and fluid. It’s not just about reducing sugar and processed food as we age. In menopause, my emphasis is on reducing protein as well. Yes, I know that this goes against what you may have heard, but the amount and timing of your protein intake is crucial. Protein is ‘thermo-genic’ which means ‘heat-generating’. I learnt that years ago in the fitness industry and when I was trying to understand why my hot flushes were so bad, I remembered that high protein diets cause too much stress on the thyroid, liver, kidneys and gut. The result? Lots of sweat as your body tries to cool down.
3. Are you active or sedentary during your day? The reason I’m asking is because too much or too little exercise influences your hot flushes. Moderation is everything and during menopause, both too much and too little exercise can cause more hot flushes. If you aren’t sleeping but you are doing lots of heavy, high-intensity exercise most days or you work in a physically-demanding job such as nursing, then your body doesn’t recover overnight. This means that your chronic stress hormone called cortisol stays elevated. As I explained earlier, then this causes your blood pressure and heart rate to stay higher than normal and you sweat more. The same can also be said of women who are mainly sedentary. If you aren’t doing some activity, then there is a risk that you aren’t boosting your cells and tissues with oxygen. This can lead to fatty liver, poor cardiac health and more hot flushes.
4. If you already have high blood pressure or heart-health issues, then your heart rate may be higher than normal (unless you are on cardiac medication). When our heart rate and blood pressure is higher than normal, this increases heat production in the body. Part of the reason for this, is because as we transition through menopause and we are ageing, our blood vessels become more constricted. Not only are they ageing, but we are losing muscle density as well. What this means is that our muscles (and our sweat glands) change when we lose oestrogen, so our ability to regulate heat and sweating changes too.
5. The environment and the climate you live in impacts on your hot flushes too. New genetic research shows that we all have DNA that are receptive to living in either hot or cooler climates. If we are out of sync with the genetically-set DNA, then in menopause, this can cause more discomfort and hot flushes. I have women on my programme from Alice Springs in Australia – as one of the hottest places on the continent, I am so thankful that they have come on board. One of the problems with living in such a hot climate is that we tend to live inside in air-conditioning and this changes our Vitamin D absorption which can dive-down in menopause. Vitamin D is a hormone and because our skin is the largest organ in the body and has numerous oestrogen receptors in it, menopause affects our Vitamin D absorption too. When levels are low, then hot flushes become worse and so too, does calcium absorption, so it’s important that women get their Vitamin D levels checked – even more so when it’s so hot outside that it’s cooler to live inside.
6. Your SLEEP quality and quantity. I think many of you would have already discovered that it’s a catch-22 between not sleeping and night sweats – on one hand the night sweats wake you up, but on the other hand, when you can’t stay asleep, your hot flushes, night sweats and feelings of anxiety become worse. Yes? Well, there is a reason for this. When we aren’t sleeping, we aren’t recovering and restoring our immune system overnight. We also aren’t fat-burning or recovering from our day-to-day activities. What then happens, is that our adrenal glands make more cortisol. To do this, they use our lovely calming progesterone, which is also why women in menopause experience more anxiety as well – and it’s also why in both of the MyMT 12 week programmes, the first module you listen to, is how to sleep all night. It’s that important.
7. A deficiency in iron, folate, B12, iodine, calcium and magnesium all impact on the frequency and severity of your hot flushes (and your sleep quality).
All of these powerful nutrients are needed to restore hormonal health as you transition through menopause. For example, the beautiful trace mineral called iodine, is a vital component of hormones produced by the thyroid gland that are responsible for a number of important functions in your body. This includes metabolism, nerve and muscle function, regulation of body temperature and blood cell production. If you don’t get enough iodine-rich foods, your hot flushes can become worse. This is why I have a nutritional programme in the MyMT programmes, that is rich in iodine and all the other nutrients that we need during menopause and into the years beyond. My nutritional information comes out of women’s healthy ageing research.
8. If you have leaky gut syndrome OR inflammatory disease of the bowel e.g. diverticulitis or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), then your hot flushes and your sleep may be worse. Leaky gut affects the entire body and whilst I do recommend seeing a suitable health practitioner in case you have certain medical concerns, so many women have developed leaky-gut (as I did too), that I have researched what to do to turn this around. If this is you, then the continual presence of inflammation in your gut and bowel increases heat in the body too. When heat and inflammation remain high, then this leads to poor sleep which sets off night sweats.
When we go into peri-menopause, it’s a little bit like puberty and pregnancy – our hormones are changing and our body is trying to adjust. It took me hours and hours of research to figure out how to reduce our symptoms in menopause and allow our body to adapt to this changing hormonal environment, whilst still living the life we love to live. Re-adjusting our hormones to match our biological ageing is key and it’s why, if we keep doing the same old things that we have done in the past, then often we are fighting against this new hormonal environment.
When my own hot flushes were troubling me DAY and NIGHT, I knew I had to get to the bottom of the science of them. Today, hot flushes no longer control me or define me. This is the same for many of the women who are following the strategies I have researched and you can read their Success Stories here.
I don’t want you to still be experiencing hot flushes in your post-menopause years and if you are on HRT, then research suggests that 5 years is long enough. So, if you are not coping with your heat regulation, sleep, anxiety, weight or joint problems, then will you join me? No matter where you live in the world, you can come on board.
All you do is purchase on any sales page on the My Menopause Transformation website. Whichever programme you choose [Circuit-Breaker for thinner women or Transform Me for women who want to lose weight] then there are 3 monthly payments of $99NZ. This includes my private coaching as well. If hot flushes and night sweats are getting you down, I hope you can join me and the hundreds of women already on the programme. You can start any time and do the programme in your own time via your private learning hub on the website. I can’t wait to help you because as I leant to, ‘it’s time to put menopause in ‘wellness’ not ‘sickness’. It will be my privilege to teach you how.
Dr Wendy Sweet, PhD [MyMT Founder & Coach/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine]
Deeche, D. & Dorries, K. (2007). Understanding the pathophysiology of vasomotor symptoms
(hot flushes and night sweats) that occur in perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause life stages. Arch. Women’s Mental Health, 10: 247–257.
Mayo Clinic. The science behind a hot flush. Mayo Clinic Online, PDF Handout
Sharma, S. & Kavuru, M. (2010). Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview. International Journal of Endocrinology, Article ID 270832, 1-12.