If you’re a woman in your forties or fifties, it is likely that you have experienced changes taking place associated with menopause. For some women this transition is easy. For others, the onset of menopause can be much more challenging and may include symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, and insomnia. While Western Medicine ascribes these changes to hormonal changes, Chinese Medicine looks at this process a bit differently.
Common MenoPausal Symptoms:
- Hot Flashes
- Night Sweats
Other conditions that may present around the time of menopause:
- Thyroid disorders
- Sleep apnea
Natural menopause occurs in women: 40-58 years old. Average age is 50.
Menopause from a Chinese Medicine Perspective
Some of the earliest references to gynecology in Chinese Medicine can be found in the Nei Jing—one of the first comprehensive texts in Chinese Medicine written over 2000 years ago. It describes hormonal changes occurring in women at 7-year intervals and attributes these changes to the waning and waxing of the Directing and Penetrating Vessels (special associated with menstruation and reproduction). These 7-year intervals are known as the (ti-en and occur for seven cycles of seven.
The second 7-year cycle (14 years old) describes the flourishing of female and the last 7-year cycle, or 49 years old, describes the eventual decline of or infertility. This does correlate with Western Medicine as the mean age for menopause is 50 years old. In Chinese Medicine, the kidney energy governs the development and decline of female fertility. The “kidneys” are the source of or life-force that we inherit from our parents and determine our constitution, physical development, and how well we age. Finally, they determine how gracefully a woman makes the transition through menopause.
Why women get hot flashes
Hot flashes are usually caused by a weakness in the kidneys known as In Chinese Medicine the kidneys have two major aspects: the yin and yang. The yin aspect (or the feminine) is responsible for nourishing and moistening the body and has a close relationship to the blood. A lack of “yin” can cause symptoms like thirst, irritability, and hot flashes. A body operating with deficient yin is akin to running a car without oil. Like the engine in your car, your body can overheat when there is a lack of cooling fluids.
The Yang aspect of the kidneys (the masculine) is more energetic in nature. It is responsible for warming the body, and providing the vital energy necessary to be active in the world. Women with deficient yang in conjunction with deficient yin may experience symptoms like coldness, fatigue, and depression. It is not at all unusual to have concurrent yin and yang deficiency.
What causes Yin Deficiency?
Yin deficiency is due to a variety of causes, but the most common cause in the West is overwork. Pushing through tiredness, using caffeine as an energy booster, and working beyond one’s capacity can all deplete the blood and yin. In addition, menstruating over a thirty to forty year period can weaken the blood. Add to this list the tremendous demands of childbirth and child rearing and it is easy to see how the yin can be depleted in a woman’s body.
Herbs for Menopause
In the West, we often use herbs singly. Good examples of single herbs used to treat menopausal complaints include Dong Gui (dong kuai), Sheng Ma (Black Cohosh) and Evening Primrose Oil.
In China, however, herbs are often used in combination to create a formula tailored to the individual. In this way a variety of complaints and symptoms can be addressed while creating a formula free of side effects. Be cautious about taking a single herb to treat your complaints as it is likely that a single herb can exacerbate your symptoms. As always, it is best to get the recommendation of a licensed herbalist when looking for herbs to treat your symptoms. Chinese herbs can be at addressing the broad range of complaints associated with menopause.
If you’d like to try a safe Chinese Herbal formula for menopause, look for (Liu We Di Huang Wan) at your local or health food store. They should be in the Chinese Herbal section. Know that herbs work more gently and slowly than do western medications and that it may take up to two weeks to notice a change in your symptoms. Always consult your physician before adding any new herb or medication to your daily regimen.
Acupuncture for Menopause
Acupuncture works on several fronts. First and foremost, it can be used to strengthen the kidneys and support healthy liver function. It can be used to regulate and balance systems throughout the body resulting in an increased sensed of well-being. Acupuncture can also have an effect on the heart to restore emotional balance. Finally, acupuncture can be used to treat specific symptoms like hot flashes, headaches, night sweats and insomnia.
If you are experiencing significant discomfort at this point in your life, take a moment evaluate the stressors around you. Take steps to minimize unnecessary stress and evaluate what is important to you. Put your energy towards those things that will fulfill you and make you well. Exercise is a critical part of maintaining your health, so you should commit to a weekly schedule of walking, yoga, tai chi or whatever gets you out of the house and active. Most important—take a break from your hectic schedule—a 30 minute nap daily can replenish your energy. If you need assistance, take action. Ask your healthcare provider for ways address your menopause-related complaints.
Additional Resources on Menopause: