Hot flashes and sugar cravings are fixtures of menopause for many of us. But did you know that hot flashes and sugar intake are related?
By reading this blog, you agree not to use this blog as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or others, including but not limited to patients that you are treating. Consult your own physician for any medical issues that you may be having.
What Are Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes (or hot flushes) are one of the most annoying symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. They can happen at any time and seemingly come out of nowhere. Picture dining out and having a lovely glass of red wine.
Next thing you know, a fire radiates from your core to your limbs and through the top of your head. Your heart is pounding furiously as you desperately search for a fan. And just as you feel like you’re about to spontaneously combust, a cold sweat ensues, leaving you in need of a towel and a blanket. Sound familiar?
According to an article in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America, up to 85% of menopausal women report enduring hot flashes. In fact, hot flashes and night sweats can interfere with everything from sleep to relationships.
As for me, my husband and I no longer cuddle in bed because it triggers a hot flash. And I shiver every night because I have drenching night sweats that make me cold when the hot flash is over.
Unfortunately, the Mayo Clinic writes most women can expect these hot flash symptoms to stick around for some time – about seven years. Still, up to 15 percent of menopausal women will suffer from hot flashes for 15 years or more. At 81, my mother still has hot flashes! Now, that’s disheartening!
What Causes Hot Flashes?
According to Medical News Today, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone in menopause impact our brain’s ability to regulate body temperature, causing hot flashes. The Mayo Clinic further explains that decreased estrogen levels cause the hypothalamus in our brain (the body’s thermostat) to react more when our body temperature changes slightly. And this reactivity ultimately leads to a hot flash.
How Are Sugar and Hot Flashes Related?
While a variety of conditions and behaviors lead to hot flashes, the correlation between sugar intake and hot flashes is striking.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) found hot flashes were associated with insulin resistance and higher blood glucose (blood sugar) in menopausal women. Another study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing (JOGNN), suggests that fluctuation in blood sugar levels may lead to hot flashes. On the other hand, maintaining blood sugar stability may reduce them.
In plain language, to keep hot flashes at bay, you should avoid eating patterns that cause blood sugar to fluctuate rapidly.
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Why Managing Blood Sugar and Reducing Hot Flashes Matters to Your Health
The JCEM study concluded the association between hot flashes and blood sugar levels may also help us understand how hot flashes relate to heart disease.
The study’s lead author, Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, clinical and translational science, epidemiology, and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh told Healthline that frequent and ongoing hot flashes during menopause means a higher risk of having a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke) over the next 20 years.
That correlation makes sense, given the connection between blood glucose levels and heart disease generally.
Everyday Health explains that high blood sugar levels can cause arteries to become stiff and hard, while fat accumulates inside them. This atherosclerosis, can block the arteries to the heart and brain, causing a heart attack or stroke.
How to Reduce Dietary Sugar and Hot Flashes
Sugar is not just present in soda and candy bars. It’s also found refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and a number of common processed foods. So, to reduce hot flashes, we need to look at all the sugar sources in our diet and work to limit them.
The Glycemic Index
First, let’s talk about the glycemic index (GI), which is used to understand blood sugar and better manage it. According to Healthline, the GI ranks how quickly certain foods increase blood sugar levels on a scale of 1 to 100:
- Low: 55 or less
- Medium: 56-69
- High: 70 or above
High GI foods tend to release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream, while low GI foods tend to release glucose more slowly.
According to Harvard Health, both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics and pre-diabetics should try to eat low GI foods to maintain glucose control, as high GI foods can spike blood sugar levels. And even if you’re not diabetic, if you suffer from hot flashes, blood sugar spikes are a no-no!
In general, highly processed foods tend to have a greater GI, while the GI for high fiber foods tends to be lower. Harvard Health reports that low GI foods include most fruits and vegetables, minimally processed grains, nuts, pasta, and low-fat dairy foods.
Moderate GI foods include breakfast cereals like Cream of Wheat and Mini-Wheats, potatoes (white and sweet), corn, and white rice. And high GI foods include white bread, crackers, bagels, certain sugary baked goods, and most packaged breakfast cereals.
To see more foods and their GIs check out this table of 62 common foods produced by the American Diabetes Association.
Minimizing GI in the foods we eat is important to stabilize blood sugar levels. And so is avoiding foods high in hidden added sugars.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Dietary Guidelines) state the average American gets 270 calories of added sugars each day, which amounts to a whopping 17 teaspoons of sugar!
The Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting calories from added sugars to 10% or fewer each day. That amounts to 200 calories or about 12 teaspoons in a 2,000 calorie diet.
Added sugars include sugars and syrups added to processed foods like soda, candy, cereal, cookies, and even yogurt! To limit these foods, know what’s in them!
Look for brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, trehalose, and turbinado sugar, say the Dietary Guidelines. If they are high in the list of ingredients, you should reconsider whether to consume them.
Sugars are also hidden in foods we don’t usually think of as sweet, like pasta sauces, ketchup, and crackers! In fact, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese contains 10 grams of sugar. That’s over two teaspoons of sugar, and we didn’t even add the fries! The bottom line is to become educated about what you eat so you can make good choices.
Reducing sugar in your diet not only may reduce hot flashes, but it also lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and is essential if you’re a diabetic. So, why not give it a try? You have absolutely nothing to lose but hot flashes, calories, and health issues!
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