What you do during the day can unintentionally trigger a hot flash. Simply from what you choose to eat, drink, or even wear.
Have you ever had a hot flash? If so, you know what that notorious symptom of menopause feels like: the heat that quickly spreads across your face, neck, and chest, the beads of sweat at your hairline, the urge to transform anything that comes to hand as a fan. Experts aren’t sure what causes hot flashes during menopause. One of the prevailing theories is that hormonal changes affect the region of the brain that regulates temperature (the hypothalamus), reducing the range of temperatures it considers tolerable and causing it to overreact to increases ( or even minor decreases) in temperature.
Certain brain chemicals, including the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, may also play a role. Because of this problem with thermoregulation, researchers believe that blood vessels near the surface of the skin dilate (widen), a reaction called vasodilation, in order to evacuate perceived heat, which they do by sweating.
What triggers hot flashes is equally mysterious. At the same time, there are potential triggers that keep coming back. Here’s what could burn you:
Hot Flash Trigger #1: Red Wine
The red wine you enjoy with your friends may be what gives you the color of Cabernet. Why red wine? Drinking alcohol can cause blood vessels to dilate. Whether or not this is the case, many people claim that red wine in particular seems to trigger hot flashes. Deal with the situation: You can always replace the wine with a soft drink, but it may not be necessary to abstain completely. If red seems to inflame your skin, try white. You can also dilute your wine with juice, fresh fruit, and ice cubes for a refreshing, less potent sangria.
Hot Flash Trigger #2: Spicy Foods
You love spicy Thai food on a date night, but it makes you look sexy in every way. Why spicy foods? It is believed that many spices and ingredients that add spiciness to foods may also act as vasodilators. This can be especially true for cayenne pepper, chili powders, and hot peppers, such as jalapeños, serranos, and habaneros. Plus, they all contain capsaicin, a compound that produces heat. Do it: Skip the three-alarm dishes on the menu or, if you really like the flavor of chilies and other spices, ask the chef if he can turn the temperature down a notch or two. Experiment with similar but less incendiary ingredients in your own kitchen.
Hot Flash Trigger #3: Exercise
You’re used to sweating when you exercise, but feeling like my head feels like I just got out of the shower makes you run out of towels.
Why exercise? Physical activity raises your heart rate, which is great for your health, of course, but it also raises body temperature, which can trigger a hot flash that makes you sweat more than usual. Deal with this situation: Stand in front of a fan wherever you exercise, even if it means bringing a small, battery-operated fan with you to Pilates class. Even a light breeze can help your skin stay cooler during your workout. You can also keep a refreshing face spray handy.
Hot Flash Trigger #4: Temperature Changes
There was a time when you went through the transition to summer without breaking a sweat. Today, just sitting outside on a sunny day will have you dripping wet in no time.
Why the heat? When the weather warms up, so does your skin, which some menopausal people associate with hot flashes. That said, any change in temperature, such as moving from an air-conditioned office to a sunny exterior, or from a heated living room to a cold exterior, can also trigger a hot flash. This is because at menopause the body has a narrower temperature range that it perceives as comfortable. Any change outside of this comfort zone can then lead to a hot flash. Deal with this situation: When you are indoors, set the thermostat to a constant temperature of 20°. And wherever you are, dress in layers that you can take off when the day warms up.
Hot Flash Trigger #5: Hot Drinks
Your morning cup of coffee (or your afternoon cup of Earl Grey) might give you a boost, but it also leaves you feeling hot and sweaty.
Why hot drinks? Again, it is believed that hot flashes may occur in part because the body’s thermoregulatory mechanism has a narrower range of tolerance. (Which means, ironically, that it can also react to a drop in temperature below this range with a hot flush). Studies have also linked caffeine to hot flashes.
Do it: If your coffee or tea break is more of a ritual than a drink, find a cooler solution: iced coffee or tea, flavored water or seltzer water with cucumber slices or mint leaves. You can also try switching to decaf to see if it’s the caffeine, rather than the temperature, that’s triggering your hot flashes.
Hot Flash Trigger #6: Smoking
Need more proof that smoking is bad for you? Lighting a cigarette can also heat you up.
Why smoke? Women who smoke are more likely to have hot flashes, although it’s not clear why. That said, research shows that when you smoke a cigarette, your heart rate increases, which can speed up blood circulation. Face the situation: It’s time to quit smoking for good. If you need help, ask your doctor if you can benefit from nicotine replacement therapy or another type of smoking cessation aid.
Hot flash trigger #7: hair dryers
Your hair dryer or curling iron is melting you. Why hair appliances? The heat most of them give off to create curls, waves, and shiny hair can be enough to raise your body temperature. Bright lights in your bathroom can also play a role. Face the situation: Keep a cool head by styling your hair with a well-placed fan. Or try a more natural hairstyle, without a device.
Hot Flash Trigger #8: Heavy Clothing
That cute turtleneck looked great on you in the store, but now it’s skyrocketing your temperature, and not in a good way.
Why clothes? Heavy clothes, especially those made of “less breathable” fabrics like nylon, spandex or polyester, prevent body heat from escaping through the skin. And too hot skin can cause hot flashes. Cope with the situation: Store turtlenecks and nylon scarves in your closet until you have no more hot flashes. Layer your clothes so you can take some out during the day if needed, and opt for more breathable fabrics like cotton. Do you have night sweats? Replace your heavy duvet with several lighter blankets that you can remove when you warm up.
Hot Flash Trigger #9: Stress
One moment you confidently walk into the conference room, the next you have a flushed face and blinking eyes.
Why stress? Many people report having hot flashes when they are nervous or anxious. Stress can cause an increase in the flight or fight response and that rush of adrenaline and cortisol that occurs when we perceive a threat can trigger a hot flash. Deal with this situation: Develop your ability to relax. Learn deep breathing techniques to use in the moment, or start practicing yoga or tai chi regularly. Some preliminary research shows that hypnotherapy and mindfulness meditation can be helpful in managing hot flashes.