Treating Menopause Naturally
We treat many women suffering debilitating menopausal symptoms. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is a wonderful natural treatment for these symptoms, which focuses on restoring the body’s natural balance and regulating its processes as opposed to replacing a missing substance from externally (as oestrogen is replaced with HRT). The treatment is gentle, gradual and natural, and my patients rarely experience side effects. Effects of treatment are usually sustained once the treatment stops.
Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause affects women in a wide variety of ways. Some breeze through with only irregular periods, and eventually no periods, to alert them to the fact that they are actually going through menopause. Others are troubled by it for many years.
If you’re reading this, you are probably familiar with at least some of these symptoms. Usually the most frustrating symptoms are hot flushes and spontaneous sweating which are often, but not always, worse at night. In addition, many women experience insomnia, irritability, depression, weight gain, osteoporosis, reduced libido and raised cholesterol levels.
Menopausal symptoms are due to a rapid drop in oestrogen levels as the ovaries age. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the modern medical treatment of choice. It produces rapid and reliable results, especially when it comes to reducing hot flushes and sweating, by replacing missing oestrogen. The down side, unfortunately, is that HRT has been linked with breast and endometrial cancer. For people who take HRT, they eventually need to be eased off it gradually to prevent a sudden relapse of symptoms. Chinese medicine offers a natural, gentle and effective alternative to addressing the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause.
Yin and Yang: the Importance of Balance
According to traditional Chinese medicine, Yin and Yang should both decline at the same rate as you age. When Yin and Yang decline in unison you get what we call in the West “aging gracefully”. It’s when either Yin or Yang declines faster than the other that you get imbalance and unwanted (and unnecessary) symptoms such as those commonly experienced at menopause.
In many Eastern cultures, women pass through menopause with only very slight symptoms, or no symptoms at all. In such cultures there is a constant focus on maintaining a lifestyle balance: periods of heavy exercise or activity are followed by periods of rest, care is taken to eat seasonally and appropriately for age and activity levels, and the mind is intentionally calmed to balance times of stress. Such lifestyle practices ensure a harmonious decline of Yin and Yang.
Unfortunately such balance is less common in Western cultures, and Yin/Yang imbalance is common. Women in the West consume more caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, do not exercise regularly, and tend to lead busier more stressful lives.
Getting the Balance Right During Menopause
As a very simplistic view, the 2 common scenarios at menopause are: Yin declining faster than Yang (most common), or the opposite, Yang declining faster than Yin.
When Yin declines faster than Yang the body shows an apparent excess of Yang. I say “apparent” because Yang is actually not in excess – it’s just appears so, relative to the insufficient Yin.
The symptoms women experience in this situation are the result of Yang wanting to rise upwards and outwards and without a sufficient Yin base to anchor it, it does just that giving symptoms like hot flushes, sweats, irritability, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dryness and thirst, headaches and dry bowels (constipation). A hot system disturbs the spirit, especially at night, resulting in insomnia, restlessness and dream disturbed sleep.
Generally this Yin deficiency is the result of the lifestyle factors discussed above.
The alternative, less common situation is one in which Yang declines faster, giving an apparent excess of Yin. Symptoms here include weight gain, bloating, fullness, brain fog, fatigue, lower back weakness and sensitivity to the cold. Your inherited constitution tends to play a bit more of a role in this scenario.
Changes You Can Make Right Now to Help Menopause
Regardless of which treatment path you choose to address your menopause symptoms, there are some simple lifestyle practices you can adopt immediately which can have an effect.
- Limit caffeine intake (a few coffees a week might be fine, 3 a day are probably not). Don’t forget there’s caffeine in tea and chocolate.
- Limit alcohol intake. Especially in Yin deficient types, alcohol is like pouring petrol on a fire.
- Balance your periods of activity with enough rest to allow your body to recover.
- Balance your stressful times with periods of mental calm and relaxation. This “calm” will look different for everyone – I’m not necessarily suggesting you meditation (although that would do the trick), just that you take time to relax (spend time with the family, enjoy a leisurely meal with a friend, go for a long walk, listen to some music etc).
- Eat unprocessed foods that are in season.
Treating Menopausal symptoms With Traditional Chinese Medicine
Yin deficiency (the more common scenario – the “hot flushes” situation) treatment is designed to nourish the body’s Yin and suppress the exuberant Yang. Vice versa for Yang deficiency.
Usually patients notice an improvement in their symptoms within the first month of treatment, and a usual treatment course is 3-6 months.