Can Blood Sugar Impact Hot Flashes?

Explore the link between blood sugar and menopausal hot flashes, and how dietary changes may offer relief and improve metabolic health.

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by
Alicia Buchter
— Signos
Health writer
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Reviewed by

Alicia Buchter
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
March 22, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Most women in their 50s have experienced those sudden waves of heat and sweating, aptly named hot flashes. This hallmark symptom of menopause is very common, affecting more than 80 percent of women. Hot flashes can occur multiple times daily and can have a significant impact on women’s quality of life and psychological wellbeing. While the cause of these uncomfortable episodes is not completely understood, more recent studies have revealed that blood glucose levels may play a role. 

In this article, we'll dive into the relationship between blood sugar and hot flashes and explore how managing your metabolic health could improve your symptoms.

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What Are Hot Flashes?

Menopause is a natural biological process marking the end of reproductive years in women and is considered to have started once a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 months. Women go through menopause after age 40, with the national average being 51. This transitional period is often accompanied by a myriad of symptoms, some of which are uncomfortable. Hot flashes, characterized by sudden sensations of heat, sweating, and flushing, are one of the most common symptoms women experience while going through menopause and its precursor, called perimenopause. 

Hot flashes often feel like a sudden expansion of warmth across the upper body, accompanied by redness and perspiration. Some people also experience a rapid heartbeat or a feeling of anxiety or unease. Often, the “flash” is followed by chills as the body cools down rapidly. These vasomotor symptoms can manifest differently in each person, varying in length and severity and occurring rarely or multiple times a day. Hot flashes can be uncomfortable and embarrassing and impact sleep quality and daily activities.

Hot flashes can occur without warning or obvious reason, but certain external factors can also trigger them. Some things that are known to trigger hot flashes include:

  • Being overheated
  • Tight clothes
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods

Menopause is the main cause of hot flashes, but it can also sometimes result from other factors like medications, thyroid disorders, stress, anxiety, or certain lifestyle factors. If you are experiencing hot flashes we recommend you consult a healthcare professional who can provide personalized guidance and treatment.

Physiology of Hot Flashes

woman holding a book while looking somewhere else

The underlying cause of hot flashes is not fully understood and is likely multifaceted. However, hormonal fluctuations, particularly the decline in estrogen levels during menopause, have long been considered the main trigger of hot flashes. Experts believe that changes in estrogen and other hormones impact the sympathetic nervous system, specifically the hypothalamus, as it works to regulate temperature.

A hot flash is your body’s exaggerated attempt to release heat when it senses your internal body temperature is increasing. Non-menopausal women initiate mechanisms of heat loss once core body temperature increases by 0.4°C. In contrast, women with hot flashes initiate these vasodilatory responses with a much smaller increase in core body temperature.1 While hormonal fluctuations have been considered fundamental to the manifestation of hot flashes, recent research has shed light on the potential role of blood sugar dysregulation in exacerbating these symptoms.

Blood Sugar Fluctuation and Hot Flashes

An increasing body of evidence shows how tightly blood sugar and hormones are tied together. Estrogen plays an important part in glucose transport to the brain when blood glucose levels are low or when the brain is activated. During menopause, the decrease in estrogen can prevent adequate glucose transport to the brain. This triggers an overexaggerated neurovascular response, causing vasodilation as the neurovascular system tries to increase the flow of blood containing glucose and oxygen to the brain. Blood vessels expand, and you start feeling the uncomfortable sensation of heat across your body. Low blood sugar can amplify this cascade of events. Some research shows that dips in glucose between meals can trigger hot flashes and suggests that maintaining optimal glucose concentrations can prevent them.2, 3

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="weight-loss-menopause">Weight Loss and Menopause: What You Need To Know</a>.</p>

Insulin Resistance and Hormonal Dysregulation

While dips in glucose may trigger hot flashes, so can high glucose levels. This creates a challenging balancing act for women. Along with high glucose levels comes insulin resistance, and both markers have been linked to more frequent and more severe hot flashes. In one large, longitudinal study, researchers found that the frequency of hot flashes increased among women as blood glucose levels and insulin resistance increased.5 Similarly, another smaller study found that women with more severe hot flashes tended to have higher fasting glucose levels and insulin resistance.6 

Hot flashes have also been linked to diabetes risk. A substantial study of 150,000 women found that women who experienced any vasomotor symptoms also had a 20 percent higher risk of diabetes, and even more so if they experienced night sweats.7

To complicate matters, metabolic syndrome might also exacerbate hot flashes by activating your body’s stress response. The part of the brain involved in hot flashes is the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your flight-or-flight response and the uncomfortable sensations you experience during a hot flash. Metabolic syndrome is known to cause the overactivation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which could contribute to its exaggerated response during a hot flash.4

These findings reveal a link between blood glucose, insulin resistance, and vasomotor symptoms. The positive correlation between these markers of metabolic syndrome and hot flashes suggests that regulating blood sugar may help to relieve symptoms.

Diet and Hot Flashes

a plate of assorted fruits

Research shows that diet changes can have an impact on hot flashes. Eating more fruits and vegetables, less sugar, and unhealthy fats could improve symptoms. One cohort study with 6,000 female participants found that following a Mediterranean diet decreased the risk of experiencing vasomotor symptoms by 20 percent. On the other hand, the researchers found that those who consumed diets high in fat and sugar were 20 percent more likely to experience the symptoms.8 

Similarly, another study found that participants who lost weight while participating in a year-long program designed for fat loss and increasing fruit, vegetable, and fiber intake experienced fewer vasomotor symptoms than those who were not in the program.9 

Diets higher in fiber and lower in fat (including trans fats) may lower estrogen levels and, therefore, decrease their variability. Another reason for this result could be that the Mediterranean diet consists mostly of low-glycemic foods, which do not spike blood sugar very much and result in a gradual decline after eating. 

While hot flashes may feel like an inevitable part of the menopausal journey, understanding the role of blood sugar opens up new avenues for managing these symptoms. Eating a healthy diet that supports stable glucose levels and helps balance your shifting hormones could offer relief from unpleasant flashes. Adjust your diet to include more fruits and vegetables while decreasing sugar and trans fat intake. Balancing your blood sugar could help with hot flashes, but you’ll likely also notice many other ways your body feels better as you age. 

Learn to Manage Your Blood Glucose With Signos’ Expert Advice

Every day, we make hundreds of dietary choices. Each of these choices impacts sugar levels, and over time they shape our metabolic health. By shifting daily habits, we can have immense control over our health long term. With Signos, you’ll gain insight into how your body responds uniquely to food, and what micro-habits you can implement to balance your blood sugar levels long term.

Learn how Signos combines continuous blood glucose data with personalized advice to guide your health journey. Read more about how CGMs can be a tool for managing stress, sleeping better, gaining energy, and losing weight. Take a quick quiz to see if Signos is right for you.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Related: </strong><a href="blood-sugar-and-menopause">Menopause and Blood Sugar: What Happens & How to Handle It</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Bansal, R.; Aggarwal, N. Menopausal Hot Flashes: A Concise Review. J. -Life Health 2019, 10 (1), 6–13. https://doi.org/10.4103/jmh.JMH_7_19.
  2. Dormire, S.; Howharn, C. The Effect of Dietary Intake on Hot Flashes in Menopausal Women. J. Obstet. Gynecol. Neonatal Nurs. 2007, 36 (3), 255–262. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1552-6909.2007.00142.x.
  3. Dormire, S. L. The Potential Role of Glucose Transport Changes in Hot Flash Physiology: A Hypothesis. Biol. Res. Nurs. 2009, 10 (3), 241–247. https://doi.org/10.1177/1099800408324558.
  4. Thorp, A. A.; Schlaich, M. P. Relevance of Sympathetic Nervous System Activation in Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome. J. Diabetes Res. 2015, 2015, 341583. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/341583.
  5. Thurston, R. C.; El Khoudary, S. R.; Sutton-Tyrrell, K.; Crandall, C. J.; Sternfeld, B.; Joffe, H.; Gold, E. B.; Selzer, F.; Matthews, K. A. Vasomotor Symptoms and Insulin Resistance in the Study of Women’s Health across the Nation. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2012, 97 (10), 3487–3494. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2012-1410.
  6. Huang, W.-Y.; Chang, C.-C.; Chen, D.-R.; Kor, C.-T.; Chen, T.-Y.; Wu, H.-M. Circulating Leptin and Adiponectin Are Associated with Insulin Resistance in Healthy Postmenopausal Women with Hot Flashes. PLOS ONE 2017, 12 (4), e0176430. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176430.
  7. Gray, K. E.; Katon, J. G.; LeBlanc, E. S.; Woods, N. F.; Bastian, L. A.; Reiber, G. E.; Weitlauf, J. C.; Nelson, K. M.; LaCroix, A. Z. Vasomotor Symptom Characteristics: Are They Risk Factors for Incident Diabetes? Menopause 2018, 25 (5), 520. https://doi.org/10.1097/GME.0000000000001033.
  8. Herber-Gast, G.-C. M.; Mishra, G. D. Fruit, Mediterranean-Style, and High-Fat and -Sugar Diets Are Associated with the Risk of Night Sweats and Hot Flushes in Midlife: Results from a Prospective Cohort Study123. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2013, 97 (5), 1092–1099. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.049965.
  9. Kroenke, C. H.; Caan, B. J.; Stefanick, M. L.; Anderson, G.; Brzyski, R.; Johnson, K. C.; LeBlanc, E.; Lee, C.; La Croix, A. Z.; Park, H. L.; Sims, S. T.; Vitolins, M.; Wallace, R. Effects of a Dietary Intervention and Weight Change on Vasomotor Symptoms in the Women’s Health Initiative. Menopause 2012, 19 (9), 980. https://doi.org/10.1097/gme.0b013e31824f606e.
  10. King, L. M.; PhD. What Are Hot Flashes? What Can You Do About Them?. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/menopause/menopause-hot-flashes (accessed 2024-03-16).

About the author

Alicia Buchter is a content writer for Signos and earned her degree in Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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