Hot and cold flashes are typically caused by hormone havoc in your head. As estrogen levels drop, the hypothalamus – the part of your brain responsible for regulating your body temperature – gets overactive, releasing chemicals that alert your body it’s overheating. The body sheds heat (hello hot flash), whether you want it to or not, often leading to a cold flash. Brrr!  Although they’re rarer than the typical hot flash, up to 80% of women will experience cold flashes.

Eating the betr lifestyle will often substantially help relieve symptoms associated with both hot and cold flashes, or minimize their intensity and duration.  Often, our dietary, exercise, and behavioral choices can mean the difference between comfort and chaos and Dr. Rebecca Dunsmoor-Su, MD, MSCE and Director of Health, has some helpful tips on approaching cold flashes:

  1. Reduce stress and anxiety.  Anxiety and can cause cold flashes or make them worse. And since women in perimenopause and menopause are more prone to anxiety, between an overactive hypothalamus and a hyper-alert central nervous system, women can spend an awful lot of time just trying to be comfortable. The stress response activating hormones of a "fight or flight" emergency will constrict blood vessels and moving blood around so that the body is better prepared to deal with a perceived threat. These changes alone can cause the body to feel cold – blood is warm and with less blood being available near the skin, this can make the body feel cold. Trying some deep breathing, meditation, and prayer can help calm you and reduce the severity and duration of flashes.
  2. Avoid triggers. Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, nicotine all can trigger hot and cold flashes or make them worse.
  3. Think layers. Although the weather and what you eat and drink may have little or no bearing on if you have a hot or cold flash, they can make having one more uncomfortable, so wear layers. If you experience a hot flash that causes you to sweat, change clothes or pjs immediately to get the moisture away from your body, as that can trigger the shiver.  Keep a lap blanket or small space heater near your desk.
  4. Get up and move. Exercise or just moving around is really beneficial during a cold flash. You need to get the blood flowing to extremities like hands and feet.

Cold flashes can last hours or longer, so understand that remedies may take time to have any effect. Also, sometimes the things we do to survive a cold flash can actually trigger a hot flash, so make your accommodations gradually – drink warm things instead of hot things, pile on one blanket instead of ten, don’t crank the heat up to tropical temps.  

If you’re having disruptive cold flashes, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor.  Poor blood circulation, thyroid dysfunction, anemia, and low blood sugar all can cause cold flashes and can be more serious than a typical hormonal imbalance due to menopause.  

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