Reasonably healthy menopausal women with hot flashes and night sweats, have a nearly 30 percent lower risk of dying over 20 years than women without these classic menopause symptoms.
This data comes from the Rancho Bernardo study, and is published in the Menopause journal.
I’ve always wondered why Mother Nature challenges menopausal women with hot flashes and night sweats. Burning in the crucible of transformation makes a good topic for contemplation, but what's the physiologic reason for these common symptoms? Don’t we have enough body issues to attend to at this age, what with wrinkles, weight gain and dryness in sensitive areas?
It’s estimated that at least half of menopausal women suffer from hot flashes and night sweats, but in this study of predominantly upper middle-class white women from the Rancho Bernardo study, 73 percent reported hot flashes and of those, 39 percent also had night sweats. After 11.5 years of follow-up, those who had both hot flashes and night sweats had nearly a 30 percent lower risk of dying. Even more surprising, this lower risk held true even if the women were overweight, didn’t exercise, smoked, or were past or present users of conventional hormone replacement therapy.
Are hot flashes and night sweats a form of house cleaning?
Posing the “why hot flashes and night sweats” question from a medical anthropology viewpoint, perhaps these symptoms are nature’s way of detoxing a woman’s body; sort of a major house cleaning before shutting down the ovaries and uterus for the business of monthly cycles and pregnancy.
The skin is our largest organ of detoxification, and sweating is one of the best ways to detoxify. In fact, sweating releases fat-soluble toxins, which are notorious for hanging around in fat cells for decades and eventually causing the kinds of DNA damage that can lead to cancer.
It might be an interesting experiment to take the night sweats-soaked sheets of a menopausal woman and analyze them for toxins.
If night sweats are a form of detoxification, menopausal women may want to consider embracing hot flashes and night sweats, at least for a few months, before turning to bioidentical hormones to stop them. Exercise that encourages sweating, and saunas, might theoretically enhance the process.
This great little study brings up many questions worth asking.
Svartberg J, von Muhlen D, Kritz-Silverstein D, Barrett-Connor E, “Vasomotor symptoms and mortality: the Rancho Bernardo Study,” Menopause 2009 Sep-Oct;16(5):888-91.