Of course, we know that hot flashes are caused by menopause. But what causes them? Why do they continue in some women and not in others? Why do some foods seem to precipitate them? Why do they occur in the dead of night?
As you may or may not know, if you look up "causes of hot flashes"--HOW they happen, the physiological mechanism--you repeatedly read the following:
The exact cause of hot flashes isn't known, but the signs and symptoms point to factors affecting the function of your body's thermostat — the hypothalamus. This area at the base of your brain regulates body temperature and other basic processes. The estrogen reduction you experience during menopause may disrupt hypothalamic function, leading to hot flashes.Well, duh!
I could have written that. I know what the hypothalamus does. Most of us who wake up soaking wet, have figured out that it's something like that.
But what CAUSES the hypothalamus to go wacky? What is the exact way lowered-estrogen affects the hypothalamus? How and why does hormone-level impact it?
Wait, they can figure out how to make hard-on drugs for old guys, but they still don't know what causes hot flashes?????
Now, let me guess. Why do you suppose that is?
Are women, specifically OLDER women, just not that important? Why has some high-end study not been conducted? THIS IS 2011!
Wait, let me guess again. Someone tried to fund a study, and couldn't get funded. The pharmaceutical industry specialized in giving women cancer for decades, and that was judged good enough. It was only when various medical studies came out, definitively condemning Hormone Replacement Therapy as a medical risk, that many women started studying the issue for ourselves. After all, our mothers and grandmothers had used HRT, and we assumed we might also.
But my mother had breast cancer (when she was exactly my age) and my grandmother had fibrocystic breast disease (to such an extent that she had several large, but benign, breast cysts surgically removed). Hm, thought the baby-boomer women. Maybe they're right, and we shouldn't use astronomical levels of hormones? (And why didn't they study the safety of hormones, before dosing millions of women with them? Well, why would they?)
Okay, we thought, let's study the condition, and figure out what might help; first, the cause of hot flashes. If we can isolate the cause, we can figure out what natural or alternative treatments might be. At the very least, we can figure out catalysts and try to minimize their occurrence.
They. Don't. Know.
They put a man on the moon (man on the moooooon) -- so yes, it is reasonable to assume they might care about their moms' discomfort. Isn't it?
I started menopause in 2006, and as regular readers know, I celebrated my postmenopausal self (defined as one year of not menstruating) by starting this blog in June of 2007. I still have hot flashes, although not the wretched slow-boil kind (known as "ember flashes"), which are mercifully behind me. Some women continue to have those, too, though. Why? And why are they notably less common in Asian women? Is this cultural, and possibly diet-related? A good way to determine this would be to study hot flashes in Asian women still living in Asian countries and eating Asian diets, vs Asian women who live in the USA and eat the usual American diet of processed foods, salty snacks and Taco Bell. Is there a difference in number of hot flashes? Or perhaps there is a genetic component.
And have they done this? I have no college degree, and yet, I can figure out this much.
Last night--BANG, in the middle of the night, I woke up and wiped off the sweat. I wondered if it was something I ate at a wedding reception, and then... was instantly peeved: I SHOULD KNOW THIS! I SHOULD KNOW WHAT FOODS TO AVOID, DAMMIT! WHERE IS MY GUIDE FOR THE MENOPAUSAL SWEATY WOMAN, WRITTEN BY SOME ASSOCIATION???!!! As the diabetic associations and the gluten-intolerance associations and the salt-free associations offer guides for their people.
No, they can't provide this, since they are clueless.
Women have lived on this planet as long as men, and yet--? Hot flashes are still described as a "mystery."
And so, in a nod to Gloria Steinem's witty piece titled "If Men Could Menstruate"--here is what occurred to me in the dead of night.
If Men Had Hot Flashes, there would be a Hot Flashes Association (HFA) with foods marked "HFA" (logo inside a macho male symbol), the way Cheerios have a little heart on them, for "heart healthy." Needless to say, they would KNOW which foods to eat and which not to eat, since extensive research and causality studies would exist.
If Men Had Hot Flashes, the Weather Channel would feature a daily Hot Flash Report, instructing men with maps of Hot Flash Regions for the day (since extensive research will show that weather is a factor). Men at work will ask each other (not in whispers, either), what the Hot Flash Report said that morning: "Did anyone catch the Hot Flash report? Whew, is it hot in here?" Raucous laughter and high-fives.
If Men Had Hot Flashes, there would be hot-flash drugs tomorrow morning. And they would be advertised in pricey, cutesy TV ads, just like Viagra, Cialis, etc. (Drugs with NO female equivalent, BTW, since older women's sexual enjoyment is as low-priority in this culture as the dilemma of hot flashes is.)
If Men Had Hot Flashes, when it's time to toast at the wedding and they flush unexpectedly, they will stand up boldly and proudly announce, "I AM HAVING A HOT FLASH!"--and all men in the room will applaud, laugh and cheer. It will be like announcing which team is going to the Orange Bowl. No shame, no apologies. No giggling by anybody when they turn beet-red. What is to apologize for? It's a sign of MANHOOD, isn't it? And therefore, it would be roundly celebrated.
If Men Had Hot Flashes, women would hear how we really don't understand the mysteries of the human body, the stages of life, the natural progression of age. We would hear jokes about "women menopause"--how women suddenly have to acquire sports cars and young hottie-boys in old age. Or is that just too funny to think about? Yes, you're right, never mind. (Let's skip this one, too sci-fi to be believable.)
If Men Had Hot Flashes, they would brag about how hot it was, how long it lasted, and who had the biggest. They would institute suitable competitions and a Champion thus installed: Hot Flash Champion. And everyone would know this man's name.
If Men Had Hot Flashes, they would probably wake up their wives at night and demand to be taken to the ER. Some Nice Guys(tm) would quietly and politely not wake the Missus, take a cold shower, and go back to sleep... only to be called MANGINA, WIMP, WUSS, PUSSY-WHIPPED and such, by his fellow males. Suitably chastened, Nice Guy(tm) will attempt to make a big fuss next time, like a proper man should.
If Men Had Hot Flashes, there would be literary works throughout history about Hot Flashes. Shakespeare's Henry V would have given a rousing speech, "We happy Few! We who burn on the pyre manhood!" (Males thrust weapons into the air and shout in response: AGGGHHH!!!!) TS Eliot would write great poems about his hot flashes, while Hemingway would turn it into an existential drama about hunting. And we would have to study all of this in school, and it would be nothing to take lightly or laugh about. THIS IS MANHOOD WE ARE TALKING ABOUT, people!
If Men Had Hot Flashes, John Wayne would have said: "I gotta hot flash, pilgrim, whats it to ya?" This famous manly comment, shrugging off the tortures of the damned, will make it into Bartlett's Quotations.
If Men Had Hot Flashes, well, I wouldn't even have to write this. ;)