France, Food, and … hot flashes?

Rhoda at the Louvre

Last month, I was lucky enough to go on a three week trip to France. Well, of course it was wonderful, full of delicious food, beautiful scenery, and interesting people. We stayed in a cute home with my boyfriend’s mother in the suburbs north of Paris, dropping into Paris itself a couple of times, the prettiest city in the world. Then we went west to visitNormandyandBrittany, and more friends and family. It was all so lovely, it’s hard to pick out a few things, but the highlights were: Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny; the Mont Saint-Michel and the walled city of Saint Malo; and bicycling on an island off the coast of Brittany called L’Ile de Brehat. I’ve included a few pictures for your enjoyment.

Everywhere we went, we of course ate some of the most incredible food, a big part of French culture. Everyone wanted to “wine and dine” us, literally breaking out the bottles of wine and the richest food in creamy sauces, always finishing with sumptuous cheeses, and often dark black coffee.

My only difficulty with this seemingly idyllic situation was that I am going through the process of perimenopause, and so have become prone to some occasional hot flashes at night, mild, but they often do wake me up. I can usually keep them under control at home, with herbs and acupuncture and a healthy diet. Traveling was more of a challenge. I had only brought a couple of general herbal formulas in pill form, and had forgotten to bring needles home from work, so had only the ten that were in my purse. I had to pay much closer attention to my diet and lifestyle to keep them at bay and get a good night’s rest.

Being on vacation helped. After the initial couple of days of long plane ride, sitting around visiting, and jet lag, I was able to walk every day and relax. Diet was a tough one. Long story short, I figured out that if I kept it to either half a glass of red wine or half a cup of strong black coffee per day, and took my herbs and got exercise, I didn’t get hot flashes. As soon as I had more wine or coffee than that, the hot flashes came back.

Why is this? According to Chinese Medicine, both these foods are very warming. As we enter the perimenopause time, our Yin aspect is declining, which represents fluids, hormones, blood, and the cooling aspect of our bodies. Yang, related to activity, air, and the warming aspect of our bodies, often does not decline as much yet, so in relative excess. Without as much Yin to balance it, it’s easy for Yang heat to flare up in a variety of ways, including hot flashes, headaches, upper body rashes, tooth decay, dizziness, and high blood pressure. So, unfortunately, for a period of time in mid life, for both men and women, it becomes more important to limit warming foods such as alcohol, coffee, spicy food, beef, and lamb. If at some point later in our lives the Yang aspect becomes more deficient, then we can add them back in.

The exact amount you can tolerate may differ from person to person. I figured out half a glass of wine or coffee worked for me while I was on vacation. Since I’ve been home, and busy and stressed out with changes going on at the office, I can’t do any wine or coffee at all. Experiment, and see what you come up with!

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