For a woman, tearing off her own clothes may seem like perfectly understandable behavior when she’s in the grip of a menopausal hot flash.
But every woman I know would prefer a more practical approach to cooling the internal inferno.
That’s why it was such a bummer when a recent study reported that a commonly recommended deep-breathing technique failed to relieve hot flashes.
But: What if the women in the study were not doing the right kind of breathing?
If you get hot flashes (or if you’re a man and your lady gets them), here’s what I want you to know—to really reduce them, you have to do more than simply breathe slowly and deeply. You have to practice yogic breathing, or pranayama. Don’t worry about the strange name—it isn’t hard to do, and it really does help, I heard from Andrew L. Rubman, ND, medical director of the Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines in Southbury, Connecticut.
Here’s what went wrong with the hot flash study I mentioned above, according to Dr. Rubman…and the simple breathing technique that women should try instead.
HOT FLASH STUDY UNDER FIRE
In the recent study, Indiana University School of Nursing researchers assigned one group of menopausal women to practice paced respiration, taking six to eight deep breaths per minute for 15 minutes daily, as is recommended for hot flash relief by the North American Menopause Society. Control groups practiced either a sham breathing technique involving fast, shallow breathing…or just breathed normally (typically about 14 breaths per minute). Disappointingly, after 16 weeks, the paced-respiration group experienced no significant benefit—their hot flashes were no less frequent and no less intense than those in the other groups. Mainstream media outlets were quick to report that deep breathing was a bust.
But Dr. Rubman e-mailed me as soon as he read the study because he wanted to set the record straight for Daily Health News readers. “I questioned the research because I have been teaching yogic breathing to menopausal women for decades, and my patients have had great results from it,” he said.
The secret to pranayama success: The exhalation should take twice as long as the inhalation.
Why does this work? According to Dr. Rubman, it has to do with your blood. When the pH level of blood becomes very slightly more acidic, the autonomic nervous system reacts, increasing the likelihood of hot flashes. Yogic breathing helps to neutralize this slight pH imbalance by allowing better oxygenation of the blood and normalizing carbon dioxide saturation. “Restoring an optimal pH tends to calm and balance the autonomic nervous system, making hot flashes less intense and less frequent,” he said.
I would love to see a formal clinical trial explore the effectiveness of yogic breathing for easing menopausal hot flashes…but until such research is done, there’s no harm in giving the method a try to see if it helps you. Unlike hormone therapy—which does ease menopausal symptoms but also increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer—yogic breathing has no risks and in fact has the known health benefit of triggering the relaxation response.
COOL WAY TO BREATHE
Here’s the technique Dr. Rubman recommends…
- Sit in a comfortable position with your upper body centered over your hips.
- Inhale slowly through your nose to a count of 10. Breathe deeply, but don’t strain or rush. Fill your belly first, allowing it to relax and push out…then fill up the ribs and chest. At the end of the inhalation, roll back your shoulders.
- Exhale slowly through the nose to a slow count of 20, reversing the order—first releasing the shoulders…then the chest and ribs…then the belly.
- For maximum effect, practice this yogic breathing technique for 10 minutes per day. Also do it as soon as you feel a hot flash coming on, continuing until your discomfort abates.
And let us know if this technique helps you (or a woman in your life) by commenting below!