Menopause and Chinese Medicine

Alison SeymourBlog

Acupuncture and herbal medicine for menopausal symptoms

The menopause is a time of transition for a women, a movement from one stage of life to another.  Here in the west it seems to be viewed with negative connotations, something to dread rather than embrace. Cultural differences appear to affect the way in which women experience the symptoms of menopause. As this study shows, symptoms vary by country and region

Our culture leans heavily on the treatment of it as an illness, one which needs to be managed and controlled. In China and the east however, it is the beginning of one of the 7 year cycles of a woman’s life.  One of the key ancient Chinese texts, the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, documents how these cycles develop over a person’s lifetime. These phases are an expression of how a change of emphasis occurs within our body at certain points in our lifetime. Men too have similar cycles, although each of these are observed to be 8 years in length.

For a female, 49 is the beginning of the seventh cycle of life, and although this principle was first observed by the Chinese 2000 years ago, it is still very much relevant today.  It segues well with the start of a woman’s life post-menstruation.  Although it marks the end of the fertile years, it also heralds a time of fresh perspective. A change of emphasis from the preceding years spent focussing on others, to one more nurturing of oneself.   Not a time to be feared with the loss of youth, but one to be welcomed in – as with age comes honour and respect.

In a society which favours beauty over wisdom, it is not surprising that many women anxiously approach this time of life.  This is only exacerbated by the natural change in hormone balance which comes about when menstruation begins to end.  In the west we tend to medicalise these changes, and treat with drugs to alter mood, or replace hormones which are in decline.  There is no doubt that for some women these can be lifesaving necessities, but this is in the minority.  For countless others, medicating a natural phase of life can sometimes bring about more harm than good.  Hormone replacement staves off the inevitable changes for a few more years, but once these cease being prescribed it appears many women experience the symptoms returning with a vengeance. Not slowly and naturally, as with a normal transition in hormone balance, but, on hearing accounts from women in clinic, often the body is forced into a rapid change.  Many unpleasant symptoms are reported, such as muscle or joint pain, insomnia and fatigue, along with temperature fluctuations.

Chinese medicine does not deny the natural aging process, but it does acknowledge that this rate of decline can be heavily influenced by the way we live our lives.  We are born with a finite amount of what is known as Jing, or Essence, its scientific equivalence are our telomeres, part of our DNA.  The rate this declines can be accelerated, or slowed down, by the lifestyle choices we make. Science backs up this ancient Chinese theory It’s all about balance and moderation.  Sustained fast living, poor food choices, lack of sleep, and enduring stress can all accelerate the rate.  Studies show the importance of good food choices and exercise in ameliorating menopausal symptoms

Making dietary changes, such as reducing hot and spicy foods, cutting out refined sugars, and limiting alcohol intake can improve the temperature fluctuations which many women report.  A daily walk in natural surroundings is also a proven tonic, reducing anxiety and lifting mood.  Tai Chi, yoga or simple meditation can also benefit.

For those whom lifestyle changes do not bring about rapid improvement, many women find acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine beneficial. The same is also so for those who are experiencing unpleasant symptoms, but who do not wish to opt for hormone replacement therapy.  Whether it’s temperature fluctuations, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, anxiety, depression, or fatigue, menopausal syndrome (in all its guises), is a regular feature here at Eight Branches! Patient experience is backed up by a recent London study carried out by eminent Chinese medicine practitioners. This study aimed to establish good practice, examine the most beneficial herbal formulas, and looked at a longer view of integrating Chinese medicine into an NHS treatment strategy for menopausal symptoms

Whichever way a woman chooses to approach the menopause, in a way that’s right for her, the important thing is to remember it’s a rite of passage for every female. A time of change no doubt, but one that can be a powerful force for good and an exciting new chapter in life.