Three women have recently asked me whether there might be a link between their high stress levels and their hot flushes. The short answer to this is yes! But let’s explore this in more detail to understand why.
Research on stress and hot flushes
A study (ref below) was conducted into the effect of stress levels on hot flushes in the peri-menopause (the period of hormonal change leading up to a woman’s last period). It showed that hot flushes were 3 times more common in women with moderate anxiety and 5 times more often reported in women with high levels of anxiety.
But WHY do high stress levels increase hot flushes?
Hot flushes result from changes in hormone levels affecting the body’s temperature control system. Levels of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone decline in our 40’s as we approach menopause. This has a knock on effect on the hypothalamus, the part of our brain responsible for regulating our body temperature and also itself controlling the release of many hormones.
Stress levels also affect the same hormonal pathway – the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands.
How stress affects your hormones
When we feel anxious or stressed, a complex hormonal cascade leads to our adrenal glands producing cortisol. This is our emergency stress hormone which prepares our body for high physical activity such as fighting or running away from an enemy. Once a danger like this is over, our cortisol levels quickly drop again.
The problem is that nowadays our stresses tend to be less physical and more long lasting, such as pressures in our office job or a difficult marriage. Cortisol levels may therefore remain high and the body is only able to sustain this demand for cortisol by diverting resources away from the production of other hormones, such as thyroid hormones and female hormones. This compounds the drop in female hormones as we approach menopause and which is often associated with hot flushes.
Your adrenal glands
The adrenal glands are therefore very important, especially at the peri-menopausal stage. We want them to be functioning well so that they can produce both:
- Stress hormones: when we need them (ideally not too often!)
- Female hormones: As the production of oestrogen and progesterone from the ovaries dies down, the role of the adrenals in producing small amounts of these becomes more important.
So how to reduce your hot flushes?
I therefore suggest a three pronged approach to hot flushes.
- Balance the female hormones themselves. There are homeopathic remedies with a long history of use for this. Commonly used ones include sepia, lachesis and pulsatilla but there are many other possibilities.
- Support your adrenal glands. Consider using some adaptogenic herbs, that is ones that help the body to balance itself. Ones with a reputation for adrenal balance include ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng and these can be homeopathically prepared.
- Moderate your stress levels in any way you can. Eat well, take exercise, sleep more, make time for things that bring you joy and consider how you could change aspects of your life that cause ongoing stress. You may also like to read my post on handling everyday stress well.
If self-help measures don’t help enough, seek some professional help.
I’d be happy to support you with homeopathic remedies individually tailored to you – just book a free introductory chat if you’re interested to talk to me further about this.
Reference: Freeman, Sammel et al. The role of anxiety and hormonal changes in menopausal hot flashes. Menopause. 2005 May-Jun;12(3):258-66.