If you've ever had hot flushes, you'll know how uncomfortable they can feel. The sudden intense burning up feeling, the prickly skin sensation, the profuse sweating and tell-tale facial redness, not to mention, for some, the heart palpitations can be thoroughly unpleasant.
Three out of every four women in the UK experience them during menopause and although the jury is still out on what causes them they may be a consequence of variable oestrogen levels, which are thought to upset the body's natural thermostat.
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Thankfully, hot flushes are extremely treatable. Your doctor can advise you on Hormone Replacement and other medication, but what you eat – or don't eat – may also have an impact.
A Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruit, veggies, oily fish, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains is widely regarded as one of the best ways to stay healthy and can help control weight and waist circumference at menopause, two factors that may also play a role in susceptibility to hot flushes.
One Australian study, which tracked the patterns of eating of more than 6,000 women at three year intervals over a period of nine years, found that consumption of a Mediterranean-style diet decreased the risk of reporting hot flushes and night sweats.
Another major study of 17,000 menopausal women, published in the medical journal Menopause, found that participants who ate lots of fruit, veggies and wholegrains experienced fewer hot flushes than those who consumed poorer, less nutrient-packed diets.
The message? Pile up your plate with all those delicious foods inspired by cuisine of the south of France, Spain, Italy and Greece, and other countries around the Mediterranean.
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Boost the soya in your diet
Research suggests that a diet rich in soya products think soya milk alternatives, tofu, edamame beans and soya chunks or mince, as well as fermented soya foods such as tempeh and miso which are popular in Japanese cuisine may help reduce menopausal hot flushes.
The reason? Plant oestrogens called isoflavones found in soya products. Indeed according to the British Dietetic Association consuming 40mg of isoflavones daily - around two glasses of soya milk or 100g soya mince - could help reduce how often you suffer hot flushes by a fith (20.6%) and reduce severity by more than a quarter (26.2%).
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Add flax seeds to your shopping list
Several small studies have looked into the effects of flax seeds on women during menopause, and found that a diet rich in these plant oestrogen-rich seeds may help to minimise hot flushes.
“There is some evidence to suggest that flaxseeds may offer some relief from hot flushes, by reducing the severity and frequency of symptoms, but more research and larger trials are needed before any firm conclusions can be made” says registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Associations Helen Bond. She adds, “Whether they help with hot flushes or not, they’re a great addition to our diet, increasing our intake of plant-based omega-3s - most useful to vegans and vegetarians who don’t eat fish - and gut healthy dietary fibre.”
Try eating two tablespoons of flax seeds a day for two to three weeks to see if it helps with your hot flush symptoms. Sprinkle them over your morning cereal, porridge or muesli, blended into smoothies or baked in breads and cakes - gradually increasing your daily dose to around 40g to help avoid any digestive discomfort, like bloating. And don’t forget to top up on fluid too!
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Stock up on shoots, sprouts and legumes
Legume shoots and sprouts, such as clover and alfalfa, are a source of coumestans, another type of phytoestrogens. Low levels are also found in Brussels sprouts and spinach. Split peas, pinto beans, lima beans, and soybean sprouts also contain small amounts of a particular type of coumestan. Fewer studies have been done on these types of phytoestrogens than on those found in soya and flax. However it could still be a good move to add some sprouted seeds to your lunchtime sandwich and incorporate more pulses into your diet.
Beware of spicy food
Major trigger number one, spicy food sets off hot flushes in many menopausal women.
The capsaicin in chillies for example dilates blood vessels, as does the piperine in black pepper – these chemicals give many spicy foods their characteristic heat and burning sensation.
If you're prone to flushing, overly dilated vessels will tend to magnify the symptoms, and the sensation of heat you get from the spice will only make things worse.
If you can't do without your hot curries, chilli con carne or jerk chicken, go easy on the spice, drink lots of water and eat the dish with a cooling yoghurt sauce.
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Cut down on alcohol
Booze, which also dilates the blood vessels, is another potential hot flush culprit, although studies are conflicted.
Not all women are susceptible, of course. However if you find alcohol makes you flush, limiting your intake is a wise move. Some women find they can tolerate a glass of wine or half a lager with food, especially if they match the alcoholic drink with a glass of water.
Hold off on the caffeine
You may want to go for the decaf iced option next time you visit your local coffee shop.
Why? Caffeine, which is also found in tea, chocolate and some soft drinks, has a stimulant effect and researcher suggests that caffeine use is linked to a higher incidence of hot flushes.
Hot drinks can also set off flushing, so, if you're susceptible, a piping hot espresso could make for a double whammy trigger. If you can't do without your daily hit, try to limit your intake to one caffeinated drink a day, the cooler, the better.
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