Menopause and Chinese Medicine

by Mark Whalen

Menopause, defined as having no menstrual cycles for twelve months, is a natural part of every woman’s life.   Menopause isn’t an event, but a process; a process that can take several years.  This process is typically referred to as Perimenopause.  (For the purposes of this article, I’m going to just use the term Menopause to refer to the entire process)  In the United States, the average age of menopause is 51 years old.1

Menopause can take several years from beginning to end.  Menopause is considered over twelve months after your last menstrual cycle.  At this point, you have gone through menopause and are now post-menopausal.   Isn’t it great that every phase of life is labeled so neatly?

‘The Change’

For many women, menopause isn’t a smooth transition.  As women age, their ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone.  The disruption in normal hormonal rhythms and decline in normal levels can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms to flare up.

The most common symptoms women experience include night sweats, hot flashes, irritability, mood swings, insomnia, and abdominal weight gain.   The duration, intensity and frequency of symptoms vary from woman to woman, and some woman don’t experience any issues at all.

Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medicine is based on the idea of balance in the body.  Whenever there is an imbalance, symptoms will arise.  In the case of menopause, there is an imbalance in Yin and Yang.

In the most basic of terms, Yin is considered the cooling system of the body while Yang is the heating system.   In fertility texts on Chinese medicine, yin is likened to estrogen and yang to progesterone.  As yin declines, there is not enough cooling to offset the heating systems, so your body responds with symptoms of heat:  hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, insomnia and anxiousness.

If Yang declines, there is not enough heat to warm the body and metabolize fluids properly.  In this case, you will experience symptoms like edema, cold hands and feet, weight gain and water retention2.

Through proper care using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, we can help restore balance to the yin-yang dynamic (estrogen-progesterone) and reduce/eliminate the symptoms associated with menopause.

Acupuncture acts a stimulus to get the body back to a state of homeostasis (balance).  Through its influence on the central nervous system, acupuncture is able to help regulate the chemicals dopamine, serotonin, cortisol, and the endorphins.  Acupuncture also influences the endocrine glands, which secrete the hormones responsible for day-to-day function3.

The benefits of Acupuncture during menopause include: improved sleep, more stability in moods, reduction/elimination of night sweats and hot flashes, and stress reduction.

If you are struggling with menopause symptoms, acupuncture is a safe, natural and effective way to get help.

At home help

The first thing you can do is accept what is happening to you.  Menopause is a natural part of life* and there is nothing you can do to stop the process so prepare yourself mentally.  With most things, a positive attitude makes any situation easier to get through.   I realize that as a man writing this, you may want to kick my shins, so let’s on to something more practical.

  • Avoid foods that increase cortisol:  white breads, flour, pasta, white rice, sweets, processed foods
  • Eat quality carbohydrates- vegetables, whole grains; healthy fats, good quality protein, fish
  • Flax seeds and cruciferous vegetables will help in the metabolism of estrogen4
  • Sleep- even though sleep may be more difficult, aim for 7-8 hours per night
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol: alcohol may contribute to increased hot flashes and it also raises cortisol
  • Exercise:  keep moving- exercise doesn’t need to be overly intense but you need to move and you should incorporate some weight lifting if you haven’t already.  Weight lifting can help with bone density and reduce the amount of muscle mass lost as you age.

 

All this talk about ‘the change’ reminds me of this Brady Bunch episode on Peter Brady hitting puberty:

When it's time to change ...

There's some good wholesome wisdom in those lyrics right there.

 

 

-Mark

 

 

*  A few years back I read the book Sex, Time and Powerby Leonard Shlain.  One of his theories is that menopause is a protective aspect of our evolution.   As a species, it takes human offspring much longer to be able to care for themselves.  We don’t consider children adults until they are eighteen.   Keep in mind that during our early development, life span wasn’t anywhere close to where it is today.

In this light, menopause may be protective in stopping older women from having children they cannot care for for the required length of time.  Anyway, I loved the book and thought this was an interesting view on Menopause.

Sources:

  1. http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/menopause
  2. Acupuncture mediaworks.  Acupuncture & Menopause education card
  3. Zheng, Li. Acupuncture and Hormone Balance.  Introduction.  Lulu Publishing 2008
  4. Natural Health Magazine.  July/August 2012.  Pg. Article written by Laruen Piscopo.

Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness in Reading, MA.

Mark Whalen – who has written posts on Acupuncture Reading MA - Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness.


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