What's causing my night sweats?
There are several hormones that may be contributing to your symptoms of night sweats and temperature dysregulation.
Low oestrogen is the most common hormonal cause of night sweating.
When oestrogen drops off during menopause night sweats and temperature dysregulation are one of the most complained about symptoms. However it can occur at other times in a woman's life, and contrary to the worry of younger women I see in my clinic, it does not usually mean that you are going through early menopause.
The postpartum period is another time where women might experience night sweating as oestrogen that rises during pregnancy decreases with the loss of the placenta, with this drop in oestrogen (and progesterone) allowing for the production of a hormone called prolactin, which enables the production of breast milk. Suppressed or fluctuating oestrogen may occur for the duration of exclusive breastfeeding and may be a contributor to other symptoms shared with menopause such as a decrease in libido, vaginal dryness and anxiety.
Low oestrogen, while uncommon at other times outside of menopause and the postpartum period still may occur, particularly if we don’t have enough of what our body needs to make hormones.
One of the main building blocks for all of our hormones is cholesterol, so just as we do not want high cholesterol levels, low levels can also be detrimental for our health and interfere with hormone production. Other important nutrients include zinc and vitamin D. So underweight or malnutritioned women may have trouble creating oestrogen.
Stress and depletion can impact oestrogen production, as long term stress may deplete the hormone DHEA - which is converted into androgen hormones, that are then converted into oestrogen. This may also occur with excessive exercise.
Phyto-oestrogens can be found in foods and herbs and can attach to oestrogen cell receptors, letting our body think we have more oestrogen present, and reducing symptoms of low oestrogen. Legumes, flax seed, pumpkin seeds, sprouts, red clover, black cohosh and licorice root all contain phyto-oestrogens.
If you have high oestrogen levels, phyto-oestrogens will also help due to blocking oestrogens from attaching to these receptors and acting with a weaker oestrogen effect.
Cooling and anhydrotic (anti-sweating) herbs such as sage are also very effective to reduce night sweating.
Another cause of night sweats can be an overactive thyroid. When we produce too much thyroid hormone, our metabolism speeds up, we struggle with temperature control and may experience symptoms such as weight loss, racing heart, hunger and even protruding eyes (exopthalamus). A low TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) will be diagnostic in a blood test and your thyroid can be easily managed with the right herbal medicines and lifestyle changes, but does need to be controlled for long term health.
Bugleweed, Motherwort and Lemonbalm are all effective herbs for hyperthyroidism, however this is one area I recommend treating along with a qualified practitioner.
Should I be worried? Or get this checked out?
If you get night sweats a couple of nights in a row and they go away, it is likely a small shift in hormones that has rebalanced (or you might have been fighting off infection and your night sweats could have been a passing fever). If your night sweats persist, and you are losing sleep because of them then certainly enlist some help in finding out why and a way to get on top of it. Herbal medicine is by and far one of the best tools we have for hormonal complains and balance.