Can Acupuncture help with hormonal balancing during menopause?
Yes, Acupuncture can help with hormonal balancing during menopause and at other stages of life as well. Some of the symptoms we treat are hot flashes and night sweats, insomnia, decreased libido, anxiety, irritability, weight gain, and memory loss. Chinese Medicine, which includes acupuncture, uses a unique diagnostic system and many treatment methods in addition to Acupuncture, including Herbs, Exercise (called Qigong), dietary and lifestyle changes.
How does Chinese Medicine look at menopause?
Chinese Medicine was invented 2000 years ago, some even say closer to 5000 years…. As you might imagine, they saw things differently. The chinese saw menopause as part of the continuum of a healthy life, one of many changes throughout life, including puberty and parenthood. Andropause is different, which some people call male menopause, but it is also seen as part of the healthy continuum of life. Menopause is not a disease, it is just a change in our hormonal makeup. Women don’t need to put that energy into fertility and menstruation any longer; they are free to use that energy in other ways.
Since you say menopause is a healthy and normal part of a woman’s life why seek treatment?
Many people say this to me: they don’t need to see a doctor OR an Acupuncturist for menopause because it is a natural change and intervention is not really needed. I agree with this, except to point out that Chinese Medicine is all about preventative, beneficial approaches which can help balance, relax and sustain us even absent acute problems. So if you’re suffering with symptoms from menopause such as foggy thinking or fatigue, this is caused by an imbalance. We can help with that, it will make you feel better and you might even live a longer healthier life.
We’ve heard some negatives about hormone replacement therapy (such as cardiovascular and cancer risks, osteoporosis), but Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs rarely present significant side-effects, unlike conventional medicine.
Let me explain a little further.
Throughout our lives, imbalances can occur, whether it is as a result of injuries, like a car accident or a pulled muscle, or as a result of normal changes, like puberty or menopause. When we see these things, Chinese Medicine uses a few different approaches to help people get better. One of the primary tools we use in hormonal balancing is called Yin and Yang. This is a lot like the philosophical idea of yin and yang we see in that pictograph with the two tadpoles chasing each other in a circle. The idea here is that we are grouping symptoms, hormones and functions into two opposing camps, then we are seeking balance between these two. Yin and yang is dark versus light, female versus male, wet versus dry, heavy versus light, cool versus hot and so forth. We need both yin and yang, but the important thing is that they remain in balance.
An example of a yin imbalance would be a standard menopausal symptom: hot flashes and night sweats. Around 75% of women in America experience hot flashes during menopause. The heat here shows a lack of Yin, a lack of the cooling properties, so it gives us an idea of how to approach these symptoms clinically. We would prescribe cooling but nutritive herbs and foods and take a similar approach of cooling and nourishing with acupuncture.
The opposite symptom picture for us would be a person who is cold all of the time, with cold hands and feet, and is fatigued. This shows a lack of Yang, a lack of heat in the body. We would tend to prescribe warming and energizing herbs and foods, such as red meat, and cooked meals with spicy, warming herbs.
So, just to summarize, menopause wasn’t viewed as negatively as modern Americans view it, but as just a normal, healthy life change that sometimes presents the challenge of imbalance.
Are there any differences between menopause in traditional China and in modern life? Is menopause worse for modern people?
In traditional cultures where aging brings power and status to women, women have tended to experience few if any symptoms of menopause. Perhaps they also know more natural ways to keep their lives balanced. Our modern lifestyles include incredible technologies and advancements but have also brought a lot of stress and emotional blocks, increased toxicity, many illnesses and, in this country, poor preventative medical care. Getting a hip replacement is easy in this country, finding a simple effective solution to hormonal imbalances is hard without Chinese Medicine. If we could reduce stress, eat out of our gardens and from local farms and walk places instead of driving without air pollution and industrial chemicals, we might not suffer as much through natural transitions.
Did the ancient chinese know about hormones? Is menopause about hormonal insufficiency?
No, they didn’t have microscopes, or other things that rely on modern technology. They were, however, masters of external symptomotology such that we can treat many things effectively without ever doing hormone tests, blood tests, MRIs and so forth. One thing the chinese were also great at is understanding how everything is connected together. So they knew that treating physical complaints would help emotional complaints and vice versa; they knew how psycho-emotional complaints could be treated with physical interventions like Acupuncture and Herbs.
There are a few different hormones involved in the reproductive system, and the female system is a little more complicated than the male. Once ovulation stops, or slows down, it takes a while for other systems to follow suit. The body wants to make sure that it is providing a proper environment for creating a child, so it takes a while to shut down the system. The short answer is that menopause is not about lack of hormones, but actually about shutting down part of the reproductive system in a smooth way so that women can apply their energy to other things than childbirth.
So, is it necessary to supplement hormones at all with the Chinese Medicine approach?
No. Chinese Medicine returns proper function to physiology so that, as long as you are eating and sleeping properly, your body should be able to make and balance the hormones that it needs. In fact, menopause is part of a natural change that oversees a normal decrease in many hormones.
Is Acupuncture painful?
This is a great question, and a common one. Acupuncture needles are tiny and are sometimes not even felt by the patient. There may be an initial pinching sensation, followed by tingling, warmth, heaviness or a feeling of movement. Acupuncture is a little like a massage. Most people find acupuncture extremely relaxing and are able to fall asleep during treatment.
How does Acupuncture work? Who would have thought that sticking pins into the human body could have a therapeutic effect?
There are lots of theories of how chinese medicine works. Some people talk about it as activating adenosine in the area where the needle is inserted. Adenosine is used in energy production in the cells. Others talk about it as releasing hormones and neurotransmitters. There are modern applications where the focus is on releasing the muscles. Some also talk about working with the fascial planes in the body and removing adhesions. There are lots of scientific explanations and it’s actually pretty clear that a lot of those things may be going on at the same time.
From the CM perspective we talk about a smooth flow of energy through the body and there are ways we learn how to see that. Particular parts of the body relate to particular organs and functions and this is called the channel system. There is something called the stomach channel that runs down the front of the body. So if someone comes in with digestive problems, we will often do pins on that channel. The great thing is really that it works, and it works for many disorders and problems.
You mentioned Chinese Herbs, how do those relate to Acupuncture? And what about Qigong?
Chinese herbs use the same diagnostic system that all of Chinese Medicine uses. We would give a patient between 5 and 10 herbs that bring balance to the body. One example would be balancing yin and yang in the case of hormonal imbalance. Another could be to improve sleep in cases of insomnia. Herbs can be taken as a pill or a tea.
Interestingly, I want to note that most modern pharmaceuticals are built from chemicals derived from natural herbs. So, while drugs are derived from herbal medicine, but herbs are a much safer and natural way to treat illness and promote health.
Qigong is a meditative form of exercise that opens the circulation and builds strength and flexibility. We can apply it prescriptively for health problems. I am teaching a Qigong class starting on June 2nd, please see my website for details. This would be a great introduction to individuals wanting to improve their health.