Neural Origins of Menopausal Hot Flashes Identified
A new neuroscience study from the Wayne State University of Medicine may have identified the first real insight into the neural origins of the uncomfortable hot flashes experienced by menopausal women.
Until now, every study attempting to understand the body’s response to thermoregulatory events has been carried out by applying heat stimuli to the skin. But a hot flash is completely different because the heat is generated internally. In order to help researchers better understand what was happening inside menopausal bodies, patients participating in the study laid inside an MRI scanner while being heated between two pillows until the onset of a natural hot flash. Sometimes lying still for upwards of two hours, the patient participants were greatly appreciated by researchers.
Using an electrical measuring of sweat and body temperature, the scientists were able to identify exactly when the hot flash began and were then able to compare MRI data for the neural precedents of the flash. They focused on certain areas of the brain, such as the brain stem and its sub regions, because they are responsible for things like thermal regulation.
The results of the study were startling, as they showed a clear increase in activity in the brain stem immediately before the onset of a hot flash. Combined with the discovery that activity in the insula increases after the end of a flash, the scientists have begun to grasp some of the complex brain mechanisms responsible for basic regulatory functions.