Can acupuncture help menopausal symptoms?
Menopause is something which will affect all women at some point during their lives. The hormonal changes which happen throughout your 40s and 50s can result in a number of different physical and emotional symptoms.
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Reduced libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain
At the same time, many women also experience a loss of bone density and an increase in blood pressure and cholesterol. This means a higher risk of serious diseases like osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Most women experience menopause between their late 40s and mid 50s, but for some it can be much earlier. Symptoms can last anywhere up to 10 years.
Menopause in Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory, menopause is caused by an imbalance in yin and yang. Yin and yang are the two complementary but opposite forces of nature, which our bodies need to be in harmony for good health.
Yin represents water, coolness, stillness, dark, night, the moon and is considered more feminine. Yang represents fire, warmth, activity, light, daytime, the sun and is considered masculine.
When yin and yang are in balance, your body will be healthy and free from disease. Not too hot and not too cold, able to rest and be active at the right times. However, when they become imbalanced, problems can occur. In TCM, it is this disharmony between yin and yang which leads to the symptoms of menopause.
Female hormones such as estrogen are classed as being yin in nature. When they begin to decline with age, this causes an imbalance. Although there is still the same amount of yang as there ever was, there is no longer enough yin to balance it out. This is a condition known as yin deficiency.
Yang flares up, causing symptoms of hot flashes, restlessness and insomnia. The heat that it generates leads to dryness in the vagina which can make intercourse uncomfortable or painful.
Because the heat comes from a deficiency of yin, rather than a true excess of yang, it is known as empty heat.
Menopause and the Kidneys
Yin and yang are closely related to the Kidneys in TCM and the Kidneys play an important role in menopause.
The Kidneys are said to be responsible for nourishing the bones and marrow. This explains why a decrease in yin (estrogen) can lead to decreased bone density. The Kidneys also control blood pressure through their function of excreting water, another factor which is affected by menopause.
Not all menopausal symptoms can be attributed to the Kidneys or yin deficiency. However, in TCM, all of the organs are closely inter-related and an imbalance in one can cause a knock-on effect on any of the others. In menopause, the Kidneys can be seen as the root of any symptoms, even those which show up in other organs.
Treating Menopausal Symptoms with Traditional Chinese Medicine
If the Kidneys are at the root of all menopausal symptoms, then the most important treatment principle is to nourish them. Kidney yin can be built up with acupuncture or herbal medicine, and there are also some simple lifestyle changes that you can make to ease your symptoms.
You should avoid heating foods and drinks such as spicy food and caffeine, and eat more foods which cool the body and nourish yin.
Some of the best foods for nourishing Kidney yin are:
- Beans and pulses, especially kidney beans, soybeans and black beans
- Shellfish such as clams and oysters
It is important to stay active during menopause, but it is also important to get enough rest. Try to maintain a good work-life balance and avoid overexerting yourself as this can damage yin further. Gentle exercises such as yoga and tai chi are ideal.
Your TCM practitioner will be able to give you more detailed advice according to your own unique symptoms and body type. Menopause may be unavoidable, but by taking these small steps, you can at least make it a little easier.