About three out of four women suffer from hot flashes during menopause--those sudden spikes of body heat that leave a person sweaty, flushed, and irritable. And while you'd think that something that affected that many women would be studied to death, that's not the case.
In fact, the science is so sparse that women don't get much guidance for treating their hot flashes, notes Janet S. Carpenter, PhD, RN, the head of a panel of experts for the North American Menopause Society (NAMS): "Many women try one thing after another, and it is months before they stumble upon something that truly works for them."
So NAMS studied what treatments are most effective and published their surprising results in the journal Menopause:
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): If you've got time and can find a licensed CBT therapist, this seems like the most promising treatment. And while it won't decrease the number of hot flashes you have, it will help decrease their severity through relaxation techniques and a different mindset.
Hypnosis: Five sessions with a trained clinician can teach you how to put yourself in a relaxed state and use mental images to get you through the worst symptoms. It also can help you sleep better and lessen your anxiety.
S-equol supplements: While eating soy products didn't show any effects on hot flashes, these supplements (also soy based) seemed to help up to a third of women.
Mindfulness and other stress-busting techniques: The idea behind mindfulness is to approach thoughts and sensations in a non-reactive, judgmental way. This may help some women, but not all, experts noted.
Prescription meds, like Prozac and other anti-depressants. These drugs acted quickly and decreased the worst symptoms as well as the number of times women had hot flashes during the day.
And What Doesn't
Yoga or any other type of exercise. Even though working out is good for your body, it doesn't do anything to treat hot flashes.
Herbal supplements, including black cohosh, evening primrose, and dong quai, a Chinese herb.
Avoiding spicy foods or triggers, like alcohol.
Cool-down tricks: Maybe this was the most mind-boggling of all--it didn't help if you dressed in layers, in natural fabrics, stood in front of a fan, or put an ice pack under your pillow. Not one of these tricks gave any lasting relief.