Menopause & Peri-menopausal symptoms

The menopausal phase of life is a time of huge change for many women. The physical and emotional changes can be overwhelming, debilitating and extremely frustrating. Many women experience a rollercoaster ride of symptoms during menopause, including bewildering mood swings, hot flushes, fatigue, cognitive impairment,insomnia and depression. These are all common symptoms that can occur in varying degrees during menopause and greatly impact on quality of life for many women

 What is Menopause?

Chinese women tend not to have menopausal symptoms because they are more likely to eat properly, and because their culture recognizes the importance of meditation and a balanced lifestyle. In the West, acupuncture and herbs can help to start a positive healing trend. Then if women are willing to make lifestyle changes — engage in some form of meditation, eat properly, eliminate certain harmful substances from their diet — menopause can be a time of rejuvenation and positive change.

Menopause is not a disease; it is a natural part of every woman’s life that usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, when the ovaries cease to function and stop producing oestrogen. In the few years prior to your final period, also known as the perimenopausal phase, the production of oestrogen by the ovaries slows down, hormone levels start to fluctuate and you may notice changes such as:

  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Dry skin
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Palpitations
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Low libido
  • Changes in the menstrual cycle, such as longer, shorter or irregular periods
  • Lighter, unpredictable or heavy periods

Eventually oestrogen levels decrease and menstruation stops completely. Once you have gone without a period for 12 months, you have officially reached menopause. The major hormonal shift that occurs is a gradual process, which is why menopausal symptoms  can last for a number of years for some women.

Women seeking acupuncture for relief of symptoms associated with the menopause may suffer from a variety of symptoms that may present in a configuration that is unique to them. One of the strengths of acupuncture is in the tailoring of treatment to that unique individual. The results of several studies tend to indicate there is benefit in the use of acupuncture in the alleviation of menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flushes and anxiety.

Acupuncture offers a safe and effective alternative or adjunctive therapy to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). In Chinese medicine terms the aim is to nourish Kidney yin, calm the mind and clear some of the heat manifesting within the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, during menopause there is a natural decline in what’s known as “Vital  Essence” — which is a “yin,” or passive, feminine energy. But while Vital Essence declines, Chinese medicine also sees a corresponding increase in “yang” energy, or active, masculine energy. That increase is an important part of the change that’s happening.

In the Chinese view, Vital Essence is prenatal energy, stored in the kidney, that conveys the gifts of fertility, libido, regeneration of the body, and tissue elasticity and strength. The term Vital or Precious Essence stems from the idea that this energy is worth guarding, because its function is to maintain youth, and there is only so much of it.

Vital  Essence is of two kinds: Pre-Heaven, representing inherited characteristics, and Post-Heaven, representing energy accumulated or lost through the way we live our lives. Pre-Heaven essence is not easily renewed, but it may be replenished through breathing and meditation exercises. Post-Heaven Essence can easily be renewed through lifestyle changes — exercise, balanced activities, and the intake of proper food, air, and water.

According to the Chinese, those who wisely protect their Precious Essence may live long without wrinkles and maintain a youthful appearance. From a lifetime of balance, it is even possible to achieve an excess of Precious Essence. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs strengthen or “tonify” the body by adding energy, so lifestyle and poor habits can dissipate the good this does. It is of little use to work on building energy in the body through acupuncture or herbs if the patient is going to throw it away through careless living.

Well Woman spends time discussing and recommending lifestyle changes to my patients, because that is the only way my work will be effective on a long-term basis.

Reduce Stress

It is important to reduce stress. Both types of Essence are reduced by stress. Since Essence is stored in the kidneys, and the kidneys are affected by the adrenal glands, when the adrenals are depleted by too much work or sex, poor food, or lack of sleep, then essence is lost.
We recommend that women find time for renewal, balancing work with play. We suggest plenty of sleep, a nutritious diet, and the elimination of excesses of all kinds.

The key is balance. If balance exists, then illness disappears. And although menopause and the decline of Precious Essence is a natural process, many menopausal symptoms are caused by imbalance in the body.

Healthy Eating

Women should eat lots of whole grains – rice, spelt, oats, and so on, but not bread or flour products. Phytoestrogens (plant oestrogens) replace some natural oestrogens lost during menopause, and may reduce menopausal symptoms – good sources of phytoestrogens include organic soy products such as tofu, linseeds, whole grains and legumes. She should eat lots of leafy green vegetables and seaweed. Add plenty of cooked vegetables to the diet. Choose foods that are high in vitamin and mineral content.

Fruit and fruit juices should be eaten only in moderation, prepared according to season: raw in the summer and cooked during the cooler months.

Also, traditional Chinese Medicine recommends eating fruits and vegetables that are grown locally and are in season. Eating the local foods of each season is part of living in harmony with nature. Drinking six to eight glasses of filtered room temperature water helps to cleanse the body.

Meat and fish should be eaten in small quantities, although the total amount of protein we need varies. Someone who is very active — for example, a gardener who is moving plants and rocks all day — will need more protein than an office worker. Dairy products also can be eaten, but again, in small quantities.

Things to Avoid

We suggest the elimination of caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes. Animal foods should be eaten, as we said, in small quantities only — and since most of them are full of hormones, it’s important to find an organic source of organic meats and dairy products. Also, it’s important not to eat processed foods, additives, sugar, or flour.

Traditional Chinese nutrition also advises all women to avoid avocados, fried foods, corn chips, and all types of nuts, as the fats that these foods contain can cause cysts.

Exercise

Exercises such as Chi Kung (or Qi Gong) or Yoga are fantastic. They are energy-moving, and can strengthen the body. These exercises are wonderful for menopause. These are disciplines that can regulate the body and bring about rejuvenation. The deeply meditative exercises that have this effect are not normally taught, so you may have to search for a teacher who can help with this.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture balances energies, adding energy where it is needed, dissipating energy when it is too concentrated, moving energy that is stagnant. And it works directly on whatever organ you target. So acupuncture can work directly on the kidney and liver problems that are associated with menopausal symptoms.

The kidney stores Vital essence, and the kidney is the only organ that is both yin and yang. It rules the teeth, bones, hair, ears, reproductive functions, and growth or development of the body. An imbalance of kidney energy might be determined outwardly from thin, dry hair, poor teeth, and a recent development of worry and paranoia.

Because acupuncture can help to balance energy, it is significantly helpful for symptoms of menopause. Acupuncture helps tremendously with hot flashes and can control or eliminate them.

The rule of thumb is that it takes 10 treatments to tonify or strengthen an organ. Some people say they don’t feel a thing after acupuncture, but the effect is cumulative. In other words, the energy from each treatment is retained by the organ system. And if it is not dissipated by one’s lifestyle, it continues to build.

Also, acupuncture offers a “facelift” that’s quite effective physically. By stimulating areas in the face related to the organs, the energy becomes unblocked, and the face looks more youthful. The entire body is treated from the face, so the function of the whole body is improved. Fine lines are often erased, deeper wrinkles may become less apparent, and the skin glows.

Chinese herbs

Herbal formulas are more than the sum of the ingredients. Because of this, a particular combination of herbs causes a powerful effect on the body system, and practitioners modify the formulas to meet the patient’s needs, changing it as the body changes.

In other words, medicinal formulas are given on a highly individualized basis. Several different women experiencing hot flashes would perhaps each receive a different formula according to the individual’s entire pattern. A prescription does not fit a symptom, but is chosen for the individual and her pattern.

So only a Chinese herbalist or acupuncturist can make a complete diagnosis and recommend a medicinal formula. Just by way of illustration, however, here are a few examples of menopausal symptoms and common herbal treatments.

  • Liver Stagnation is accompanied by clots, short or irregular cycles, breast tenderness and lumps, anger, frustration, depression, and PMS. In Chinese medicine, all depression is believed to be caused by liver stagnation. Elimination of all fats and oils in the diet helps with liver stagnation. Bupleurum formula can be used for this pattern.
  • Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency is accompanied by hot flashes, sweat, palpitations, thirst, weak knees, and low back pain. Rehmannia 6 is the classic formula used for this condition.
  • Qii and Blood Deficiency is accompanied by dry skin, vaginal dryness, dizziness, insomnia, fatigue, digestive symptoms, muscle weakness, poor vision, scanty menses, or excessive bleeding. Dong Quai and Peony combination is a formula often used to tonify the blood.
  • Heart Fire is accompanied by forgetfulness, fear, anxiety, nightmares, hot flashes, and palpitations. Zizyphus Combination or Rehemannia 6 with variations is sometimes used for this pattern.

Menopause is just the beginning of a new phase of your life. The ‘Change of Life’ often causes women to reassess many areas of their lives, and it is the ideal time for you to review your lifestyle choices and make your own health a priority. We can support you through menopause so you can focus on a healthy future with strong bones, a healthy heart, energy and vitality.