Hot Flash: Flaxseed May Not Help Menopause Symptoms
Posted Jun 09 2011 3:56am
If you’re one of many women turning to alternative medicine as a way of dealing with hot flashes during menopause or breast cancer treatment, you might want to cross flaxseed off your list. That's the suggestion of a new study presented today at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology which found this natural treatment ineffective in controlling hot flashes.
In this randomized, placebo-controlled study of 188 women, doctors from the Mayo Clinic and the North Central Cancer Treatment Group report they found no statistically significant difference in hot flash episodes among women eating crushed flax seed compared to those who didn’t.
This finding contradicts earlier research by the same group which suggested that 40 grams of crushed flax seed daily might be a safe and effective way to treat hot flashes.
"While our preliminary data from our 2007 pilot study showed a reduction in hot flashes associated with the consumption of ground flaxseed, our new study did not result in a significant decrease in hot flashes with eating flaxseed compared to placebo,” said Sandhya Pruthis, M.D., of Mayo’s Breast Diagnostic Clinic and a researcher at North Central.
Flax is a plant grown for both it's seeds and it's fiber. The seeds are what contain the nutritional value while the fiber is used in the manufacture of cloth and paper.
What Causes a Hot Flash?
Hot flashes can occur for many reasons, but the two most common are related to menopause and certain breast cancer treatments. The flashes themselves occur due to rapid changes in body temperature - changes that are ultimately linked to fluctuations in hormones, particularly estrogen.
In fact, while most women believe it is low estrogen that causes a hot flash, in truth, it is really the fluctuations of estrogen– the up-and-down movement that occurs during the “change of life” - that is really behind many menopause symptoms, including hot flashes.
Indeed, as estrogens levels rise and fall they send an erroneous message to your brain, specifically your hypothalamus gland the command central responsible for keeping your body temperature on an even keel. This erroneous message tells your brain that your body is overheated - even when you're not - and must dispense of all this excess heat immediately.
As a result your hypothalamus gland sends a chemical message to your blood vessels to rapidly dilate and release that excess heat.
This rapid release of body heat is what you experience when a “hot flash” occurs.
However, usally within about 5 to 10 minutes your brain figures out that your hypothalamus was “tricked” by those bouncing hormones, and that you really weren’t overheated at all. This in turn causes your brain to send out a new message to immediately stop releasing heat – which is turn causes blood vessels to constrict and the hot flash to subside.
Indeed, the fact that all this heat was released when you really weren't overheated is one reason why many women experience a brief bout of the "chills" after each hot flash.
Natural treatments for hot flashes
Natural treatments such as flax seed are thought to help hot flashes by stabilizing estrogen levels, thus keeping the fluctuations at bay. By doing so, the hypothalamus gland gets fewer “wrong” messages, so fewer hot flashes occur.
Now, however, this new study suggests that flax seed does not appear to have the ability to do this - and might not be the right answer for women seeking natural hot flash relief.
What the study does not tell us, however, is whether or not higher doses of the flax seed might work, or if using this treatment for a longer period of time might change the outcome.
That said, Dr. Pruthis suggests that if you enjoy including flax seed in your diet, you should continue to do so since there it has many other healthful benefits. In addition to being a good source of fiber which can help manage constipation and blood sugar (two other problems related to menopause) flax seed can also be a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, which have other important health benefits during menopause , including helping to control mood swings.
Other natural treatments for hot flashes include herbs such as black cohash, red clover and dong quai.
To learn more about natural treatments for menopause symptoms, including bioidentical hormones visit www.yourMenopause.com .
Colette Bouchez is an award winning medical journalist and author of ten books on women’s health including “ The Hot Flash Solution” , a breakthrough guide for treating hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause naturally.
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