Menopause is a natural stage in a woman’s life when her reproductive years come to a halt. What is supposed to be “natural” can feel anything but for a lot of women who suffer from a number of distressing symptoms as their estrogen levels gradually decline. Hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, depression, irritability and vaginal dryness are the most common perimenopausal symptoms which can dramatically impact a woman’s quality of life lasting for an average of 2-5 years but can continue for up to 10 years. On the other hand, some women seem to breeze through this transition effortlessly with only the sudden stop of their periods. So why is that? I will address this question in a moment.
As a Registered Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Practitioner, I primarily use Chinese Herbal medicine, diet therapy and acupuncture protocols that have been effectively treating perimenopausal symptoms and other hormonal imbalances for thousands of years. In practice, I have seen that each woman’s experience with menopause is unique, and as such, it is important to get a detailed understanding of each patient’s health history to gain a holistic understanding of their underlying root cause to provide the appropriate treatment protocol that is tailored to the individual. That’s right! In TCM, because our approach is individualized, even though the main complaint is the same, the treatment protocols can vary for each patient.
So how does this ancient medicine work and what does science have to say about its efficacy?
Let’s take a look at how Chinese herbs and acupuncture can help alleviate symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause from the perspectives of both TCM and Western Science.
Traditional Chinese Medicine views our body as an ecosystem in itself and the goal of treatment is to restore balance and harmony by identifying the pattern of condition and its underlying root cause. These pattern differentiations are based on the balance of four vital substances of the body which are Qi (energy or life force), Yin, Yang and blood. They flow throughout our system by what is called meridians or energy channels and they also function within the different organ systems (lungs, heart, spleen, liver and kidneys) that have the same functions as we understand them in Western medicine but are also viewed as a complex network of energetic systems in TCM.
From a TCM perspective, as a woman approaches menopause (referred to as Second Spring in classical Chinese Medical texts) there is a general decline of Kidney-Essence in its Yin or Yang aspect or combined pattern of both Kidney-Yin and Kidney-Yang deficiency. And it is thought that in an effort to conserve Kidney-Essence, menstrual flow (referred to as “Heavenly Water” in TCM) will start to slow down and eventually cease. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 42-56 and in Canadian women the median age of onset of menopause is 51. In addition to this decline, pre-existing pathologies can complicate this pattern, which brings me back to my first question.
Why do some women experience such a difficult transition into menopause and possibly an earlier onset, while others barely experience any symptoms at all?
It seems genetics may play a role in the age that a woman begins menopause and studies suggest that the severity of perimenopausal symptoms a woman experiences may depend on factors that cause inflammation and hormonal imbalance such as:
So, what can you do?
Read Part 2 of this story and find out how Traditional Chinese Medecine and Acupuncture can help smooth the transition into menopause.