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Acupuncture and Menopause
By: Diane Joswick, L.Ac., MSOM

Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom:
Creating Physical and Emotional Health with Acupuncture.

With the right diet, attitude, and Oriental Medicine menopause can be a time of a revival of energy and an opportunity for personal growth--one that surpasses the hormonally driven period of adolescence.

What is 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. Symptoms vary from mild to severe, and are brought on as our bodies try to adapt to decreasing amounts of estrogen. Symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, fatigue, mood swings, memory loss, vaginal dryness, headaches, joint pain, and weight gain.

According to Chinese Medical theory, menopause occurs when a woman's body begins to preserve blood and energy in order to sustain her vitality 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 a channel in the center of the body which 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.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Menopause

Few areas of women's health stir up as much confusion and debate as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which is normally started when the first symptoms of menopause appear. 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. But HRT isn't the only solution. Menopause is an area in which Oriental 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 flashes, foggy mind, and irritability.

Evidence that Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine have been used for women's health can be found in early medical literature dating back to 3AD.

Traditional Chinese Medicine does not recognize menopause as one particular syndrome. Instead, it aims to treat the specific symptoms that are unique to each individual using a variety of techniques such as acupuncture, Chinese herbs, bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations and energetic exercises to restore imbalances found in the body. Therefore, if 10 women are treated with Oriental medicine for hot flashes, each of these 10 women will receive a unique, customized treatment with different acupuncture points, different herbs and different lifestyle and diet recommendations.

How Acupuncture Works

The mental and emotional symptoms that you are experiencing will help create a clear picture on which your practitioners can create a treatment plan specifically for you. The basic foundation for Oriental medicine is that there is a life energy flowing through the body which is termed Qi (pronounced chee).

This energy flows through the body on channels known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced. Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to achieve the desired effect.

The Acupuncture Treatment

Acupuncture points to treat the emotional and physical effects of menopause are located all over the body. During the acupuncture treatment, tiny needles will be placed along your legs, arms, shoulders, and perhaps even your little toe!

There seems to be little sensitivity to the insertion of acupuncture needles. They are so thin that several acupuncture needles can go into the middle of a hypodermic needle. Occasionally, there is a brief moment of discomfort as the needle penetrates the skin, but once the needles are in place, most people relax and even fall asleep for the duration of the treatment.

The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary. Typical treatments last from five to 30 minutes, with the patient being treated one or two times a week. Some symptoms are relieved after the first treatment, while more severe or chronic ailments often require multiple treatments.

Studies on Acupuncture and Menopause

Since the early seventies, studies around the globe 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 extremely positive results:

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.

While these results are promising and the United Nations World Health Organization has approved acupuncture as a treatment for symptoms associated with menopause, further clinical trials with larger samples are currently 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.

Lifestyle and Dietary Instructions

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. Some foods may exacerbate hot flashes or increase mood swings. Steer clear of dairy products, red meats, alcohol, sugar, spicy foods, caffeine, and don't smoke. Lastly, try to eliminate stress, tension and anxiety or learn techniques to cope with stress so that you can diminish the effects that it has on your body and mind.

Find an Acupuncturist

Today, acupuncture is an acknowledged and respected field of medicine which requires formal training and certification in order to practice. In most States, provinces and countries, acupuncture is legislated in order to assure quality of treatment.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine is an art and a science that takes years to master. Look for an acupuncturist with formal training and experience in the treatment of menopause on