Menopause is defined as the permanent stoppage of menstruation, marking the end of a woman’s ability to conceive. It’s a normal process of ageing which occurs when the ovaries stop making hormones called estrogens. This usually happens between the ages of 45 to 60, but it can happen earlier. Menopause can also occur when the ovaries are surgically removed or stop functioning for any other reason. Once a woman has not menstruated for a full year, menopause is considered complete (she is post-menopausal). A diagnostic test can confirm menopause. The FSH test measures the body’s level of follicle stimulating hormone. As estrogen levels decline, the pituitary gland secretes FSH; therefore, a high level may indicate menopause. Blood and urine tests can also determine if a woman is still ovulating.
Common symptoms of Menopause
As most women approach menopause, their menstrual periods become irregular – they happen closer together and/or farther apart. Other common symptoms include:
|Achy joints||Tension & anxiety||Lack of concentration|
|Hot flashes||Depression||Difficulties with memory|
|Night sweats||Extreme sweating||Frequent urination|
|Vaginal dryness||Headaches||Bone loss|
|Loss of sexual desire||Dizziness||Insomnia|
|Rapid mood changes|
|*Keep in mind that a woman may have one, some, or none of these symptoms.|
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a combination of estrogen and progestin prescribed to women who have not had a hysterectomy. Progestin is added because, given alone, estrogen can increase the risk of endometrial cancer. Estrogen Replacement Therapy is given to a woman who has had a hysterectomy, since there is no risk of endometrial cancer to worry about. While there are numerous forms, Premarin (conjugated estrogen) and Provera (medroxyprogesterone) remain the most popular. Infact, Premarin is the most frequently prescribed medication in the United States.
Possible Risks of HRT
Unfortunately, despite the possible benefits, HRT has many potential conflicts & controversies. Increased risk of breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial carcinoma, malignant neoplasm, gallbladder disease, thromboembolitic disease, & photosensitivity are some possible adverse effects. Progesterone minimizes the risk of endometrial cancer but can cause side effects such as an increase in cholesterol, water retention, weight gain, and bleeding.
Unfortunately there’s no consensus on how menopause should be treated with western medicine. Despite all the clinical & laboratory research, medical doctors can’t agree on when and under what circumstances to start the treatment of menopause. Some propose to begin treatment during the perimenopausal years, while others prefer to initiate treatment only after menopausal symptoms have begun. Some doctors discourage the use of HRT completely since the risks outweigh the benefits.
How can Chinese Medicine treat Menopause?
Chinese Medicine involves a number of practices including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and nutritional advice (food cures). It especially emphasizes lifestyle changes. Chinese Medicine has been used as the sole source of medicine in China for over 3,000 years and is still being used today throughout the world.
Gynecology is an area in which Chinese Medicine shines. It can be used instead of or in conjunction with western medicine for the successful treatment of menopausal symptoms. Evidence that acupuncture and herbal medicine have been used for women’s health can be found in early medical literature dating back to 3 A.D.
Chinese Medicine doesn’t recognize menopause as one particular syndrome. Instead, it aims in treating the particular symptoms that are unique to each individual. For example, if ten women are treated with Chinese Medicine for hot flashes and night sweats, each of these ten women will likely receive a unique, customized treatment with different acupuncture points, different herbs, and different lifestyle & diet recommendations. This gives a very effective result.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese herbs have been used for centuries for menopausal symptoms and to protect the bones. The formulas have many subtle but yet powerfully strengthening effects upon the whole endocrine system. The herbs act by stimulating the production of hormones, altering the condition of hormone receptors or changing the rate of catabolism of hormones rather than providing the hormones or hormone analogs that function the same as hormones. The herbs have little or no hormonal effects but the effect of the whole formula will substantially increase hormone levels. They work by improving the function of aging organs and glands.
Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on the body that have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to balance the body and eliminate menopausal symptoms. Acupuncture is usually recommended once per week in combination with herbal medicine and dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
Diet is extremely important in having a healthy menopause. It is important to avoid cigarettes, avoid losing too much body fat, and reduce alcohol intake, caffeine, red meat, soft drinks and refined sugars. Eat a diet rich in leafy green vegetables, low fat yogurt, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and legumes. The list of foods and herbs that contain hormone precursors is quite long. These will reduce the impact on the body of lowered estrogen and progesterone production by the ovaries. When we process our food and eat animal protein and fat, it reduces our body’s supply of sex hormones. Some supplements that may be incorporated into your daily regimen are calcium & magnesium, evening primrose oil, flax seed oil or fish oils, and a good multi-vitamin.
Women already on HRT
Herbal medicine can treat symptoms that are not responding to HRT, any underlying imbalances, or can help the patient reduce or eliminate HRT. I generally advise the patient to stay on the HRT in the beginning of treatment with TCM.
For the treatment of menopause, western medicine offers few options and comes with risks and cautions. Chinese Medicine is an effective method of treatment for menopause and has a long history of successful treatment for gynecological disorders. Many of the newest western medical treatments for a given ailment have yet to be tried for over one generation allowing measurement of any long-term side effects. Chinese Medicine extends back over 200 generations of doctors and patients and has over 30,000 volumes of medical literature.