Can your diet help with hot flushes?
Have you ever experienced a hot flush? That sudden intense feeling of heat that you can feel in your face, chest or head. Hot flushes are one of the most common side-effects of the menopause. Some cancer treatments can also cause hot flushes such as Tamoxifen for breast cancer, or other cancer treatment like chemotherapy or hormonal treatment which supress your ovaries or surgery which removes your ovaries. So, can diet play a role in managing these hot flushes? This blog article will explore how diet and lifestyle may help.
So why do you get hot flushes during or after cancer treatment?
Lower levels of oestrogen, which can occur due to cancer treatments can disrupts how the body regulates your temperature. This disruption can cause the body to overreact in an attempt to control your temperature which can lead you to have a hot flush. Other hormones like noradrenaline and serotonin can also play a role. Men may also experience hot flushes too particularly if they are receiving hormone treatment for prostate cancer 1.
Is there anything I should avoid eating?
There are some common foods that can increase hot flushes in some women and men:
Spicy food- food containing chili or spices may also add to the feeling of heat in the body and could trigger a hot flush
Hot drinks- similar to the above having a hot drink may give you a sudden hot feeling and trigger a hot flush
Caffeine – is a stimulant so aim to limit to 3 cups a day if you notice this is a trigger for you
Alcohol- the research is unclear in this area but drinking alcohol may leave you feeling warm because drinking leads to more blood flowing through your blood vessels
Note of caution- everyone is different and not all of these will be a trigger for you, so only consider cutting back if you more hot flushes with these foods/drink. If you need help identifying your triggers do get in touch
Are there any foods I should eat to help hot flushes?
Yes there maybe something that could help- phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are a compound that occur naturally in plants the term ‘phyto’ means plant so they are a type of plant-oestrogen. If you are worried about including phytoestrogens in your diet please note they have a similar chemical structure to our human hormone oestrogen BUT it actually has a much weaker effect on the human body. You can read more here about the safety in breast cancer patients here.
The most common type of phytoestrogen are isoflavones.
Top isoflavones food sources:
Soya milk and products, Soya flour, soya beans
Legumes: Beans: Edamame beans, fava beans, chickpeas
Seeds: Linseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, nuts
Including phytoestrogens in your diet can help relieve some menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes 2.
You need about 45-90mg a day which is 2-3 portions spread out through day to have an improvement in hot flushes. It can take 3-4 months for benefits to be seen and the benefit is variable. They work well in 50% of women and not as well in the other 50%, this may be due to difference in gut bacteria and how the they break down in the body.
Foods containing phytoestrogens have other benefits too as they are generally high in fibre and a good protein alternative. Soya products are also low in saturated fat and have a good range of vitamins, minerals and plant nutrients which will have the added benefit of improving cholesterol levels.
So what about supplements?
There are a few issues with supplements as the dose can be much higher than a food source and the way it is broken in the body maybe different compared to foods as they are packaged with other nutrients like fibre.
Breast cancer ladies on Tamoxifen or raloxifene please note these medications works by binding to oestrogen receptions so there is a potential that supplement isoflavones could compete with these medications potentially reducing their effectiveness
General advice is NOT to have supplements but consuming natural food products are safe
Are there other lifestyle factors helps with hot flushes?
Hot showers/baths may be a trigger so aim for lukewarm
Improve stress levels
Good sleep pattern
Keeping a stable weight
Keeping a stable weight
A few research papers have showed a link with reduced hot flushes and a healthy body weight. So keeping your weight stable ideally a BMI up to 27kg/m2 may help 3, 4, 5. Regulating your weight does feel tricky to manage during the menopause due to the slight reduction in metabiotic rate- so you are using less energy but it is possible!
Activity and exercise
Being active will help with keeping your weight healthy and also a good stress release so that is likely to have an indirect effect. A few research papers have also noticed that regular physical activity was associated with less hot flushes and of shorter duration. So a good idea to get moving! Read the blog about ‘The hidden secret to regular exercise’
If you would like to get some support with improving diet and lifestyle to manage your hot flushes better get in touch!
Fisher, W.I., Johnson, A.K., Elkins, G.R., Otte, J.L., Burns, D.S., Yu, M. and Carpenter, J.S., 2013. Risk factors, pathophysiology, and treatment of hot flashes in cancer. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians, 63(3), pp.167-192.
Vitale DC, Piazza C, Melilli B, Drago F, Salomone S. Isoflavones: estrogenic activity, biological effect and bioavailability. Eur J Drug Meta Pharmacokinet. 2013;38(1):15-25.
Whiteman, M.K., Staropoli, C.A., Langenberg, P.W., McCarter, R.J., Kjerulff, K.H. and Flaws, J.A., 2003. Smoking, body mass, and hot flashes in midlife women. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 101(2), pp.264-272.
Gallicchio, L., Visvanathan, K., Miller, S.R., Babus, J., Lewis, L.M., Zacur, H. and Flaws, J.A., 2005. Body mass, estrogen levels, and hot flashes in midlife women. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 193(4), pp.1353-1360.