Last month I wrote an article on perimenopause from a Western perspective. In this article I’ll explain this transition from a Chinese medical perspective. To begin, let’s lay the groundwork with some basic concepts.
What is Yin and How Much do I Need?
Yin (the opposite of Yang), can describe anything in the body. In the context of menopause, it describes the collection of all fluids, be they blood, lymph, water, or even cerebral spinal fluid (CSF).
Each month that a woman is menstruating she temporarily depletes yin via blood loss. Of course the body replaces the lost blood naturally. If she loses blood faster than she can replace it, she will become ‘blood deficient’ or anemic from a Western perspective.
And while she may be blood deficient, she may not necessarily become ‘yin deficient’ because this term has more significant implications. Yin is sometimes described as hydration at cellular level. Hence it cannot simply be replaced by drinking more water.
Yin is like coolant in your car. Without it, the car overheats. When a woman is yin deficient, she overheats; either during the day (hot flashes) or during the night (night sweats). If the heat travels to the heart, she may become anxious, irritable, or agitated. Good times. No?
Estrogen and Yin
Both men and women are made up of yin and yang. Think of yang more like testosterone and yin more like estrogen. While yin and yang both naturally wane over time, it is a relative difference between the two that will produce symptoms.
Yin is depleted primarily by overwork (Silicon Valley anyone?), lack of rest, and overindulgence in exercise, alcohol, and sex. There is also a strong constitutional component at work here. Women often experience similar menopausal symptoms to their mothers, though lifestyle can significantly affect this.
Is There Any Hope?
Well, yes. Of course there is. While Western medicine only has HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), Chinese medicine has an extensive collection of herbs that treat both the symptoms (hot flashes, anxiety, irritability, fatigue), and the underlying cause (yin deficiency).
Over the last 17 years I have helped hundreds of women resolve the symptoms associated with perimenopause. I’ll admit the herbs don’t always taste great, but boy do they work! Acupuncture is also very effective at regulating hormones and the endocrine system overall.
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 extremely effective 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 Six Flavor Tea Pills (Liu We Di Huang Wan) at your local Whole Foods 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.
Acupuncture for Menopause
Acupuncture works on several fronts. First and foremost, it can be used to strengthen the kidneys and fortify the “liver blood”. 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, cycling, swimming or whatever gets you out of the house and active. Most important—take a break from your hectic schedule—a 20 minute nap daily can replenish your energy. If you need assistance, take action. Contact me for ways address your menopause-related complaints.