Acupuncture for Menopause

Menopause is a transitional period marking the cessation of ovulation in a woman’s body. This time of change may last a few months to several years. This typically occurs between the ages of 40-50. There is a gradual decrease of estrogen and progesterone production despite stimulation of the pituitary gland. Estrogen is still produced, in smaller amounts by the body in fat cells which may explain the weight gain that often occurs at onset of menopause. Menopause is defined by a period of 12 months without menstruation. Some women experience no symptoms while others experience moderate to severe discomforts including hot  flashes, night sweats, headaches, fatigue, lethargy, irritability, vaginal dryness, anxiety, nervousness, depression, insomnia, and difficulty staying focused.

The Eastern View: Transformation, conservation, & wisdom.

According to Chinese medicine, when we are young, our bodies produce an abundance of qi and blood. The production of both of these vital substances decreases when menopause approaches. It is also less likely that conception is likely or desirable so the body has a built in method of conservation. The loss of blood during menses is no longer necessary. Women lose Blood through  menstruation and Essence through childbearing. This takes a great toll on the body. Menopause is, therefore, thought of as a conservation of Blood and Essence. Menopause slows down the aging process by retaining these vital substances and helping the woman maintain her Essence (think bone marrow, brain, blood production and bone health). It is also believed that the Essence which was once directed toward growth and development of the body is now directed toward Spiritual development, leading the woman to Wisdom.

During menopause, deficiencies in a particular woman’s body show up in symptoms. Yin is most frequently deficient. Yin and blood anchor the Spirit which is Yang. A floating Spirit is easily agitated which is experienced as anxiety, nervousness, tension, irritability and so on. This also contributes to an inability to sleep. Pure Yang can float upward and give rise to hot flashes.

Yin and Blood are depleted through menstruation, childbirths, stress, smoking, excessive consumption of spicy foods and anything that is drying in nature. These factors can influence the frequency and severity of symptoms during the menopause
phase.

Hormones

Chinese medicine does not view menopause in terms of hormones. We do not aim to restore the same level of hormones as would be in a younger woman because that is not natural, and we believe, not healthful. This may account for the fact that there are so many side effects to Hormone Replacement Therapy. We believe that the body undergoes this process for a reason and we do not wish to contradict nature. TCM can provide relief from symptoms while restoring a healthful balance of essential components (qi, blood, yin , yang) in a totally natural and gentle way.

Since the early seventies, studies around the world have suggested that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are effective treatments for hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia, vaginal dryness and many other symptoms associated with menopause. Recent studies show the following:

“From 1997 to 1999, one of the first studies in the United States to explore the effectiveness of acupuncture in alleviating hot flashes, insomnia and nervousness, conducted by Dr. Susan Cohen, D.S.N., APRN, associate professor of the University of
Pittsburgh, it was found that during the course of acupuncture treatments, hot flashes decreased by 35% and insomnia decreased by 50%. A follow-up study revealed hot flashes significantly decreased in those receiving acupuncture, compared to those receiving routine care.”

“A 2002 pilot study in England found that acupuncture reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes in women being treated with tamoxifen for breast cancer.”

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has approved acupuncture as a treatment for symptoms associated with menopause; more research is underway.

“A 2003 study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, involves a larger number of participants than previous studies. Participants will be divided into three groups; one will receive menopause-specific acupuncture, one will receive non-menopause-specific acupuncture, and one will receive usual care.”

“Stanford Medical Center researchers are now studying whether acupuncture can help alleviate hot flashes. During the one-year, placebo-controlled study at Stanford, volunteers may receive 10 treatments over an eight-week period.”

“According to a clinical study conducted in Taiwan, the use of herbs in gui lu er xian jiao has been found to increase bone mass density by an average of 3.4% in one year.1 In addition to herbs, an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D should be taken on a daily basis to ensure proper integrity of bones.2,3 “

How does TCM treat menopause?

Chinese medicine recognizes several different patterns that typically present with menopausal symptoms. These patterns result from predicable conditions which lead to various deficiencies based upon the patient’s body constitution plus the way that they have lived for the prior 40-50 years. This is why there are a number of treatment methods such as acupuncture, Chinese herbs, lifestyle/dietary recommendations and Qi Gong exercises to restore imbalances particular to each individual.

The most typical pattern seen in menopausal women is Kidney Yin Deficiency, presenting the symptoms of hot flashes, insomnia, vaginal dryness, tinnitus, night sweats, and weakness of the lower back and knees. There are other patterns and various degrees of deficiency, many times there are dual deficiencies and the herbal formulas can be customized to fit. Kidney Essence deficiency often manifests as osteoporosis in menopausal women. Formulas that contain Kidney Essence tonics and herbs with high calcium content are often prescribed in these cases.

Using Acupuncture for Menopausal Symptoms

Acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely thin, sterilized needles into specific points in the body. These points are located along pathways which can stimulate certain biochemical process. The Chinese medicine diagnostic process also involves determining which of these meridians are out of balance and this can be affected with acupuncture methods. Acupuncture can also restore energetic balance to regions of the body to stop pain, reduce hot flashing and so on. Qi is considered the life energy that flows throughout the body. By adjusting the flow of Qi in the body, various physiological systems of the body can be regulated, including the endocrine system, which controls the production of hormones. In this way, acupuncture can smooth the transition of menopause and alleviate the symptoms. Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are energetic in nature. This is why they work synergistically and this is how they are different from western medicine (and even western herbalism).

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Dietary Changes for Menopause

In Asian countries, the incidence of menopausal symptoms among women is dramatically less than Western countries. Women in Asian countries begin to use acupuncture and herbal medicine prior to approaching menopause. There are also folk remedies and traditions for menopause which are integrated into the culture. There are traditional foods at certain occasions such as seaweed soup after childbirth which can significantly alter the mother’s health in a positive direction.

One obvious difference in the diet between woman in Asia and women in Western countries is the consumption of fermented foods and soy products. Asian women consume ten times the amount of soy products as their Western counterparts. Soy is high in phyto-estrogens, which are similar to estradiol and may account for the difference in the experience of menopausal symptoms. Attention should be paid to adding high quality fermented foods and not commercially processed foods which are of questionable benefit.

Menopause patients are encouraged lose that extra weight and to follow a diet with a high content of raw foods, fruits and vegetables to stabilize blood sugar. Cold and raw foods are frowned upon in TCM at any other time of life and for some women this may not be the recommendation. Ask your TCM practitioner for specific recommendations for your body.

Some foods may promote hot flashes or aggravate mood swings and should be avoided. These include dairy products, red meats, alcohol, sugar, spicy foods, and caffeine. Cigarette smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke may dry up yin and body fluid. Stress plays a major role in the severity of emotional symptoms during menopause. Qi gong is a great method of achieving emotional balance and inner peace.

Though menopausal signs and symptoms are disturbing, they are self-limiting and not life-threatening. Such signs and symptoms may be prominent for a few years, but they will gradually lessen in severity and eventually disappear. Osteoporosis, on the other hand, will continue to deteriorate with age and can be life-threatening. It is a disorder that requires active intervention and treatment. Chinese herbal medicine is a great choice but also taking advantage of western diagnostic methods for monitoring bone density is highly recommended.

Hormone replacement therapy is considered the standard treatment for menopause and related conditions. However, there is not a consensus as to when and how to use these medications. While they may alleviate hot flashes and prevent osteoporosis, they will also increase the risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer, and have a number of significant side-effects. The bottom line is that synthetic hormones can never replace endogenous ones. Therefore, no matter when and how they are prescribed the potential for adverse reactions will always be present.

Traditional Chinese medicine, on the other hand, offers a gentle yet effective way to address menopause and related conditions. Chinese herbs have demonstrated via numerous in vivo and in vitro studies to have a marked effect on the endocrine system to alleviate hot flashes, vasomotor instability, loss of bone mass, and other conditions associated with menopause. Most importantly, they are much gentler and safer on the body.

If you would like to come in for an appointment for your menopausal issues, you can BOOK ONLINE NOW.