Using Chinese Medicine to treat menopause

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine there are several diagnoses that might apply to the treatment of menopausal syndrome, explaining all of these can be quite complex and women don’t need to fully understand all the ins and outs of how Chinese Medicine works in order for it to be effective.  For this reason we will only present a general overview of the Chinese medicine theory that underpins the treatment of menopausal syndrome.

It is however important to know that Chinese medicine is a safe and effective alternative treatment option for cultivating health and longevity and ameliorating many of the unpleasant symptoms associated with menopause and aging.

What is menopause?

Menopause is the culmination of a gradual physiological process experienced by women as they age, usually occurring between 48-55 years.  It denotes the major life transition from a woman’s child producing years into midlife and is an unavoidable consequence of aging.

Menopause signals the end of a woman’s child producing years and is evidenced by the cessation of the monthly period and is medically diagnosed when menstruation has stopped for one complete year.

For some menopause is a blessing with many women experiencing few if any symptoms.  It marks the end of the need for contraception, bids farewell to the monthly period and coincides with the relinquishing of many home and family responsibilities.

For other women the transition is anything but smooth and uneventful.  Accompanying symptoms can significantly disrupt a woman’s life and disturb her sense of wellbeing.

Common menopausal symptoms range from weight gain, hot flushing, night sweating, insomnia, heart palpations, anxiety, nervousness, depression, irritability, dizziness, vertigo, migraine headaches, fatigue, forgetfulness, tinnitus, hypertension, lower back soreness, skin eruptions and vaginal dryness. 

These symptoms may occur before, during and after menopause and vary considerably between women in severity and duration.

Peri-menopause is a laypersons term used to describe aspects of the transitional phase into menopause.  Peri-menopause is different for each woman.  It is commonly accompanied by noticeable changes and irregularities in the menstrual cycle and the symptoms of early menopause and can begin up to 10 years prior to the final cessation of the menstrual period.

Many women consider menopausal symptoms to be a normal, unavoidable consequence of aging.  They are not.  Chinese Medicine considers these symptoms indicate imbalances in a woman’s body which can and should be treated.

Understanding menopause from a Western Medical perspective

According to Western Medical understanding menopause is a progressive and gradual decline of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone produced by the ovaries.  Menopause occurs when the function of the ovaries ceases.

Understanding menopause from a Chinese Medicine perspective

In order to understand menopause from a Chinese Medicine perspective there are a few basic principles to consider.

First is the universal phenomenon of change.  No-thing in life is ever static.  Life exists in a constant state of flux and flow, evolving and balancing but ultimately never standing still.

Change occurs in cycles.  Examples of these cycles might include the cycle of the day, the week, the month, the year, the decade, the menstrual cycle and the human life cycle.

The woman’s reproductive life cycle begins with the early rumblings of sexual maturation, the flourishing exuberance and growth of puberty, the first menstrual period and adolescence, followed shortly by the fullness and abundance of a woman’s fertile, child producing years.

Fertility then enters a phase of gradual decline with the slow drying of the reproductive juices, culminating in menopause.  This cycle reflects the pattern of build-up and breakdown for the capacity to produce children.  The earlier years are characterised by getting in the best possible physiological position to fall pregnant, stay pregnant and produce strong, healthy babies.  The later years are characterised by the gradual closing down of this childbearing function and the need to conserve nourishment in preparation for old age.

The Chinese Medicine understanding of ‘Kidney’ function

Traditional Chinese Medicine does not have a concept of ‘hormones’ instead aging is attributed to the decline of ‘Chinese Kidney’ function and the drying up of ‘Kidney Jing’ which roughly translates to the healthy, juicy fluids of the body that support health and longevity.

It is said that the ‘Chinese Kidney’ stores the ‘Kidney Jing’ and has the function of governing growth and development, sexual maturation, fertility, reproduction and aging.

By mid to late 30′s a woman’s juiciness is already starting to dry up.  There may be some subtle changes in the quality and quantity of the menstrual flow, fertility may be compromised and women may notice their skin becoming dryer and wrinkles developing.

The drying of these vital body fluids might be compared to running a car engine without oil.  Insufficient lubrication causes friction which generates heat.  The heat then further dehydrates fluids and exacerbates the situation.  This phenomenon explains the peri-menopausal symptoms related to dryness and heat such as vaginal dryness and hot flushing.

As fluids continue to be consumed the bones, nails and hair all become brittle, more fragile and prone to breakage and osteoporosis.  Eventually the period dries up completely.

The rite of passage into menopause is often accompanied by emotional instability.  Many old, out-dated roles are stripped away only to be replaced with the need and pressure to discover new ones.  This period of adjustment can leave a woman feeling depressed, resentful, frustrated and disempowered as she questions and searches for value and meaning in her life.

Chinese medicine has albeit an unconventional understanding relating to the mental and emotional wellbeing of the menopausal woman.  It is believed that the ‘Chinese Kidney’ controls the strength of the ‘Will’ which provides the motivation for people to robustly engage in life.

If the ‘Chinese Kidney’ is functioning optimally then a person will be strong willed and motivated.  If it is weak then a person tends to be easily discouraged and swayed from their goals and depression can result.

Clinically it is very common to treat this emotional aspect using Chinese medicine in conjunction with some kind of counselling.

Chinese Medicine: The treatment approach

What one might glean from this information is that if the root cause of aging, the ‘Chinese Kidney’ function is supported and the vital fluids (‘Kidney Jing’) are nourished then many auxiliary symptoms will be alleviated.

Practitioners will always consider the relative strength or weakness of the ‘Chinese Kidney’ and ‘Kidney Jing’, treating them with great care and respect.

The general aim of Chinese medicine treatment is to conserve what juiciness remains and add more juiciness where possible.

The treatment methods used to achieve this typically include a combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, dietary and lifestyle modifications.

Clinically many peri-menopausal women are also receiving Western Medical treatment such as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), have had hysterectomy or are about to undergo surgery.

In most cases it will be perfectly safe for women to use Chinese medicine in conjunction with their Western Medical treatment.  Eastern and Western modalities work according to completely different ideology, so no contraindications usually exist.  If however you have any concerns it is always best to discuss these with your treating practitioner.