As women enter the autumn of their reproductive years, major physiological changes occur that may give rise to symptoms of menopause.
Like a plant going through many changes with the cycle of the seasons, it is natural for a woman in her middle years to cease menstruating on a regular cycle and to experience mild to extremely uncomfortable symptoms as a result.
Acupuncture and Oriental medicine provides treatments and lifestyle suggestions which may reduce the severity of these symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of menopause include:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- mood swings
- sore lower back
- loss of libido
- dryness, which can affect any part of the body
From an AOM perspective, the organ most involved in producing these symptoms of menopause is the kidney, specifically the decline of kidney yin. Kidney yin is like a cool, refreshing reservoir of water and when it dries up, heat and dryness more readily ensue. Yin in general represents the nourishing, cooling energies and when it reduces, metaphorically speaking, there exists in the body less water to put out the fire.
Menopause and Yang Energy
Yang energy represents the moving, active principle which is like the rays of sunshine providing the sustenance needed for plants to thrive. However when in excess, heat destroys plants and leaves them brown, dried and withered. Based on this premise, it makes sense why menopausal women can present with excess heat signs such as hot flashes and irritability, according to AOM theory. One treatment principle an acupuncturist may utilize for addressing such symptoms is known as nourishing kidney yin and clearing heat.
Menopause and Estrogen
The most popular treatment offered by Western medicine is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Menopause, technically occurring 12 months after the last menstrual period, happens due to fluctuating estrogen levels. Estrogen encourages blood supply to the reproductive organs and helps to keep the vagina lubricated. Estrogen, during the fertile years, prepares the uterus every month for fertilization of the ovum (the mature female reproductive cell). HRT, as its name implies, is a therapy which reintroduces estrogen back into the body in an effort to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of menopause. Some research has found that HRT may pose health risks, so many women experiencing menopause have begun seeking alternative therapies for treating their hormonal fluctuations and related symptoms.
Things to Avoid during Menopause
While acupuncture and Oriental medicine offers a variety of treatments for menopause, it often includes certain suggestions for lifestyle choices and diet. Avoiding spicy foods, hot beverages, caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes may help prevent the onset of hot flashes, night sweats and other symptoms. All of these foods and substances irritate the body. Additionally, acupuncture and Oriental medicine considers cigarettes to be particularly detrimental for menopausal women because when smoke enters the body it dries up the yin and the fluids, which need to be preserved in the menopausal woman.
Treating Meridians and Energy during Menopause
According to the Huang di Nei Jing, an ancient classical text of Chinese Medicine still heavily referenced and studied by AOM practitioners today, the body dynamics of women significantly change every seven years. At 35 years, the blood and energy (Qi) of the Large Intestine and Stomach Channels start their decline. Here we see fine lines on the face and neck, thinning hair and a drier quality to the skin. A channel or meridian is the pathway where Qi flows from an organ to other parts of the body, such as the skin, muscles, bones and the brain, among others. It is through these pathways that an AOM practitioner stimulates the immune system.
For a woman at 42 years, these same channels weaken further as evidenced by deepening wrinkles, hair color changing to gray or white, and the continual loss of skin moisture and elasticity. At 49, a woman's Conception Vessel and the Chong Mai exhaust themselves, giving rise to symptoms of menopause. The changes in these meridians promote the cessation of menstruation and loss of fertility. The Conception Vessel or Ren Channel is called the "sea of yin" and is closely associated with pregnancy, fetal development and reproductive health in general. The Chong Mai or Chong Meridian is known as the "sea of blood" and heavily influences blood flow in the uterus and the menstrual cycle. Any of these channels mentioned may prove useful when selecting points for an acupuncture treatment or other AOM therapies.
Acupuncture for Reducing Hot Flashes
In July of 2014, the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) conducted a large-scale analysis of previous scientific studies examining the role of acupuncture in reducing various symptoms of menopause. Out of the 12 studies analyzed, researchers concluded that acupuncture positively impacted both the frequency and severity of hot flashes. NAMS executive director Margery Gass, M.D. stated, "The review suggested acupuncture may be an alternative therapy for reducing hot flashes, particularly for those women seeking non-pharmacologic therapies." While hot flashes may not pose a health risk in and of themselves, the severity of them may affect quality of life and cause great physical and emotional stress.
As women move from autumn to the winter phase of their natural feminine cycle, it is reassuring to know that both AOM and Western Medicine therapies exist--and can be integrated into your health plan--to support this transition. The winter season of life--menopause--is a time to take shelter and preserve energy. This is a quieter, calmer phase of life in which a healthy woman may need extra support to feel comfortable in her body as it changes. Age should bring wisdom, not excess heat and dryness that cause unnecessary discomfort.
Read more about Exercises to Ease Menopausal Symptoms!
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Learn more about acupuncture and Oriental medicine for menopause and andropause!
About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.