Wednesday Bubble: Hot flashes? Try a little mindfulness…

Posted by on Mar 16, 2011 in mind-body therapy | 1 comment


No bubble bursting or woo woo. I’m talking the real deal. And if mindfulness doesn’t lead to a wee bit of tenderness, well, I don’t know what will. But enough of me taking poetic license with Otis.

Back in January, I wrote about a piece about the relaxation response and how a daily relaxation practice can actually alter gene structure and induce cellular changes believed to promote health. In the post, I said that “both inner and outer psychological states and environmental factors play a role in how women experience peri and post-menopause, their self-esteem, attitudes and severity of symptoms. If a daily practice of some sort of relaxation strategy can actually alter genes in a way that improves health and well-being, why can’t that daily practice also improve the menopausal/midlife experience?”

Guess what?

It appears that I might have been correct.

Writing in the Advanced Online edition of Menopause, researchers say that women who learn to recognize and more accurately discriminate the components that make up an experience, e.g. thoughts, feelings and sensations, or more specifically, the degree of bother and stress related to hot flashes, may be able to reduce the impact of the flashes on wellbeing.

In this 20 week study, women who were late into the transition into full menopause or in early menopause who reported experiencing, on average, 5 or more moderate to severe hot flashes/night sweats a week were assigned to 8 weekly mindfulness-based stress reduction classes  plus one, all day weekend class or to a waiting list. These classes, which lasted 2.5 hours at a time, involved the following:

  • Focused awareness of gradually moving thoughts through one’s body from the feet to head while lying down, paying close attention to bodily sensations
  • A sitting meditation focusing on breathing
  • Mindful stretching
  • Learning materials that discussed how to apply mindful stress reduction practice to everyday life and specifically in response to distressing symptoms and situations.

All participants also completed daily hot flash diaries to rate how bothersome their hot flashes were throughout the study period. Additionally, the researchers analyzed the intensity of hot flashes, quality of life, sleep quality, anxiety and perceived stress, as well as medical history, smoking, previous experience with mindfulness practices, and factors directly related to flashes such as smoking, body mass index, alcohol use and physical activity.

Granted, this study is a small one. But the researchers found that mindful stress reduction practice significantly reduced hot flash bother over time by almost as much as 15% after nine weeks and by almost 22% by 20 weeks, compared to at least half as much in women who were on the wait list. Moreover, sleep quality improved considerably!

Overall, the researchers say that their findings truly highlight the role that stress in general, and mental stress in particular, play in how we perceive hot flashes, how much we are bothered by them, and even their severity and frequency. However, they also say that the fact that mindfulness practice did not affect the intensity of hot flashes shows that it might simply help women cope better with them. Less clear is how the degree to which the placebo effect played a role; studies of pharmaceutical treatments report a subjective placebo effect of up to 30% so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Still, they believe that their data show that mindfulness stress reduction may be a significant resource for reducing the bother of hot flashes. Overall, it’s a win-win. Calm the mind; calm the body. Why not try a little tenderness with yourself?

One Comment

  1. 3-16-2011

    Very nicely put. Women should try a little tenderness. Life poses enough challenges so why add to the stress we have no control over?


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