Whether you are going through menopause right now, or if it is still many years away, knowing what happens physiologically and energetically in your body and having some knowledge of what you can do to help yourself through this transition with ease and grace is very beneficial.
Menopause doesn’t have to be a period explosive hot sweat baths, torrid emotional outbursts, decrepit disturbances and a foreboding sense of vanquished youth. Menopause signifies the true change of life from mother to enlightened and wise being. It can be the most fulfilling, creative and sexually satisfying phase of life.
What is Menopause?
‘Menopause’ indicates the complete or permanent cessation of menstruation. The average age is approximately 51 years. The phase in a woman’s life where she makes this transition from a reproductive stage to a non-reproductive stage is termed ‘climacteric’ and this phase normally spans from 2-5 years whereby discomfort and symptoms may be present. Symptoms vary from person to person and from mild to severe, and are brought on as our bodies try to adapt to decreasing amounts of oestrogen. Symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, irritability, fatigue, poor concentration, mood swings, depression, memory loss, vaginal dryness, headaches, increased urination, back pain and weight gain.
The primary basis for the progressive decline of reproductive power in woman is in the ovary itself, as ovarian follicles are greatly depleted by the time of menopause. This decline starts from the moment of birth, so it is not an event that takes place suddenly but it is a gradual physiological process throughout her lifetime. A woman’s lifestyle and dietary habits from childhood onwards affects this biological functioning and determines what kind of menopause she is going to have.
Menopause and Chinese Medicine
Menopause is a natural process that alters the balance of Yin and Yang in the body and the distribution of kidney essence or ‘jing’ (constitutional life-force energy). After menopause many women step into the more Yang (energetic, aggressive) side of themselves. As men grow older, they tend to discover their yin (passive, yielding) side. This also fits with the stereotypical image of the strict and disciplined grandmother and the soft push over grandfather!
Chinese Medicine considers menopause to be a time when a woman’s body begins to preserve blood and energy in order to sustain her vitality and longevity and allow for the maximum available nourishment for her body, especially her kidneys. The kidney is the organ Chinese Medicine sees as the root of life and longevity. Therefore, the body, in its wisdom, reserves the flow of the energy in the channel that sends blood and energy down to the uterus. Instead, blood and essence from the kidneys are conserved and cycled through the body to nourish the woman’s spirit and extend her longevity! Thus, in the Chinese Medicine, menopause is seen as true change in life from ‘mother’ to enlightened and wise being.
TCM considers all menopausal symptoms to be signs of unbalanced health. The biggest factors in determining your comfort through this time will be the dietary and emotional health you have maintained throughout your adulthood and the pre-existing state of the kidney energy. Emotional stress, overwork, poor diet, too many children too close together, or having an active sexual life at too early an age, all contribute to depleting the kidneys. However, even though it may be too late to turn back the clock, Acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas can eliminate your discomfort and restore internal balance.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Menopause
From a Western viewpoint, menopausal problems are almost exclusively related to oestrogen deficiency and the ‘cure’ is therefore the administration of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). There is much debate over HRT, which is routinely prescribed when the first symptoms of menopause appear. While they may alleviate hot flashes and allegedly prevent osteoporosis and heart disease, they will also increase the risk of breast, ovarian, endometrial and uterine cancer, and have a number of significant side-effects. But HRT isn’t the only solution.
Menopause is an area in which Chinese Medicine shines. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have the ability to detect energetic changes that occur in the body and quickly relieve symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, and irritability.
Chinese medicine acknowledges that ‘climacteric syndrome’ is fundamentally due to a decline of kidney essence reserves which can take the form of Kidney- Yin, Kidney- Yang or combined Kidney-Yin and Kidney-Yang deficiency. A combined deficiency of yin and yang is the most common; however, one usually more predominates over the other. Your Chinese medical practitioner will analyse your signs and symptoms, check your pulse and tongue to determine the best course of treatment and to ascertain if there are any other patterns of disharmony that need to be addressed.
Chinese medicine with its gentle and steady tonification of the Kidney-Essence without side-effect, can offer a safe, effective and logical alternative to HRT, even though its effect will never be as rapid as HRT. Bear in mind, the two may be combined because HRT and Chinese medicine work in different ways. HRT works by ‘tricking’ the body into thinking that it is still ovulating, but it does not tonify the kidneys. Chinese herbs and acupuncture boost the kidney essence to help a woman transition through this time of life.
Dietary and Lifestyle advice
- Decrease sugar and all refined, processed foods
- Increase Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Vit E, Vit B3, C, CoEQ10, fish oils and phyto-oestrogens.
- Avoid alcohol, smoking and stress
- Increase exercise and lose excess weight
- Get adequate rest and relaxation
- Calm the mind and settle the emotions- try yoga, meditation, tai chi and qi gong
- Receive regular massages
- Boost and balance your energy with acupuncture and herbal medicine
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