Acupuncture for Menopause and Perimenopause
Menopause is something which all women face eventually, but the good news is that it need not be a nightmare. Using the ancient wisdom of Chinese medicine combined with natural therapies such as acupuncture, you could make the whole experience much easier. By restoring the balance between body and mind, acupuncture can relieve both physical and emotional menopause symptoms and reduce your need for medication such as HRT (hormone replacement therapy).
Menopause and Perimenopause: An Overview
Menopause happens to all women as they reach middle age, although it can affect some much earlier than others. The typical age range for menopause is 45–55 years, although some women go through it as early as their 30s.
Perimenopause is the name given to the period leading up to menopause. During this time, you may begin to suffer from menopausal symptoms and your periods may become less regular before finally stopping completely. This can be a difficult time as you transition from one stage of life to the next, and perimenopause can last for a number of years.
Some typical symptoms of menopause and perimenopause include:
• Irregular periods
• Hot flashes
• Night sweats
• Mood swings
• Vaginal dryness
• Loss of libido
• Weight gain
In addition, post-menopausal women are at an increased risk of serious health conditions including cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Therefore, it is essential that you take good care of your health in the years leading up to and during this time.
A Chinese Medicine View of Menstruation
In order to understand how TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) can help you through perimenopause and menopause, first you need to understand how menstruation is viewed by this ancient system of medicine.
When acupuncture and TCM were born over 2000 years ago, doctors did not know about the existence of hormones or how they influenced the menstrual cycle. Instead, they understood menstruation to be governed by substances such as yin, yang, and essence.
Yin and Yang
Yin and yang are the two opposing forces of nature; Day and night, light and dark, warmth and cold, activity and rest, and so on. Yin and yang are also found within the human body. Yin cools the body and provides nourishment and moisture, while yang warms and provides energy for movement, digestion, and other vital processes. Yin is closely related to blood, and yang is related to qi.
In terms of the menstrual cycle, yin and blood are necessary for building up the lining of the womb in preparation for pregnancy. Yang and qi are needed to provide energy to remove this from the body if pregnancy does not occur. In order to have a healthy, regular menstrual cycle, yin and yang need to be in balance at all times.
Essence is an extremely important substance in TCM. It is responsible for growth, development, and fertility, and in many ways, it can be compared to your genes.
Just as in western medicine we know that every woman has a fixed amount of eggs, in TCM every woman (and man) has a certain amount of essence. This declines naturally with age, and is responsible for the signs of getting older such as graying hair, weaker bones, and memory loss.
According to a classic TCM text called the Su Wen, essence is governed by eight-year cycles in men, and seven-year cycles in women. The text states that at 2 x 7 (14) years of age a woman’s essence becomes strong and she begins to menstruate. At 7 x 7 (49) years, her essence begins to ‘dry up’ and her periods will stop.
Essence is seen as being liquid in nature, and is therefore classed as a yin substance. From a TCM perspective, it is this connection between essence and yin which is responsible for many common menopausal symptoms.
Menopause and Perimenopause Symptoms in Chinese Medicine
When a woman’s essence begins to decline, the yin energies of her body naturally decline too. This means that the delicate balance between yin and yang is thrown off, and symptoms may begin to occur.
Because yin is responsible for cooling and moistening, when it becomes deficient, symptoms of heat can appear in the body and mind. This includes the obvious symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats, as well as vaginal dryness, dry hair and skin. When heat affects the mind, it becomes restless and causes symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia.
It is important to recognize that this is not true heat due to an excess of yang, but a kind of false, empty heat generated by a lack of cooling yin within the body. Fortunately, treatment with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is a great way to restore this balance and help to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
How Does Acupuncture Help Menopause and Perimenopause?
Acupuncture works for menopausal symptoms by promoting balance between yin and yang, and reducing stress in both body and mind. It can help to reduce symptoms such as hot flashes, relieve anxiety, and also promote peaceful sleep. Although acupuncture is an extremely relaxing therapy, many people report feeling energized following a treatment, or just having a sense of increased general wellbeing.
From a scientific perspective, acupuncture for menopause is thought to work by regulating female hormones such as estrogen, relieving stress, and regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin in the brain. This means that it can offer relief on both a physical and emotional level.
Acupuncture treatments are individually tailored to each patient’s unique requirements. For some people, acupuncture alone may be enough, but others may wish to combine it with herbal medicine to enhance its effects.
Another way to get the most out of your acupuncture treatment is by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. These changes can help to preserve your essence and maintain the balance between yin and yang.
Chinese Medicine Lifestyle Tips for Menopause and Perimenopause
According to the Su Wen, the best way to preserve your essence and stay healthy as you age is by ‘living in harmony with nature.’ This means eating food which is in season, going to bed early in the winter when it’s cold and dark, and never over-stimulating your body or mind.
Stimulating substances such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and recreational drugs are all seen as damaging to essence and therefore should be avoided, especially as you get older. It is also important to eat a healthy, balanced diet, including plenty of foods which will help to nourish your yin.
Yin nourishing foods tend to be moist and have a sweet or bland taste. However, you should avoid refined sugars as these can be overstimulating and harm your essence, as well as leading to problems such as weight gain and diabetes.
Some foods which are especially good for nourishing yin include:
However, Chinese medicine is all about balance, and it is important to pay attention to your yang energy as well as your yin. Cook food rather than eating it raw, drink warm drinks, and exercise regularly. This will help to prevent your body from becoming too yin and suffering from problems such as weight gain, edema, and fatigue. Activities such as qi gong and tai chi are thought to be particularly beneficial as they help to calm the mind and well as exercising the physical body.
By combining these healthy habits with regular acupuncture treatment, you could make your journey through menopause much more bearable, and enter the next stage of your life with ease.