How to relieve hot flashes the Dr. Oz way—with Siberian rhubarb extract and ashwagandha.

On the January 13, 2012 episode of the Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Wendy Warner recommended taking Siberian rhubarb extract and Ashwagandha to menopausal women seeking relief of hot flashes.  We know—because within minutes of that segment of the show, a website of ours that features an herbal menopause remedy containing Siberian rhubarb root extract, was bombarded with traffic.

Dr. Warner also recommended Ashwagandha, another herb that is often referred to as an adaptogen because it helps the body adapt to stress.   Thanks to Dr. Warner for getting the word out.

In order to really get the most out of Dr. Warner’s recommendations, I think it’s important to understand why they make sense.  That is, how do they help the body or what do they do?

Why some women get hot flashes and some women don’t

Let’s take a look at what happens when you approach menopause.  Over a period of years the production of the two sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone begins to falter in fits and starts.  As a result one’s menstrual cycle can get longer or shorter, and the amount of bleeding during periods usually (but not always) decreases.  With faltering estrogen levels one can also experience hot flashes.  Initially they tend to occur around one’s period.  Later on they will occur throughout the month, whether you’re still having periods or not.

Up to 63% of perimenopausal women experience hot flashes in the United States.  93% of women experience hot flashes sometime during the first two years after menopause.

But not all women experience hot flashes, or other menopause complaints to the same extent.  In Japan for instance, only 25% of women report hot flashes.   Mayan women in Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico report no hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia during menopause.

How can the marked difference between their experience of menopause and that of American women be explained?  It is likely due to many factors.  But the three factors that are most significant are probably these.

1)  Dietary consumption of phytoestrogens via food and herbs.

Phytoestrogens are plant molecules that look like estrogen and have a weak estrogenic effect in the human body.  There are many different phytoestrogens found in Nature, all with different properties.  The Japanese diet is high in soy products which are rich in phytoestrogens called isoflavones (genistin, daidzin and glycitin).

These phytoestrogens from the Japanese diet help replace the estrogen lost as a function of menopause.  Their replacement results in an easier menopause, including fewer hot flashes, etc.  Certain herbs also contain phytoestrogens—red clover, Siberian rhubarb root extract.  The efficacy of these phytoestrogen containing herbs depends on the herb used and how it is processed.  Siberian rhubarb root extract (called ERr731) has been shown to be particularly good at relieving menopause related complaints.

2)  Adrenal health.

Most people don’t realize that the adrenal or stress glands also produce estrogens (plus progesterone and testosterone).  During perimenopause and menopause the amount of estrogen and progesterone produced by the ovaries drops many fold.  This fall in estrogen and progesterone secretion is made up in part by the adrenal glands—when they are healthy.

But unfortunately, many Americans (men and women alike) suffer from hypoadrenia, or less than optimal adrenal gland function.  Less than optimal adrenal function has also been referred to as adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion.  These latter names are very appropriate since the result of hypoadrenia is often chronic fatigue or exhaustion.

Hypoadrenia, or adrenal fatigue

What is the cause of hypoadrenia?  Too much stress for too long.  A major function of the adrenal glands is to help you respond appropriately to stress.  From our body’s point of view, when danger presents itself, we should run like heck (to escape) or fight like the dickens (to annihilate the danger).

In our modern society the stresses we face are often not dealt with that easily.  We can’t run from or bear up an annoying boss or coworker.  But the constant stress of these situations takes its toll on our physiology, particularly the glands responsible for our stress response, the adrenals.  When we place too much of a demand on the adrenals for too long of a time, they get worn out.

When estrogen and progesterone levels begin to falter during perimenopause, the already tired adrenal glands (in hypadrenia) are unable to make up for any of the deficit.  This is how a history of chronic stress and the resultant sub-optimal adrenal function can contribute to menopause related complaints such as hot flashes and night sweats.

Hot flashes and stress

We also know that hot flashes and night sweats are aggravated by stress.  During stress the level of stress hormones is elevated.  The brain monitors the level of stress hormones, and also the level of other hormones in the body (estrogen, progesterone, FSH, LH) in the body.  The proportion of all of these hormones, one to another, is also thought to contribute to the incidence of hot flashes.

Strengthening your adrenals

One way to strengthen tired adrenal glands is the use of a group of herbs called adaptogens.  These herbs have been shown to help the body adapt to stress.  Some well known adaptogens include ashwagandha, ginseng, rhodiola, licorice root and shizandra.  On the Dr. Oz show, Dr. Warder recommended taking ashwagandha for this reason—it is an adaptogenic herb that can help your body adapt better to stress.  In this way, because of the adrenal glands’ role in the production of stress hormones and estrogen and progesterone, one’s menopausal hot flashes and night sweats can also be helped.

Other nutrients that have been shown to support adrenal function are Vitamin C, the B Vitamins, Vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, selenium, molybdenum and chromium.

This is the natural prescription for relief of hot flashes.  Take a good phytoestrogen containing herb—I recommend Siberian rhubarb root extract (ERr731).  And take adrenal supporting adaptogenic herbs (ashwagandha, licorice root, rhodiola) and nutrients (B complex, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, selenium, molybdenum and chromium).

Thank you Dr. Warner for bringing attention to these natural remedies that when combined are an excellent HRT alternative that is effective and safe.