Of all the bodily changes that come with menopause, hot flashes may be one of the most annoying. The sudden flare of heat the rises from your chest to your neck to your face can leave you drenched in sweat and your skin red. Not only is in uncomfortable, but it can be embarrassing, too. The good news: You can dramatically reduce bothersome hot flashes without relying on meds like hormone replacement therapy. We asked experts to share the top 9 foods that fight hot flashes, so you can sail through menopause without breaking a sweat.
Understanding what causes hot flashes
Hot flashes, which are also known as vasomotor symptoms, are a common side effect of menopause that affect about 75% of menopausal women in the US. Hot flashes often feel like a rush of heat through the body that can cause sweating and skin flushing, and they can last from a few minutes up to hours. When hot flashes occur while you’re asleep, they’re called night sweats. Hot flashes can also cause symptoms such as chills and rapid heartbeat.
To blame: hormone fluctuations that occur during menopause. Drops in estrogen and progesterone levels can alter how the brain perceives temperature. That’s because estrogen tends to promote heat dissipation, while progesterone tends to promote heat conservation and higher body temperatures. “Hot flashes are generated centrally in our core and the heat has to dissipate,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, co-director of the sexuality, intimacy, and menopause program at Yale Smilow Cancer Center and medical advisor for Let’s Talk Menopause. “It’s harder for that to happen when estrogen levels drop.” Other triggers can include hot weather or heat, stress, smoking and tight clothing, all of which increase body temperature and exacerbate hot flash symptoms.
The frequency and length of hot flashes during menopause varies from person to person. Some women experience hot flashes multiple times a day, while others rarely have them. And flashes can last from a few minutes to hours. For many women, hot flashes stop once they finish the transition through menopause. But some may continue to experience hot flashes for more than 10 years past menopause. Tip: While hormone swings are by far the most common trigger for hot flashes, they’re not the only cause. Watch the video below to discover other sneaky hot flash triggers.
A natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy
If you’ve suffered through enough drenching hot flashes, you’ve likely heard about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in your search for relief. HRT medication contains estrogen and progesterone components that mimic hormones created by the body, and it can help alleviate menopause symptoms such as hot flashes. It can be taken orally or through transdermal patches and creams. Because of its similarity to the body’s own hormones, HRT can begin to tamp down hot flashes in as little as a few weeks.
The hitch: HRT costs can be as high as $500 for three months of medication, depending on the type of medication and your insurance coverage. What’s more, HRT has a small risk of breast and uterine cancers, blood clots and stroke. Fortunately, there are 9 delicious foods study-proven to fight hot flashes. And adding one (or more!) to your daily diet couldn’t be easier!
9 foods that fight hot flashes
Interested in trying natural fixes for hot flashes first? “Estrogen makes a lot of systems in our bodies work better,” says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, founder of Real Nutrition. “Through food, you’re balancing your hormones, your cholesterol, your heart health — you’re trying to manage all the things that estrogen does for you, just through food.” Read on to discover the 9 best foods that fight hot flashes so you can stay cool, calm and collected.
1. Soy for hot flashes
Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds derived from plants that are structurally similar to the hormone produced in the body. “Among the foods that have weak plant estrogens, soy is a great source of plant estrogens called isoflavones, which can help ameliorate hot flashes,” Dr. Minkin says. According to a study in Menopause, women who ate 1/2 cup of cooked soybeans daily as part of a vegan diet saw their hot flashes decrease by 79%. Dr. Minkin suggests noshing on foods such as edamame, tofu and soy milk, all of which are good sources of hot flash-relieving isoflavones. (Click through to our sister publication to learn more about why soy is so good for hot flashes — and the best ways to enjoy it.)
2. Tomato juice for hot flashes
Permission to treat yourself to a virgin blood Mary. Turns out sipping a small glass of unsalted tomato juice twice a day can significantly reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. Researchers reporting in Nutrition Journal found that the compound gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in tomatoes mimics estrogen. This helps stabilize hormones that can trigger flashes.
3. Flaxseed for hot flashes
This nutty-tasting grain is a great source of health-boosting fiber and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. But most importantly, it contains phytoestrogens that tamp down the bothersome flushing and sweating of menopausal hot flashes. “Flaxseed contains a weak plant estrogen called lignans,” Dr. Minkin says. “Some of my patients have found it helpful in managing hot flashes.” Reap the benefits by mixing flaxseed into baked goods such as muffins and breads or sprinkling 1 or 2 Tbs. per day on salads or in oatmeal. (Click through to for revitalizing flaxseed smoothie recipes that tame menopause symptoms.)
4. Peppermint for hot flashes
Turns out your go-to for freshening your breath can also put the chill on hot flashes almost instantly. That’s because the menthol in peppermints contains a compound called TRPM8. Researchers at the University of Southern California say that when ingested, this compound signals your nervous system to cool down, alleviating hot flashes from the inside out.
5. Sage tea for hot flashes
Sipping a warm drink might seem counterintuitive when it comes to warding off sweat-inducing hot flashes. But research in Advances in Therapy found that drinking a cup of sage tea daily can reduce moderate hot flashes by 79% and eliminate up to 100% of severe flushing. Estrogen-like compounds in the herb help regulate hormone levels in the body, reducing both the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
6. Milk thistle tea for hot flashes
Not a fan of sage tea? Give milk thistle tea a try. A study in Phytotherapy Research found that sipping a cup of the earthy, slightly sweet brew daily can reduce hot flashes by 73% within three months. Milk thistle (or Silybum marianum) contains a compound called silymarin, which helps the liver deactivate excess hormones that can affect your internal temperature.
7. Mixed nuts for hot flashes
Snacking on mixed nuts not only thwarts pesky hunger pangs, but it also can help keep hot flashes at bay. Research in Health Care for Women International found that foods rich in vitamin E, such as almonds, peanuts and sunflower seeds, can reduce hot flashes by nearly a third. Vitamin E helps the body regulate hormonal levels, which can become imbalanced during menopause and trigger flushing.
8. Dark leafy greens for hot flashes
Sure, you know that fruits and veggies are good for your heart and your brain. But it turns out they’re also a delicious way to fend off flushing. “Fruits and vegetables, particularly dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, and vegetables with bright colors are high in powerful antioxidants,” Shapiro says.
“Those antioxidants will decrease inflammation and oxidative stress, which will help to decrease, manage and balance hormonal shifts that can cause hot flashes.” Shapiro says in addition to antioxidants, fruits and vegetables provide fiber and water, which can help “balance our other hormones like insulin, preventing blood sugar spikes that exacerbate hot flashes.” (Click through to learn how to save on farm-fresh produce.)
9. Seafood for hot flashes
Yum! Every bite of a delicious tuna melt or salmon skewer tamps down hot flashes. Fish such as salmon, tuna and grouper are especially helpful when it comes to outsmarting flushing. “Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as cold water fish, are really important,” Shapiro says. “They have been shown to keep hot flashes more under control because omega-3s decrease inflammation in the body,” which can worsen flushing. Aim for about 3 to 4 oz. of seafood (about the size of a deck of cards) two to three times per week.
Not a seafood fan? No problem! Shapiro suggests opting for a supplement such as omega-3-rich fish oil instead. One to try: Nature’s Bounty Odor-Less Fish Oil, 1,400 mg. (Buy from iHerb.com, $13.43). And if you’re worried about a fishy aftertaste, don’t be. Simply store your fish oil supplement in the fridge. Doing so helps it pass into your intestine before it starts to break down and get absorbed. This eliminates the risk of a fishy flavor or “fish burps” that can happen when the oil starts to dissolve in your stomach instead.
2 common hot-flash-triggering drinks
While some sips and snacks can help ease your flashes, others can turn up the heat on your body. The first is caffeine. A study in Menopause found that caffeine exacerbates menopausal vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes. It constricts then widens blood vessels, which can interfere with blood flow and trigger or worsen flushing. The fix: Swap your regular cup of joe for a decaf variety instead.
The second common trigger is alcohol. Relaxing with a nightcap may be tempting, but Dr. Minkin says it’s not worth the burn you may feel later. “One thing that many women going through menopause experience is problems with sleep,” she says. “And many women say, ‘Let me have a nice glass of wine before I go to bed, and that will help me sleep.’ She may fall asleep readily, but unfortunately with something like a glass of red wine, she’s going to be awake in an hour or two.” That’s because alcohol widens blood vessels, allowing more blood flow to the skin that causes you to feel warmer. (Click through for watermelon mocktail slushie drinks that deliver all the flavor of cocktail without the heat.)
4 more natural ways to fight hot flashes
Filling up on the 9 best foods to fight hot flashes isn’t the only way to outsmart flushing. Here, 4 simple lifestyle tweaks that help you keep your cool.
1. Practice paced breathing
Taking evenly-spaced deep, diaphragmatic breaths helps cut hot flashes by 52%. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic found that taking six belly breaths a minute for 15 minutes twice daily increases vasodilation, blood vessels’ ability to dilate, better regulating body temperature. Plus it tamps down stress, which can worsen flushing. For a quick how-to, check out the video below.
2. Dress in layers
In cooler weather, Dr. Minkin advises dressing in layers you can easily shed should a hot flash strike. “If you’re wearing sweaters, make sure you have a T-shirt underneath,” she advises.”When you start sweating, you want to be able to slip off that sweater. You want to be able to control your own mini-environment and cool down.”
Down to your bottom layer and still feeling steamy? Drape a cooling scarf over your neck. Used by athlete’s, the scarves are made of a fabric that feels dry but evaporates water molecules, acting like a personal air conditioner. And Plus, research in the Journal of Applied Physiology finds that, compared to cooling other parts of your body, chilling your neck lowers your core temperature 250% more efficiently. One to try: Mission Cooling Bandana (Buy from Amazon.com, $14.99).
3. Try an ancient herb blend
A blend of ancient herbs known as Cynanchum wilfordii, Phlomis umbrosa and Angelica gigas can help thwart bothersome hot flashes. The combo, called EstroG-100, acts as natural estrogens in the body. It’s so effective, it can reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats by 61% in seven days, according to a study in Phytotherapy Research. One to try: Naomi Harmony Menopause Relief (Buy from NaomiW.com, $25.55).
4. Consider black cohosh for hot flashes
For relief from hot flashes — plus weight gain, insomnia, brain fog and other menopausal bothers — opt for black cohosh. A Mayo Clinic study found the white flowering herb cooled hot flashes by up to 71%. And a study in Gynecological Endocrinology found it tamed many other symptoms as well as prescription estrogen! The herb’s estrogenic sterols help balance hormone levels that get thrown out of whack during menopause, alleviating symptoms. One to try: Nature’s Way Black Cohosh Menopause Support (Buy from Amazon, $14.97).
Read on for more ways to outsmart menopausal health bothers:
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