Even just hearing the word “menopause” can give some women anxiety.
Sure, many pre-menopausal women look forward to the end of their periods and debilitating PMS; but this excitement is often outweighed by dread about impending hot flashes, insomnia, weight gain and other symptoms.
Here’s the thing: there’s nothing inherently “bad” about menopause. In fact, some of my patients undergoing menopause liken their experiences to the way they felt during their menstrual cycles, or during all of the hormonal changes of puberty. The bottom line? Fluctuating hormone levels cause changes in the body, and when you aren’t sure what’s going on (or how to alleviate certain symptoms), you are more likely to feel disempowered.
That’s where I come in.
As an acupuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I work with women to approach the question of hormonal health holistically. And one of the most important aspects of TCM and holistic healing generally is recognizing the interconnection between body and mind. It’s not only important to understand the physiology of menopause, but also to release some of the fear associated with it—especially given that stress is a major hormone disruptor.
With that, here are six pieces of wisdom I always share with my patients about menopause. Hopefully they’ll help you relax, and take the edge off some of that stress!
1. TCM has a unique approach to hormonal health.
Nothing about menopause is insurmountable, but many women complain most frequently about weight gain and hot flashes. And, both of these symptoms do happen.
The great thing about TCM is that it offers all-natural solutions to hormonal changes in the body. Alternatively, Western Medicine typically relies on the expedient method of Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT). This treatment has been shown to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and stroke.
That’s why I appreciate the TCM approach. Since the process of helping patients find hormonal balance in their bodies is so sensitive, I find that all-natural methods such as herbal formulas and acupuncture are much safer, more reliable and sustainable than synthetic hormones. I make sure all of my patients know just how ancient of a practice TCM is, along with acupuncture and herbal medicine.
2. Overall health is the key to minimize menopausal symptoms.
I will never treat a patient for menopausal discomfort without asking other questions about her sleeping patterns, eating habits, digestive health and so on.
As a result, no two treatments are ever alike, as they are totally tailored to the patient’s concerns and lifestyle choices. In TCM, physical ailments are usually associated with a deficiency or excess in the body, or an area of stagnation. I make sure all of my treatments focus on the root issue, rather than just treating the symptom.
For example, hot flashes correspond to “Kidney Yin Deficiency.” I focus treatment on nourishing Kidney Yin and clearing heat through tonifying herbal formulas and cooling foods.
3. Hot flashes don’t always just “flash.”
Hot flashes are common. Studies show that more than 75 percent of menopausal women experience hot flashes, and 33 percent of these women experience hot flashes for up to a decade. That’s more than a flash! Especially given that many hot “flashes” last for up to an hour or more.
That’s why the TCM approach is especially helpful for menopause: it doesn’t isolate symptoms from the rest of the body. It may be that a woman undergoing menopause is also experiencing overall Kidney Yin Deficiency, and through treatment could knock the frequency of her hot flashes in half. For instance, alcohol, sugar, spicy foods, and caffeine are just a few of the foods that I tell my patients to avoid when experiencing hot flashes.
4. Re-balancing the body is 100 percent achievable.
TCM is all about balance. I don’t think of myself as “treating” an “illness” when it comes to treating my patients, but rather assisting in keeping their bodies and minds balanced and in harmony.
According to TCM, the body is thought of as an interconnected puzzle—it’s impossible to create balance if you don’t account for all the moving parts. Acupuncture points correspond to organ pathologies, which help us get to the root of a symptom. For instance, acne on the cheeks is often a sign of liver stagnation and heat, so I will use liver points to stimulate the flow of Qi and clear heat in order to reduce the inflammation, rather than encouraging patients to try a topical cream.
For menopausal symptoms, I typically recommend a combination of acupuncture and herbal formulas to help address particular organ pathologies and reinstate balance.
5. TCM treatments won’t give you side effects.
Before menopause, many women complain of the myriad symptoms they face if on some form of hormonal birth control. It’s no wonder! Pumping hormones into the body is guaranteed to create imbalances, which result in symptoms like breast pain, acne, moodiness and so on.
A similar point can be made for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). But Chinese herbal formulas used for menopause such as the most common “Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan” are plant-based and natural. Side effects? None.
6. TCM is sustainable and won’t cause long-term health risks.
Many prescription drugs and Western medicinal treatments are powerful and work quickly. But they are often unsustainable due to associated long-term health risks. Western doctors don’t recommend doing Hormone Replacement Therapy for longer than five years.
But TCM? Totally sustainable and without long-term risks. Plus, herbal formulas can be adjusted as needed as a woman’s body changes with changes in her hormones.
I’m not against Western medicine, but I am in favor of more people learning about the gifts that TCM, Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine have to offer. It’s time that our culture start to look at the root causes of health and wellness rather than relying on the “band-aid approach.” To learn more, reach out to an Acupuncturist who is licensed in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Herbology.