Each year more than 1.3 million women in the United States become menopausal. Of those, many start suffering the effects of menopause. Their symptoms may include: hot flashes, weight gain, migraines, decreased libido, and more. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture can offer relief for those looking for menopause treatment.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is a time of transition away from childbearing years. When a female is born, her ovaries contain all the eggs she will have in her lifetime. As a woman ages, her estrogen and progesterone levels (the hormones responsible for ovulation) start to decline and the ovaries stop releasing eggs, causing her period to cease. Consequently, the resulting hormonal upheaval can negatively affect up to 75% of women at one point or another. Furthermore, menopausal symptoms can last anywhere from a few episodes to up to 7 years.
On average, menopause occurs between 51 and 52 years of age. Early menopause occurs between 40 and 45 years in around 5% of women. Permanent ovarian failure impacts 1% of women who enter menopause before the age of 40. Generally, women who undergo a hysterectomy for medical issues such as uterine cancer or severe endometriosis will go straight to the menopause phase with severe symptoms as a result.
Menopause has three phases:
is the first phase of this transitional process and can take several years. During this phase, is often when the first signs of menopause begin to show up. Estrogen starts declining, causing periods to become irregular. Menstrual blood will start alternating between heavy and light flows. Often taking on a dark red to rusty brown color. This is often where hot flashes start to make their appearance.
is said to occur when a woman has not produced a period for more than twelve months. The ovaries have stopped releasing eggs, and estrogen plummets. Consequently, the body turns to other sources of estrogen, primarily from the adrenal glands. Hot flashes can become more frequent and severe, and cause insomnia.
is the final phase of the transition and where symptoms such as hot flashes can start to dissipate. Some women will experience anxiety and others might develop vaginal dryness.
The Western Medical Perspective
Western medicine professionals view menopause as a normal life process. Often, treatments are aimed at reducing or eliminating the bothersome symptoms that can accompany this phase of life, such as:
- Vasomotor – up to 80% of women complain of hot flashes. It is usually the main symptom that drives women to go to their doctors. Hot flashes, or flushes, occur when the vasomotor response goes on overdrive. This causes a subjective feeling of increased body temperature and profuse sweating. Many experience visible redness in the face, neck, and thorax. Hot flushes can last anywhere from a few seconds to up to four minutes. They can occur at nighttime resulting in restlessness, poor sleep, and insomnia. Although they are not dangerous, they can be very uncomfortable. In some cases, hot flushes are debilitating.
- Psychosomatic – the hormonal upheaval experienced during this phase is similar to the upheaval experienced during puberty: women can become moody, irritable, or emotionally unstable. These episodes also prompt women to seek medical help.
- Genital Atrophy – this condition affects up to 20% of postmenopausal women. Usually due to the decline of estrogen to estrogen-dependent tissues.
- Common complaints include:
- vaginal dryness
- decreased libido
- painful sex
- increased risk of infection
- urinary urgency
- painful urination
- stress incontinence
- Osteoporosis – this is the least known but most significant result of menopause. Estrogen protects the bones. When estrogen production slows down, the bones can become brittle and weak. Other risk factors such as age, diet, certain medications, smoking, alcohol, and drug abuse can speed up this process.
The answer to these maladies in Western medicine include:
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- breast cancer
- ovarian cancer
- uterine cancer
- endometrium disease
- thromboembolic disease
- increased cholesterol levels
- Alzheimer’s disease
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT)
- blood clots
- breast cancer
- weight gain
- increased facial hair
Such as Fosomax and Actonel are frequently prescribed for bone loss to help prevent it and to increase bone density. Because it must be taken continuously users can experience nausea, diarrhea, and esophagitis. Risks include thyroid and adrenal cancers.
- skin rashes
- severe weakness
- stomach pain
- panic disorders
- suicidal thoughts
These supplements are frequently used to help with sleep issues. Melatonin is the hormone naturally in the body that rises in the evening to prepare the body for sleep. Although many experience some relief though over time, the body needs more and more melatonin to do the job.
The Traditional Chinese Medical Perspective of Menopause
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the kidney is the organ connected to growth, maturation, and the aging process (menopause). Likewise, it is associated with the bones, brain, teeth, and energy levels. The menopausal transition has its roots in a TCM pattern called kidney deficiency; this deficiency means the organ or organ “system” is not functioning at 100% capacity.
- Kidney yin deficiency creates a variety of symptoms, including the delay or cessation of menses, hair loss, tinnitus, hot flashes, insomnia, dizziness, itchy skin, vaginal dryness, and soreness or weakness of the back or knees.
Secondary patterns can also develop, each with their specific signs and symptoms:
- Kidney yang deficiency – heavy menstrual bleeding, chilliness, facial edema, cold limbs, weak or sore back and knees, loose stools, frequent urination, and urinary incontinence.
- Kidney essence (jing) deficiency – weak or sore back or knees, decreased bone mass, and difficulty standing for prolonged periods. This pattern is directly related to osteoporosis in Western medicine.
- Liver qi stagnation – irritability, constipation, palpitations, abdominal distention or bloating, irritability, and general weakness.
- Blood deficiency – pale complexion, dry skin, dizziness, hot flushes, sweating, insomnia, moodiness, and generalized pain.
- Deficiency heat – severe hot flashes and sweating, dizziness, irritability, nervousness, and a “steaming bones” sensation.
Can Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine Help with Menopause?
Yes! Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine can help with symptoms associated with menopause! A fully trained and licensed TCM provider will review a patient’s symptoms as well as her tongue and pulse to diagnose the proper pattern or patterns. Treatments consist of acupuncture and Chinese herbs according to the pattern(s) presented. When used together they are a safe, effective, and natural way to reduce hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Additionally, some providers may include functional medicine as part of the treatment to help support vitamin deficiencies, bone loss, insomnia, and more.
Acupuncture is a wonderful menopausal treatment to balance hormones and lessen hot flashes. Because acupuncture taps into the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response), it can lighten moods and promote better sleep. On a personal note, I have had great success in treating mood swings, hot flashes, and insomnia with acupuncture.
Chinese herbs stimulate hormone production, alter hormone receptors, and balance hormone function rather than flooding the body with external hormones. Similarly, they affect neurotransmitter functions that regulate our autonomic nervous system – that half of the central nervous system that helps manage our internal thermostat, blood circulation, and pores.
Can Acupuncture Delay Menopause?
It’s unclear whether acupuncture and herbs can delay menopause. Studies have shown that acupuncture is effective at treating: hot flashes, mood swings, sweats, sleep disturbances, and hormonal hair loss.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Fortunately, we can control some factors that can help to make the menopausal transition easier.
Exercise can help with the inevitable weight gain that comes with menopause. Chiefly, weight-bearing exercises can help build up bone density and slow muscle loss. Yoga and stretching exercises are great for managing stress, improving mood, reducing fatigue, and lessening hot flashes. Lastly, strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can help with urinary incontinence.
Hot flashes can be alleviated by eliminating or reducing caffeine, spicy foods, and alcohol. Further, wearing light layers of clothing, using fans, and turning down the thermostat can make one more comfortable. Also, acupuncture and herbs are extremely effective in treating hot flashes.
To improve sleep, one can develop a nighttime routine that includes powering down electronics at least one hour before bedtime, following a regular sleep schedule, and avoiding big dinners. Keeping the room as dark and cool as possible also promotes deeper sleep.
Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is important for optimal organ function and also helps with weight management. Calcium-rich foods including spinach, yogurt, almonds, and sardines keep bones strong. Some women find soy helps reduce hot flashes. Omega 3-rich foods such as salmon, whole grains, and beans are good choices for heart health. Click here to learn more about how Chinese medicine can help improve your health through diet.
Help Is a Click Away
If hot flashes, insomnia, or other menopausal symptoms are ruining your day (and night!), we can help. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine is a time-tested solution for assisting women through all phases of menopause.
You don’t have to suffer during this amazing life transition. Click here to book a healing acupuncture session with me. Experience first-hand how acupuncture can help the transition through menapause.