What Happens During Menopause?
Menopause is a natural physiological process through which menstruation ceases and fertility is no longer possible in a woman. As she ages, a woman’s ovaries produce less and less estrogen and progesterone and eventually they stop producing eggs, so she is no longer able to conceive. Menopause has officially occurred after 12 consecutive
months with no period. It usually happens in when a woman reaches her late 40’s or early 50’s. For some, it is a smooth transition. But for others, it can be a turbulent time of change.
Commonly, women entering this phase of life experience some mild symptoms such as a feeling of warmth, irregular periods, irritability, vaginal dryness, frequent urination, to name a few. This can begin some time before actual menopause- a phase referred to as perimenopause, and can last months or years. However, in severe cases, the symptoms can be extreme and debilitating- insomnia, fatigue, intense hot flashes, profuse sweating, dramatic mood swings, palpitations, weight gain, hair loss, digestive disturbances and so on…
It is important during both perimenopause and menopause to continue with annual gynecological exams and to follow-up with whatever tests the doctor recommends. This change of life can affect the rest of the body dramatically and some diseases are more likely during this phase. Some physicians prescribe hormone replacement therapies for symptoms like hot flashes, but these are not without serious side effects. This is when Chinese medicine can really help.
What TCM Can Offer for Menopausal Symptoms
Traditional Chinese Medicine views menopause as a natural process and mild symptoms are considered normal. The kidney essence is thought to be in decline as people age (hence low back pain, graying hair, arthritis, brittle bones, etc.), and in women it manifests in menopause, the slowing and eventual ceasing of menstruation. But again, any intense or persistent symptoms are not considered “normal,” they are manifestations of an imbalance of energy. Both the yin and yang energies of the kidney may play a role in menopausal symptoms. For instance, if there is a deficiency of kidney yin in the body, there will be a loss of fluid and a preponderance of heat in the woman, giving rise to hot flashes, thirst, sleeplessness, etc. If the kidney yang is deficient, there will be an excess of fluid, leading to things like swollen ankles or legs, weight gain, frequent
urination, etc. Menopausal syndromes may be a combination of kidney yin and yang deficiency or further complicated by excessive heat, heart, liver yin or spleen/blood deficiencies as well.
The good news is that acupuncture can help by restoring the kidney energy and by alleviating these troubling symptoms. I usually recommend lifestyle modifications that may influence the pattern- overwork, lack of sleep, and improper diet always affect health and can greatly impact these symptoms. Stress can actually cause the disharmony that leads to some of these issues. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided, while light exercise, yoga and meditation may help a great deal. It’s important to discern the individual pattern of disharmony and its severity before treatment, as this affects the point selection and application. If it’s a case of deficient kidney yin, I utilize points that nourish the yin and have a calming effect on the mind. If it’s more deficient kidney yang, I use invigorating points that warm the kidney yang, invigorate the spleen and have a soothing effect. In persistent cases, I often recommend Chinese herbal formuals tailored to the patient’s syndrome. Some patients find taking certain supplements like Evening Primrose Oil, omega-3s, and B vitamins helpful too. But please remember: don’t self medicate! Always check with your doctor or practitioner before taking anything-drugs, herbs OR supplements.