What is menopause?
Menopause, also known as the ‘change of life’, is the end of menstruation (when a woman’s periods stop). This means a woman’s ovaries stop producing an egg every month. She will no longer have a monthly period or be able to have children.
Doctors define menopause as occurring when a year has passed since your last menstrual period.
Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55; however, it can occur earlier or later than this — every woman is different. A transitional stage (pre-menopause) can start several years before menopause, during which women have declining fertility and fluctuating hormone levels. Many of the symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flushes and mood swings, are caused by these fluctuating hormone levels.
There are certain medical conditions and treatments that can cause premature menopause (menopause before the age of 40) or early menopause (menopause between 40 and 45).
Post-menopause refers to the time following menopause, which lasts for the rest of your life.
What causes menopause?
Menopause is caused by a change in the balance of the body’s sex hormones.
A woman is born with a finite number of eggs, which are stored in the ovaries. The ovaries also produce hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which regulate menstruation and ovulation. Menopause occurs when the ovaries no longer release an egg every month and menstruation stops.
Menopause, when it occurs after the age of 45, is considered a normal part of aging. But some women can experience menopause early, either as a result of surgery, such as hysterectomy that involves removal of the ovaries, or damage to the ovaries, from procedures such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
What are the symptoms and complications of menopause?
Estrogen and progesterone are female hormones that play important roles in a woman’s body. When the levels of these hormones fall, it causes a range of physical and emotional problems. The common symptoms and complications associated with menopause include:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Low libido (sex drive) and lower fertility
- Irritability and mood swings
- Disturbed sleep
- Low energy
- Problems focusing and learning
- Urinary incontinence: leaking urine when coughing or sneezing
- Decrease in bone density, which can lead to brittle bones (osteoporosis)
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Higher susceptibility to weight gain
- Increased risk of breast cancer and womb cancer (endometrial cancer)
Most symptoms will pass within two to five years, although vaginal dryness is likely to get worse if not treated. Urinary incontinence may also persist and the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease will increase with age.
What are the treatment options for menopause?
In the perspective of western medicine, menopause is not a disease, but a normal process of life. However, this process still causes certain conditions and complications to arise, such as vasomotor complaints (hot flashes), psychosomatic complaints, genital atrophy and osteoporosis which may require medical intervention.
Many drugs are available for prevention and treatment of menopause symptoms and related conditions. The most commonly used of these is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The purpose of HRT is to supply the body with an external source of hormones, including estrogen and/or progesterone. It helps to relieve menopausal symptoms effectively. However, despite the clinical benefits, it also comes with a number of issues, and its use is controversial. One of the biggest disadvantages associated with the use of HRT is the risk of a number of side effects, including:
- Estrogen supply raises the risks of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer (endometrial cancer)
- Estrogen supply raises the risks of coronary heart disease and stroke
- Progesterone is prescribed with estrogen to minimize the risk of endometrial cancer. However, it can cause side-effects such as an increase in cholesterol levels, edema, weight gain and bleeding
Due to these adverse effects, many women cannot take hormone replacement therapy, and there are many who choose not to take HRT since they consider that risks outweigh the benefits.
On the other hand, Traditional Chinese medicine offers a gentle and safe yet effective way to address menopause and related conditions. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, along with dietary and lifestyle modifications, have proven to have significant benefits on the endocrine system, alleviating hot flushes, mood swings, osteoporosis, and other conditions associated with menopause.
TCM perspective of menopause
According to TCM, during menopause there is a natural decline in what’s known as “Precious Essence” or “Kidney Essence”. In the view of TCM, Precious Essence is prenatal energy, stored in the kidney which enables the abilities of fertility, libido, regeneration of the body, and tissue elasticity and strength. The term “Precious Essence” stems from the idea that this energy is worth guarding, because its function is to maintain youth, and there is only so much of it. Therefore, the fundamental changes that occur during menopause can be attributed to kidney deficiency, especially kidney Yin deficiency.
Since the kidney in TCM is the organ responsible for growth, maturation and aging, the deficiency of kidney Yin is directly related to signs, symptoms and complications of menopause. Yin is the feminine, nourishing, fluidic, structural energy of the body. In this way, it is closely related to the feminine hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. Meanwhile, the deficiency of kidney Yang can cause fluid retention and lack of warmth in the body, leading to symptoms such as swelling in the lower legs and frequent urination. It is also common for women suffering from menopause to have a combination of Yin and Yang deficiency. The bone loss that some women experience at this time would also be related to kidney deficiency, as the kidney in TCM relates to the health of the bones.
In addition to kidney deficiency, other common patterns that occur in menopause are liver Qi stagnation, blood deficiency and uprising deficiency heat.
How can TCM help treat menopause?
Because Chinese medicine treats the whole body, not just one symptom of a person, treatment is based on determining the whole health pattern of each woman.
In treating the health and well-being of the whole person, TCM takes into account the presenting symptomatic profile of the entire person through their relation to their environment and social situations, and their personal emotional responses to these. In addition, the symptomatic profile of a woman can be determined through tongue and pulse monitoring, and the physical symptoms which they experience. TCM therapy is based on recognizing one’s symptom patterns, which indicates the whole health profile of the individual.
Acupuncture treatment can balances energies, adding energy where it is needed, and dissipating energy when it is too concentrated, by moving energy that is stagnant. When energy gets blocked for too long, it generates heat which will burn Yin and lead to Yin deficiency. Certain points are also used that have a direct effect on nourishing Yin, thereby rejuvenating the cooling aspects of one’s physiology, and resulting in menopause relief.
Chinese herbs work synergistically with acupuncture to create a state of continuity in clearing heat and nourishing Yin between treatments. Chinese medicine does not work like hormone therapy, which continues to artificially maintain hormone levels, but instead aims to treat one’s overall health and well-being. This is done through individualized treatments for each woman based on her personal condition and stage of menopause.
Lifestyle and dietary advice is also part of TCM treatments. After your TCM practitioner has established the individual causes of your menopause symptoms, he can give you specific advice about diet, lifestyle and exercise choices that would be most suitable for you. Menopause patients are encouraged to follow a diet abundant in fruit and vegetables. Some foods that can promote hot flashes or aggravate mood swings should be avoided, such as alcohol, sugar, spicy foods, and caffeine. Cigarette smoking also should be avoided as it can dry up Yin and body fluid.
How can we help you?
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine is extremely effective in treating menopause and related conditions. In our clinic, we offer a safe, effective alternative treatment to restore and maintain the harmony in your body. With many years of experience, Dr. Jim Xing has treated this condition very successfully. He views menopause as a period of natural transition and unique experience in a woman’s life. He focuses on a holistic approach to restore balance in both physical and emotional aspects. Once you have discussed your symptoms in detail, he will create a treatment plan for you. Usually both acupuncture and herbal medicine will be used, but in what frequency and length will be determined by your response to the treatment. Some women respond quickly to just a month of treatment, while some need to continue coming for several months.
Dr. Xing offers highly effective treatment for people suffering from menopause and its associated conditions. If you find that menopause has impacted upon your daily life, do not hesitate to contact us, and seek treatment to regain the healthy, happy life you deserve.
Helped at the centre:
The effectiveness of TCM in treating the symptoms of menopause means that you do not have to suffer from such ailments associated with this stage of life. Dr. Xing has successfully treated many patients who had previously been living in great discomfort during menopause, and is experienced in treating this condition.
One woman had been suffering from menopause for several years. Her symptoms were the typical hot flushes and severe insomnia associated with her condition. Three weeks after Dr. Jim Xing started her on herbal medicine treatments, she was sleeping much better and continues to use these treatments, as she feels very much healthier and happier.