Menopause: Find help for this major life transition with Chinese medicine and a host of powerful plants.
Menopause marks the time in a woman’s life when ovarian function and production of sex hormones decline, that leads to the cessation of menstruation. . This is not one simple event. As with puberty, your body subtly evolves and prepares itself for this major change. The majority of women end their menstruation between the ages of 48 to 52, but uncomfortable symptoms of perimenopause or pre-menopause can begin as early as forty and last until fifty-five years of age. Perimenopause, or the period of years leading up to the menopause (which varies from 3 to 15), is often the most difficult part of a woman’s life. Levels of progesterone drop drastically in relation to levels of estrogen, and a woman may notice that her menstrual cycle starts to be different from what it used to be—slight irregularity, heavy menstrual bleeding, increased breast swelling, abdominal bloating, depression and mood swings, sweets cravings and low energy. It’s often not until these hormonal levels do drop that most women begin to understand just how much of a role hormones play in their bodily systems and their lives. It’s a bit of a shock to find that not only do they affect the reproductive system, but also bone density, frame of mind and mood, mental clarity, blood-sugar levels, and heart health.
As she gets closer to the actual menopause, the cessation of her menstruation, the symptoms may become more extreme such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, decreased libido, headaches, insomnia and moodiness. Once periods have ceased, a woman enters the menopausal stage. After a year without menstruating, the postmenopausal stage begins. Levels of estrogen and progesterone fall even further, with progesterone continuing to be the lower of the two. These hormones are responsible for maintaining the health of woman’s bones and the elasticity of blood vessels and skin. Osteoporosis and heart disease are two conditions most emphasized by the medical community, but quality of life issues such as weight gain, dry and wrinkled skin and mucus membranes, thinning and loss of hair, lower vitality, decrease in sex drive and mood swings can become very difficult for many women.
While women in the past apparently experienced far fewer menopausal problems, modern day factors like stress, poor diet, and pollution can certainly exacerbate these adverse effects. If you’ve suffered from chronic stress, had years of exposure to xenoestrogens in the environment, haven’t paid attention to your diet, have allowed constipation to persist, or had low-grade liver, thyroid, or adrenal issues, you may experience strong menopause symptoms. The reason? Your body is a holistic system, so what happens to one part affects another. Your liver, for example, is a powerhouse that, among other thing, takes care of excess estrogen in the body. If it’s functioning properly, the excess is eliminated from the body, but if your digestive system isn’t up to par and you suffer from chronic constipation, your body can re-absorb this excess, adding to estrogen dominance.
Your adrenal glands prove extremely important, especially in post menopause. They secrete weak androgens, which break down into hormones, taking up some slack for the rest of the dormant reproductive system. But if you’ve experienced long periods of unrelieved stress, your adrenals may be exhausted and no longer able to perform this function. Weak thyroid function can contribute to this problem as well.
Current Western medicine offers Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). While it was once common to attempt to replace hormonal deficiencies, it is no longer the gold standard for menopausal treatment. It may be useful for some women whose uterus and ovaries have been removed.
However, many other women may have a variety of the potential side effects of hormone replacement therapy. The evidence of increased risks of breast cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and venous thromboembolism from a randomized trial called The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was reported in the July 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association
|Women’s Health Initiative Findings Summary|
|Breast Cancer||24% Increase|
|Endometrial Cancer||19% Decrease|
|Ovarian Cancer||58% Increase|
|Coronary heart disease||24% Increase|
|All fractures||24% Reduction|
|Hip fractures||33% Reduction|
|Cognitive functions||No change – does not protect|
|Quality of life||No clear benefit|
It is important if you are contemplating using HRT to consult a gynecologist for advice on its risks and benefits.
After this publication, even with severe symptoms of menopause, many women have chosen to tolerate the symptoms rather than have hormonal replacement therapy.
For many women, the need for relief from symptoms during and after menopause remains paramount and an increasing number of them are turning to and finding answers in Chinese Medicine. From very early on in its five thousand year history, Chinese Medicine has had a specialty focused on women’s health. Therefore, solutions have been devised for centuries that effectively deal with the symptoms of menopause and the aging process. Natural healing methods, including acupuncture, dietary and herbal therapy, meditation, and energy exercises help relieve the symptoms of menopause and help women ease into the next, exiting stage of life.
By addressing menopausal symptoms early on, woman can balance her body’s endocrine system and prevent major health issues associated with menopause. If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you may have the onset of perimenopausal symptoms and should consult wellness practitioner.
- Are you experiencing increasingly shorter menstrual cycles?
- Are you feeling warmer at times especially during your sleep?
- Are you finding your sleep becoming more restless and light?
- Are you finding yourself more moody overall without any specific cause?
- Are you having increasingly difficult time in losing weight?
- Are you having increasingly tender and enlarged breasts premenstrually?
When the symptoms are discovered and treated earlier, they are much easier to manage.
Diet therapy. A diet rich in minerals will prevent osteoporosis. Dark, leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes are helpful. Soy products, such as tofu and soybeans, contain isoflavones, which have an estrogenlike effect on the body which help in reducing hot flashes and night sweats and protecting against heart disease. In Asian cultures, where people eat a lot of soy-based foods, there are lower rates of heart disease, osteoporosis and menopausal complaints. Tofu, made from soy, has additional calcium which is excellent for bone health. Drink 2 -3 cups of soy milk a day to ease symptoms and maintain heart and bone health.
- Spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, beet greens, lettuce, parsley, soy, black beans, lima beans, navy beans, mung beans, lentils, split peas and adzuki beans.
A diet rich in essential fatty acids and omega 3 and 6 oils is important in preventing heart disease. Daily consumption of flaxseed, a source of natural estrogen, can ease symptoms, and also will help maintain elasticity of the blood vessels, increase tissue lubrication and protect against reproductive cancers. Flaxseed meal and flour are best.
- Salmon, sea bass, halibut, tuna; nuts and seeds such as walnuts, sesame, pine nuts, sunflower seed.
Adequate protein is also important to provide ingredients for hormonal production in one’s body. Chinese medicine believes that Lamb is especially excellent for nourishing the hormone glands (endocrine system).
- Fish, organic chicken, turkey, ostrich, lamb and beans.
It’s important not to neglect grains and fiber. Many women are afraid that if they consume grains and starchy foods, they would gain weight. It’s a matter of quantity and timing. Chinese medicine teaches that small portions of cooked whole grains and starch such as potato should be eaten best at dinner for its beneficial fibers and minerals that are helpful to lower cholesterol and prevent bowel cancer. Further, these carbohydrates burn quick and clean, leaving no excess accumulations behind and helping one’s sleep.
- Oats, millet, buckwheat, brown rice, barley, rye, amaranth, quinoa, whole wheat, corn.
Moderation is the key to a good balanced diet. The intake of alcohol, sweets, and caffeine should be limited and moderate.
A good sleep is paramount to high functioning in the day as well as reduced perimenopausal symptoms. Try to wind down your clock after sundown by engaging in relaxing and soothing activities. Going to sleep before 10 and getting up at 6 is an ideal pattern for most people.
Lastly, monitoring your stress level, you will find that during the perimenopausal time your stress tolerance is lower and you may tend to be stressed out with things you normally would be fine with. Again, by having a better lifestyle and becoming more aware of your body, you can naturally adjust yourself to the stress level better. Writing journals and putting your emotions and thoughts on paper is also a very good way to put away stress.
Traditional Chinese Medicine provides a safe approach to perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. Many women come to Acupuncture for Life clinic seeking an alternative assistance with their specific needs and conditions. At Acupuncture for Life clinic, we are honored to be able to help you and educate you on menopausal issues and work with you on having a smooth menopausal transition. Our goal is not merely to help you deal with your symptoms, but also to encourage wellness and to slow down the aging process. Our advices frequently include life style modification, dietary guidance, and Chinese Medicine therapies. All advices are tailored to you. Most of the time, no two patients will receive the exact acupuncture and herbal therapies. The key to a smooth menopausal transition is to become more aware of your body, especially with subtle changes and take care of them before the symptoms turn severe.
When we see you for the first time in dealing with your perimenopausal symptoms, it is frequently not simply addressing symptoms of menopause. Many of the perimenopausal women have menstrual irregularities, uterine fibroids or other issues that can respond poorly to any direct hormonal interventions. Our approach to your condition comes from the conception of total wellness where we take into considerations four main aspects of your body and spirit – genetic tendencies, current health status, life style issues, and finally the important symptoms.
Herbal Therapy . Chinese medicine has within its arsenal close to 10,000 substances from natural resources. The advantages of Chinese herbal therapy are the lack of side effects and that it’s time-tested, and naturally effective in supporting body’s normal functions. It is a sophisticated body of knowledge that requires years of learning and mastery.
Below women can find the Chinese herbs (not all but some) that have been shown to be useful for the natural relief of symptoms of menopause in studies from China and the West.
- Wild Yam and Dang Gui – traditionally used to naturally stimulate the production of progesterone and estrogen in a woman’s body (Not a replacement but rather getting one’s body to do what it is supposed to do).
- Epimedii herb, Immortal grass, Rehmannia root and soy—together provide nourishment of hormone glands and support adrenal function while increasing one’s libido and sexual vitality.
- Conch and Zizyphus seed provide a natural source of calcium, reduce night sweats, relieve headaches and balance the mood to help one’s sleep.
- Anemarrhena and Gardenia fruit balance the body’s thermostat, relieve hot flashes, ease anxiety and lessen cravings.
- Alisma and white Peony root eliminate excess fluids while lubricating mucus membranes and skin as well as strengthening elasticity of the blood vessels
Herbs can prove incredibly helpful for all menopausal complex problems. While a few plants contain actual phytohormones or plant hormones, most herbs used for menopause do not. Instead, they aid by promoting the action of hormones in the body. Cells in our bodies have receptors for estrogen and progesterone, and an herb like black cohosh, for instance, will bind to and aid estrogen if the cell needs the hormone. However, if there’s an excess of estrogen in the body, the herb has the ability to occupy the receptor and block the hormone from entering the cell. Some herbs have even more complex actions. Chaste tree, for example, has been found to reduce the level of prolactin, a hormone that affects the mammary glands and which can interfere with progesterone formation if too high.
Your Chinese medicine doctor will prescribe a combination of herbs that will help balance your hormones, nourish and build up your liver and your adrenals, and also address specific issues such as anxiety, bone loss, mental confusion, and so on. Of course, once your hormones begin to come back into balance, many of the problems will start resolving themselves, but it’s always beneficial to give your system some extra help. At this moment, your practitioner may decide to alter your herbal formula.
There are a few principles to keep in mind. First, perimenopause is different form menopause itself. Because of the huge drop in progesterone during the former, mood swings and menstrual bleeding can often be acute and severe. Your herbal prescription will include a high proportion of those that promote progesterone and which do not stimulate menstruation.
For best results, your doctor will diagnose which state you’re in, the symptoms that currently bother you, and then determine the appropriate herbs that match your profile.
The question sometimes comes up as to how long a woman should take a menopausal formula. If you stop having hot flashes and other troublesome symptoms, it seems logical to discontinue use, but if these formulas help you preserve your hormones, it actually makes more sense to continue taking them. Your formulas may continue to benefit bone and heart health and overall longevity.
Below you can find herbal guide containing Chinese and Western herbs to relieve some of menopausal symptoms. This guide is only information. Avoid treat yourself because herbs are very powerful and can make your symptoms worse if prescribed improperly.
A Guide to Helpful Herbs.
Flower remedies can be wonderful allies during menopause, especially for anxiety. They can also alleviate depression, insomnia, and mental confusion. Add several drops to the tinctures per teas that you take for menopause, or take them straight with a glass of water. Choose among the following to threat the particular feeing that are troubling you:
Aspen Anxiety, vague feeling of fear
Mustard Deep depression
Red chestnut Over concern or fear for others
Rock rose Extreme fear
Scleranthus Uncertainty, indecision
Walnut Life stage transition
Wild oat Uncertain of life path
Energy Exercise. Normally one should incorporate a variety of cross training exercises such as passive strengthening, aerobic exercises and meditative exercises. These would include walking, hiking, gentle weight lifting, yoga, Tai Chi, jogging, and many other activities. The key is to alternate them and not to just do one form of exercise. Many women in Asia have used Tai Chi and other Chi (energy) Exercise to help them manage stress and restore vitality and normal functions before, during and after menopause with good success. One can also learn simple Chi (energy) Exercises from videotapes available at your local bookstores. Studies have shown that Tai Chi can promote balance, cardiovascular health and emotional well being.
In the seasons of one’s life, if the ending of the menstrual cycle means the winter of a woman’s ability to bear children, then what comes after menopause is the second spring – the season of rebirth when she is empowered to live the way she has drempt.
Menopause is a time of self-reflection and inner growth. This can be both an exciting and challenging time in a woman’s life.
Menopause signifies the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The termination of menstruation means the ending of a woman’s biological obligation to procreate. At around age 50, this time also usually coincides with the completion of a woman’s child rearing duty. With her familial obligations mostly fulfilled, she is now freer to pursue her life and personal dreams. Further, by this time, she has acquired tremendous life experience and wisdom that will allow her to fully blossom into who she is in the second half of her life. What an important and powerful time this change brings on! No wonder the Chinese call menopause “A Second Spring“!
We strongly believe that a menopausal woman should be empowered with the knowledge to make choices and decisions about her body and her life. At Acupuncture for Life clinic, we help individually to each woman’s needs during her change of life. We also ask our patients to help themselves with the following during peri-menopause and menopause: life style, diet and herbal therapy.
To find out your healthy way through this major life transition you need to make an appointment with a doctor Irina V. Zasimova.