Hot flashes, Effexor & Dysgeusia

About 14 months ago … June 2013 … I started experiencing hot flashes at the ripe ol’ age of 44.  I had my uterus back then.  Lucky me — I got to have both painful periods (dysmenorrhea) AND hot flashes.  How does one get to be so lucky as to live in both worlds?  I didn’t want to go the hormonal route thinking that maybe, maybe there was some small shadow of hope that I could become pregnant BEFORE age 45.  I had told myself previously that the cut off for me having a child was 45 and after that the uterus had to go!

I was having hot flashes — not the bed soaking dripping sweat kind … at least not yet — and I was still walking the line of potential pregnancy.  After all, Sarah of the Bible gave birth at 90 (or 91 in some accounts) … her first pregnancy at that VERY advanced maternal age (VAMA) … which would definitely make 45 look young!  But was Sarah truly 90 when she gave birth?  This is not a place for Bible debate … I’m only speculating and comparing Biblical fiction … or parables … to today’s reality.

Apparently all those old ages in the Bible (Methuselah, et al), at least to many literalists, are due to man being near sinlessness earlier in his creation; as man’s existence persisted so did his accumulation of sin thus shortening his lifespan. Not my belief but certainly an interesting thought to muse.

Sarah, VAMA Bible Sarah, laughed when she was told she would become pregnant in a year … when she would be 90.  Most women over fifty in today’s world would either laugh scoffingly or speculate how they could earn millions for such a miraculous happening.  If someone told me I’d become pregnant at 90 and somehow I managed to believe this I’d probably cry.  There would be no laughter for me … but being I am sans uterus now, this idea is moot.

Although I’m not religious, nor any Biblical scholar, this guy’s blog (see below) does a nice job of talking about Sarah: Matt talks about Sarah from the Bible!

Back to the hormone thing …

So, deciding to avoid taking hormones in the off-chance I could become pregnant … the itty-bitty, teeny-tiny, small, minuscule, microscopic, submicroscopic chance … I elected to take Effexor (venlafaxine) for my hot flashes AKA vasomotor symptoms.  Plus, I didn’t want those hormonal effects of weight gain, mood swings, increased chance of blood clots and everything else attributed to synthetic female hormones.  Boy, was I in for an adventure!

What is Effexor (venlafaxine)? 

At first Effexor (velafaxine) was great.  Seriously.  My hot flashes stopped completely in about two weeks.  I felt fantastic.  I was never depressed to begin with but now I seemed “extra happy”.  Happy on top of happy.  I lost a bunch of weight I wasn’t trying to lose — like TEN pounds worth effortlessly and without hunger.  I had more energy!  I lost any craving for alcohol, beer, bread, chocolate, corn, potatoes, chips, cake and cookies.  I was on the low dose of 75 mG once daily.

Effexor (velafaxine) sounds sounds phenomenal, doesn’t it?  It makes you want to stop reading right now and go get a prescription from your doctor, even if you don’t have hot flashes … or depression — the most common use for this medication.


About six weeks into the medication subtle things started to happen … things I attributed to other things. When my husband and I were on an airplane they served us watermelon.  I’ve always liked watermelon.  Not this time.  I thought the melon tasted off, as though it were old and spoiling.  I chalked this up to “airplane food”.  When we got to our destination, we were given a fresh watermelon drink by our hosts.  This was terrible too.  Now instead of thinking the watermelon was off I attributed it to being Indonesian watermelon … like Indonesian watermelon was different than American watermelon.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!  I’m laughing as I look back.  I had no clue at the time it was the head games (literally — I’ll explain later) of Effexor (venlafaxine) just beginning to kick in.

While we were in Indonesia everything that tasted off I chocked up to having a different taste in Indonesia.  Is this an example of being an ugly American?  While not outwardly offensive to others, I was definitely ignorant and possibly ethnocentric … and my excuse now is that I was under the powerful neurotransmitter spell of Effexor (venlafaxine).

When I got back to the states I seemed to make more excuses for my dysguesia.

What in the world is dysgeusia?

I hope you looked that up … unless YOU already know what dysgeusia is, of course.  Even this spellcheck doesn’t recognize dysgeusia!

When I got back home from the thirteen-time-zone difference I thought I’d settle in and make some yummy popcorn.  Popcorn is always yummy, isn’t it?  Halfway into the popping session I had to stop the microwave and throw the bag in the garbage … the outside garbage.  I almost threw up because the smell was so pukey.  And it was NOT burned popcorn smell.  The bag was still half grannies.  My excuses blossomed again; I attributed the disgusting smelling popcorn to jet lag … something I never believed in until I experienced it.  Just so you know, jet lag is VERY real.  Very.

On my way to work, my first day back after my two-week Indonesian vacation, I stopped at Starbuck’s to get my usual latte grande with two pumps of hazelnut syrup.  This was one of the most terrible taste experiences I have ever had.  Starbuck’s — the store itself — smelled like it was on fire before I got through the front doors.  I got my coffee, quickly left and while tasting it in the car nearly spit it out while driving. This was rancid stuff … my favorite coffee. 😦  I again, made another excuse that the Starbuck’s coffee was off that day although Starbuck’s coffee had never, ever been off in my experience.

I’m not sure when it dawned on me Effexor (venlafaxine) was the culprit of all my taste mishaps.  I was also taking Ambien (zolpidem) for the insomnia created by Effexor (venlafaxine); I tried giving Ambien (zolpidem) the credit for all this madness in taste perception.  I spoke with an internal med doctor at work who told me it was most likely the Effexor (venlafaxine) and not the Ambien (zolpidem) causing the dysguesia.  I was quite relieved I was finding a cause of all my weird food taste changes and that I wasn’t simply weird or that menopause was changing me in this way.

And here’s the thing … some foods tasted incredible while others I’d eaten pretty much my whole life, fell off my food palate.  I became the pickiest eater I knew.  And simultaneously I understood those undergoing chemo as to why their taste perceptions changed.  I got why some people didn’t like the taste of things because I now had their tastebuds — we were taste bud buds.

You would think I would have quit the Effexor (venlafaxine) by now … but no, being adventurous by nature I kept going.  I looked at every food experience as a new one.  Would I like this particular food or not anymore?  Would it be great or simply awful?  It was like being a little kid trying foods for the first time.  Looking back, I do think my husband and parents-in-law thought I was a bit nutty … of course maybe they still do!

Here’s my food list and what things tasted like while on Effexor (venlafaxine):

  • Coffee — burning chemical odor, able to smell this bitter pungent aroma (stench) from SEVERAL feet away … even a small covered cup by someone in the office.  I had to plug my nose or hold my breath whenever walking by brewing coffee and avoid the grocery store aisle altogether with the dried coffees.  I became a coffee hater.
  • Peanuts & Peanut butter — Don’t ALL Americans love peanuts, except for the ever-growing population of those with peanut allergies?!  I liked peanuts previously and peanut butter was my go-to snack spreading it on apples.  Peanuts became foul-little flavor bombs that tasted like rotting oil and peanut butter was a nightmare because the sheer thick coating of despicable flavor stayed in my mouth for a long time.
  • Cashews — see peanuts above … almost as bad.  Greasy little gross things.  Rotten is not one of my favorite flavors.
  • Walnuts — Have you ever tasted ear wax before?  This is exactly what walnuts tasted like.  Yes, I’ve tasted ear wax … not copious chewy amounts, but yes, I have and I’ll let you figure out creative ways one may have tasted ear wax. 🙂
  • Pecans — see walnuts above, but not quite as bitter-horrible.  They were in some chocolate brownies at work and the brownies were ruined.  Now I get why some people hate nuts if this is what they taste.
  • Pineapple — oh my oh my oh my oh my!  Can you say orgasm in the mouth and I’d like multiples?!  Pineapple became so wonderful if I’d been pregnant I would have named my first child Pina (Spanish for pineapple).  I liked pineapple before but this became ridiculous … so flavorful, juicy, sweet, tart and salivary-gland activating. ❤
  • Potatoes (potato chips & French fries included) — I thought I was going to cry when I discovered my new dislike for spuds.  I have ALWAYS like potatoes.  Always … in sickness … in health … fried, baked, mashed, grilled, sautéed, stuffed, soupified … and I’m half-Scotish — it is in MY GENES to like potatoes.  No more.  They tasted rotten and mouth-smothering.  Simply terrible.
  • Avocados — I loved avocados the day we met.  But while on the aforementioned medication avocados became mouth-harbingers of rancid fat.  These were so gross the mere sight of their greasy green flesh made me gag.  I now understood the thousands of avocado-despisers.
  • Cheese, milk, butter and ice-cream — these friends stayed my friends.  In fact, I’ve never liked goat cheese but in this time period that goat-throat-coatingness of goat cheese vanished.  I became the dairy queen!
  • Corn (tortillas included) — see potatoes, but dial-up the grossness by ten.  I thought corn was one of those vegetables everyone likes until they die.  Who do you know who doesn’t like corn?  And I don’t mean have a corn allergy … I mean simply don’t like corn.  I don’t know anyone.  I became THAT person.
  • Sweet potatoes — these gems stayed gems and shined even more in their sweet and rich flavor.  I swear I could taste the minerals in the earth whence they came from!  I also found this odd due to the disliking of potatoes … guess they aren’t really related (see factoid below).

And according to Precision Nutrition  … [B]otanically, potatoes and sweet potatoes are completely unrelated.

Potatoes [regular] (Solanum tuberosum) are in the Solanaceae family, related to tomatoes, peppers and eggplant along with deadly nightshade.  Plants in this family produce solanine, which is poisonous. So don’t eat the leaves or stems of any plant in this group, or potatoes that have gone green.

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are in the Convolvulaceae family with flowering morning glory vines.  Unlike potatoes, you can also eat the leaves of sweet potatoes, which are very nutritious.

Also note: sweet potatoes aren’t yams. True yams are another type of tuber (genus Dioscorea).

Read more here: source

  • Limes & Lemons — I’ve always enjoyed citrus stuff … but never so much while I was on this dysgeusic trip!  I’d pour about one-third to one-half lemon (or lime) concentrate into water or sparking water with ice drinking it straight without sugar.  I never flinched … it was never too sour.  My husband puckered up and his eyes teared whenever he forgot that this is how I now liked my beverages and he had taken a sip of my “sour juice”.  I began to worry about potential enamel erosion as I consumed these beverages daily.
  • Bread, Cookies & Cake — Cookies and cake tasted off, stale and overstored.  Cookie Monster at this point could take his cookies and go f*ck himself!  Oh, wait, Cookie Monster is now Fruit Monster because of the growing childhood obesity epidemic in the US.  Bread was the worst.  Baked bread smelled like barf … bone fide fresh vomit.  Bread was the grossest, most disgusting foul food.  I’ve always liked bread, not loved bread but genuinely found it lifetime likable — a stable staple.  My husband, poor bread-loving husband, was not allowed to toast bread in the morning (or any other time) with me in the house.  I stopped buying freshly baked bread for him which was truly a detriment to our relationship as bread always put him in a good mood.  Yes, I did manipulate my husband’s mood with fresh bread.  Evil.  I know.  Some women use sex — I use fresh bread.
  • Cherries, all Berries & Grapes — welcome to the wonderful world of all these juicy mouth-watering balls. 🙂 I liked these before and then these became juicy gustatory gushes of sweetness.
  • Bananas — these became yucky white things to avoid.  I mistakenly believed that bananas were forever likable.
  • Rice — see potatoes above.
  • Cilantro — this “veggie” used to be fresh, crisp, bright and palate-cleansing … then after neurotransmitter saturation, all I tasted was soap. I’m really surprised actual bubbles didn’t escape from my mouth.  I’ve heard the people who don’t like cilantro describe it as soapy.  I got what they tasted and no wonder they didn’t like it.
  • Tuna, Salmon & Trout — now I see why some people don’t like fish. This is what happened to me.  It was like having my own sea harbor in my mouth.  Think cat breath turned into a tastable smell.  Bleh.
  • Jalapeños, HOT Salsa, Chili Peppers & Black Pepper — hot things I liked them somewhat before, but at this time I LOVED all things spicy and hot.  I amazed my husband by my hot-thing-eating prowess.  I could eat fresh jalapeños (seeds and all) dipped in hotter-than-hell salsa with loads of freshly cracked pepper.  Why didn’t I enter a pepper eating contest back then?  Surely I would have won.
  • Bacon — ahhh, precious bacon, the gateway meat for vegetarians became my archenemy.  I used to eat bacon almost daily (yes, bad I know) … but it became the definition of rancid.
  • Turkey — funky, weird, stinky.  I’ve loved turkey all my life — Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, but in 2013 all I ate was cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and lemonade.
  • Wasabi — I used to like this green food that can double as a decongest … when the med kicked in full-force all I could taste was bleach.  Food that tastes like bleach will leave you fit to be Tide!  Get it?  Get my bad pun? 🙂
  • Beer — see bread above, only with a yeastiness dialed up to the max.
  • Wine — rotten, disgusting, sour, putrid.
  • Alcohol (gin, vodka, rum, tequila) — this tasted like petrochemistry in a glass.  I avoided ALL alcohols for many, many, many months.  My potential success as an alcoholic was doomed.

So, now that you have taken a tour of my dysgeusia … I’ll tell you the reason I stopped Effexor (venlafaxine).  Brief, paroxysmal, torticollis neck spasms — this is the reason I quit.  Prior to the torticollis spasms I was having painful needle-like sensations in my toes and feet — peripheral neuropathy — and some mild jaw grinding and clenching … but it truly was the torticollis that was the last straw.  Sporadic neck-jerking, even while sleeping, wasn’t fun to say the least!  I felt like I had a case of light Tourette’s without the swearing.

After being on Effexor (venlafaxine) for over four months we broke up. Actually I was the one to do the breaking up.  I gave Effexor (venlafaxine) a long enough chance but the hot flashes definitely seemed better than what I was going through.  I didn’t have a hard time stopping Effexor (venlafaxine); apparently many people go through withdrawal symptoms when they quit the medication abruptly.  This was not my case.

The hot flashes and night sweats … along with my taste buds … returned four months later.  I then turned to Royal Maca Root which was completely worthless and actually exacerbated my perimenopausal symptoms.  I decided to get on the hormone train.  I started taking Lo-Lo Estrin (yes, that’s two Los in a row) daily.  Within three days the night sweats stopped.  Within a week the hot flashes and facial flushing stopped.  My brain seemed to feel clearer and my insomnia resolved.

Another thing that happened with Effexor (venlafaxine) is that I experienced graphic violent gory nightmares while I was simultaneously taking Ambien (zolpidem).  At first, I blamed the Ambien, but it was actually the COMBINED forces of these two medications.  And I was on low doses of both (Effexor 75 mG and Ambien 5 mG).  I had dreams equaling the holocaust, war scenes, faces being cut off, weird sci-fi scenarios, nuclear explosions and lots of bloody massacre-type killings.  Some of the nightmares would actually make me scream out, cry or physically fight in my sleep.  I don’t watch many violent movies — not my thing — and neither were these dreams!  Nighttime became anxiety laden with me wondering what horror awaited on the REM menu.  I stopped the Ambien at that time.  Ambien by itself was not a problem.

What do I think about Effexor (venlafaxine) after my experience?  Well, I think it does a great job resolving hot flashes and lifting mood.  I think it’s a great drug for some people, but not for me.  I don’t regret this strange experience because it made me more sympathetic to picky eaters … and those with severe neurological symptoms.  I also got a taste of what some PTSD sufferers experience with my violent nightmares.

I am currently left with a dislike for eggs (by themselves), most beer, coffee, peanuts, peanut butter and popcorn.  The best news … I’m back to eating bacon almost daily.  Mmmmm … bacon! 🙂

If you say ‘beer can’ with a British accent you’re also saying ‘bacon’ with a Jamaican accent. 

bacon accent