Menopause occurs as a natural part of a woman’s life transition. As a woman ages, her ovaries slowly stop producing the estrogen hormone, leading to biological changes throughout the entire body, from the brain to the skin. Menopause is not a disease, but for many women these hormonal changes bring about many unwelcome side effects that require medical intervention by health care professionals. The main complaints associated with menopause are hot flushes, genital atrophy, insomnia, and psychosomatic complaints such as irritability, depression and mood swings. These symptoms will usually last for 2-3 years but in some serious cases they can last for 5-10 years.
Women experiencing such symptoms should not be alarmed. According to recent research, in the US 80% of women who go through menopause experience light to severe menopausal symptoms; in both cases there are many solutions available. If you do suffer from the physical or mental symptoms mentioned above, please seek support as those that neglect to do so risk subjecting themselves to hypertension, heart attack, arteriosclerosis, or bone fracture due to osteoporosis.
TREATMENT THROUGH WESTERN MEDICINE AND ITS LIMITATIONS
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is commonly used to treat menopause symptoms in Western medicine. The purpose of HRT is to supply the body with an external source of hormones, including estrogen and/or progesterone. Premarin (conjugated estrogen) and Provera (medroxyprogesterone) remain the most popular brands.
However, recent research has indicated that the beneficial effects of HRT might last only up to 16 weeks, after which no difference was observable between the placebo and the control group. Despite the possible benefits, there are numerous controversies surrounding estrogen replacement therapy due to the staggering number of side-effects, including (but not limited to) an increased risk of breast, uterine or ovarian cancer, gallbladder diseases, and liver diseases amongst others. Progesterone is prescribed with estrogen to minimize the risk of cancer, however, it can cause side-effects such as an increase in cholesterol levels, edema, weight gain and bleeding.
Due to these side effects, women who have a family history of hormone related cancer, liver and kidney disease or diabetes probably should avoid HRT.
TCM SOLUTIONS AND THEIR BENEFITS
Chinese herbal medicine has been used to treat menopausal symptoms successfully for many years, and it is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy. The strengths of Chinese Medicine are:
Chinese Medicine is a holistic treatment; treatment is based on syndrome differentiation. It analyzes the root cause of each individual’s symptoms and offers a specially tailored herbal therapy that not only addresses the symptoms but also corrects the fundamental imbalance inside the body. As a result, women can leverage this unique life transition period not only to replenish but also to strengthen the immunity system, prevent issues such as osteoporosis or cancer, and prepare the body for a healthy and long life in the years to come.
Chinese Medicine effectively treats menopausal symptoms; it is safe and does not have the same side effects seen in the application of Western hormone therapies. The Chinese Medicine approach involves leveraging the natural healing power of herbs to slow down the aging process of the reproductive system, and increase its capacity to generate essential hormones during the process. If the change is slow and gradual, it makes it a lot easier for the body to adjust. This is very different from the HRT approach, wherein the injection of hormones into the body often decreases the body’s capacity to generate its own hormones. This is probably one of the reasons that the benefits of HRT wear-off after 16 weeks of usage.
HOW CHINESE MEDICINE WORKS
Chinese Medicine regards the root cause of menopause as being the result of; a weakening of the kidney, weakness in the reproductive organs, a lack of Yin (water, blood, body fluids) and hampered Qi and blood circulation. A lack of fluid inside the body leads to obstruction of the circulation to the liver and hence leads to an excess of heat accumulating inside the body. Internal humidity and restricted blood flow further exacerbate menopause. Even though a weakened kidney is often seen as the root cause of menopausal symptoms, the spleen, heart and liver can also be implicated. An excess of heat along with the production of phlegm in the heart & liver are often cited as major causes of symptoms. A given treatment should focus on the (1) kidney or (2)liver, spleen and kidney, or (3) heart, liver and kidney, or (4) the phlegm and slow blood inside the body. The practicioner will often offer treatment based on the combination of causes highlighted above.
Chinese Medicine can simultaneously target the symptoms and the root causes, making it very effective. In the case of menopause, Chinese medicine can replenish internal energy flows, whilst strengthening key internal organs including the kidney and liver. The body can be cleared of internal blockages & accumulations, which are often the source of common symptms. Chinese medicine can help patients to reach new levels of balance in the body, improving the body’s overall health in the long-term.
Furthermore, herbal therapies can also be complimented with acupuncture, moxibustion, Tuina, cupping and so forth to improve blood and energy circulation. Other elements of a patient’s lifestyle – particularly one’s diet and exercise regime – also need to be adjusted to maximize the benefits of Chinese medicine therapy, and to live a healthy life through the menopause period and beyond. We will share more information on such diet, exercise and lifestyle adjustments in our future blogs.
By Dr. Guo Yuefeng and Judy Xu