Lifestyle changes such as exercise and balanced nutrition also may help lessen the severity and/or frequency of your hot flashes.
Increasing your level of activity — everything from simple changes, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or starting a formal exercise program — can reduce hot flashes and have a positive impact on just about every other symptom attributed to menopause. These other symptoms can include insomnia, fatigue, mood swings, heart disease, bone loss, and reduced sex drive.
However, it’s important to start slowly and work with a physical therapist or trainer who has experience advising women with breast cancer. Straining or injuring the arm and/or upper body can increase the risk of lymphedema, a condition in which the tissues swell up with fluid. For more information on safe exercise, visit the Breastcancer.org section on Exercise.
Diet and Nutrition
Changing your diet can help boost your energy, manage your weight, and control your hot flashes. Usually this means sticking to small, light, regular meals with fewer calories, minimal fat, and more vegetables and fruit. Avoid sauces and spices that have a bite to them, and try eating foods that are served cold, at room temperature or warm, but not hot. Think of it being more like bird food than bear food.
It was once thought that adding soy proteins to the diet could be helpful against hot flashes, since soy is a form of plant estrogen. Examples of soy-containing foods include tofu, tempeh, soybeans, and roasted soy nuts. However, research has not confirmed their benefit, and their long-term safety has not been proven for women with breast cancer.
You may have heard about other plant estrogens that some women have found helpful in treating hot flashes, such as ginseng, evening primrose oil, licorice root, red raspberry leaves, sarsaparilla, spearmint, damiana, motherwort, chasteberry, and black cohosh. Again, though, their safety and effectiveness have not been confirmed in research studies. Herbal remedies are not closely regulated and contamination issues are a major concern.
There also has been some interest in Chinese herbal medicines such as dong quai as a treatment for hot flashes. It’s important to know that there is not enough research to support using dong quai for long periods of time, and it may act like estrogen in the body.
For more information about healthy eating and dietary supplements, visit our section on Nutrition.