Feeling the heat in cancer treatment and menopause

October 7, 2008

Hot flushes are the bane of many menopausal women’s existence, but they also commonly occur in breast cancer patients who have treatment-related vasomotor symptoms. This is when there is an increase or decrease in the diameter of a blood vessel, which can regulate the amount of blood travelling to a particular body part.

Hot flushes or night sweats that result from the sudden opening of the blood vessels close to the skin, usually due to hormonal fluctuation, can be very uncomfortable- whatever their cause. There are a couple of natural alternatives that can be an effective alternative to drug therapy with fewer side effects.

The first is acupuncture, as was reported at the recent meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology. The women in their study had reported a minimum of 14 hot flushes a week, and half the group had twice weekly acupuncture treatments weekly for the first four weeks, followed by weekly sessions during the final eight weeks. The other half of the group were given drugs to control the flushes and received the standard daily dose usually given to manage vasomotor symptoms.

The study found that not only was acupuncture effective in reducing or eliminating the hot flushes, but it had no adverse effects. What did surprise them was that the therapeutic effects of acupuncture persisted long after the treatment. To quote them:

“Women who took the drug therapy started to have an increase in the number and intensity of hot flushes within two weeks of discontinuing the drug therapy, whereas women who had acupuncture didn’t start to have an increase in the number or severity of hot flushes for 14 or 15 weeks after discontinuing therapy.” They also observed that the acupuncture group not only reported no treatment-related side effects, but said they had improvement in energy, clarity of thought, sexual desire, and overall sense of well-being

Herbal Remidies to Tame Flushes and Night Sweats

Herbs have long been used in many cultures to help with hormonal disturbance and one of the oldest in use is sage. An Australian study in 2005 found that it reduced severe hot flushes by 60% – that’s worth trying isn’t it?

To make sage tea, take ten fresh leaves, or one and a half teaspoons of dried sage if you can’t get fresh leaves. Pour hot (not quite boiling) water over the leaves and add a spoon or two of honey to sweeten it. That way you get some B vitamins to help lift your mood as well! Let it cool slightly and drink about an hour before you go to bed.

Another popular herb for hot flushes and night sweats is black cohosh. In my experience this seems to work well for some women – but I would have to say not for all but dong quai seems more effective for the majority. A comparative study between HRT and dong quai, done in 2003, showed a huge 30% reduction in hot flushes after a month. The suggested dosage for hot flushes is 600mg a day, BUT there is however a strong contra-indication if you are taking medication such as warfarin, as dong quai is known to act as a blood thinner. Hot flushes seem to be variable from woman to woman so you may have to do a bit of experimenting to see what works, and when you are reduced to sleeping naked in a cast iron bath to cool down – and yes that is the voice of personal experience speaking – then you don’t always feel that patient! If trying individual herbs doesn’t work for you then try one of the combinations that several supplement companies make – and also watch to see if you have any triggers for your flushes. Stress can be a major one, as can certain things like coffee – might be worth keeping a food and mood diary to see if you can pin it down.


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