Many women consider the symptoms of menopause to be an unavoidable reality of life. The discomforts associated with menopause are in no way obligatory women’s burdens, they are important signs of imbalances in the body that can be addressed and treated. Traditional Chinese Medicine has been successfully treating the symptoms of menopause, both in management and prevention, for thousands of years. As with any medicine in modern times, it is a constantly growing and evolving therapy; but its roots remain firm in time-tested philosophies that remain relevant today.
How Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Views Menopause.
When working at its best, the body is a delicate balance of many working systems that all flow and interact in harmony. The most basic categorical distinction between the forces at work in the body, according to TCM principles, is Yin and Yang. Yin represents the cooling, nourishing, and fluid substances of the body. It can be thought of as the more water-like element that keep things calm and cool. Yang is the warming energy that drives movement and function, yang can be regarded as the more fire element that keeps the body’s hearth burning and engine running.
The traditional thoughts of menopause were that, upon entering this period of life, the yin aspects of a woman’s body became deficient, and unable to hold control of the yang aspects. In other words, the body’s “water elements” lost grip on the “fire elements”. This disruption of the yin-yang balance showed itself by producing the common symptoms of menopause. Feelings like heat and agitation were results of overacting yang, and feelings like dryness and fatigue were signs of the underling deficiency and lack of yin. Treatment focus was centred on nourishing the heart, calming the mind, venting heat, and nourishing yin to provide comfort in coolness and moisture.
Of course, with modern laboratory abilities, we can now attribute the symptoms of menopause to measurable changes in hormone sensitivity and production. Regardless, syndrome treatment based on the ancient theories and philosophies of TCM, with its individual-based approach to therapy, have been proven for millennia to work.
TCM Treatment of Menopause with Acupuncture and Herbal Therapy
The two main tools of TCM in the treatment of Menopausal symptoms are acupuncture and herbal therapy.
Acupuncture has been proven in countless studies to offer side-effect free relief in a large variety of symptoms, and is highly effective in addressing such things as menopausal anxiety and insomnia. Regular acupuncture treatments are recommended to help normalize the ups-and-downs of your cycle, and effectively smooth the discomforts associated with the hormonal shift. Patients leave the treatment room feeling relaxed, and this calm state can provide for more restful sleeps, and take the edge off the ordeals of the day.
An example of a common acupuncture point used to treat menopause-related anxiety is Heart 7, notable also because it is easily employed as a home-use acupressure point by patients (see this pdf pressure points for stress and anxiety for more information). The Chinese name for Heart 7 is Shen Men which translates to “Spirit Gate”. It is the yuan-source point of the heart, which in easier to understand terms, means very important! Stimulating this point is said to have great effect on calming the heart and mind, which makes it a go-to for various stress and anxiety related woes including insomnia, palpitations, and panic attacks.
Herbal Therapy works on a deeper level, being individually formulated to address the “root imbalances” as well as provide symptom relief. The herbal formulas used in TCM for menopause have been used effectively for at least 2000 years- there are not too many other pharmaceuticals in history who can boast as much human testing. The herbs used have a high degree of acceptance by the body, are government-regulated for safety and purity, and can effectively relieve such symptoms as hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, mental fogginess, fatigue, etc. Thanks again to modern laboratory facilities, recent studies have proven and are continuing to prove these herbs have significant effect on balancing hormones, protecting the heart and liver, and increasing and preserving bone mass.
Two common examples of formulas used to treat menopause are Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan, and Er Xian Tang (please note there are many more used, usually with modifications to fit the individual, and it is essential that they are prescribed by a licensed practitioner). Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan is a modification of a formula that hails from the Liao Dynasty (circa 1100 AD), and is a good example of applying the basic traditional theory behind menopause. It is often very effective in the beginning stages of the hormone change, containing herbs that nourish and moisten the yin and combining them with effective heat-clearing herbs that help quell the fire. Er Xian Tang is often prescribed when things are a bit more complicated, perhaps in the later stages of menopause when it is thought that the yang elements may be waning along with the yin. Recently this formula was the subject of a Western Medicine study that showed it capable of reducing the frequency of hot flashes in menopausal patients by about half.
Dr.TCM, R.Ac., B.Sc.