Menopause: Chinese Medical Approach

Menopause is a naturally occurring physiological cycle that takes place in most women between the ages of 35—60. Menopause is the cessation of menses when a woman is finished with her child bearing years. This is the result of a change in a woman's body chemistry, resulting in a lowered production of reproductive hormones and the subsequent decline of the ovarian follicular function to induce ovulation.

Symptoms of menopause include:

The severity of the symptoms may be dependent on overall health, diet and lifestyle. The severity is not dependent on race, class, or the birth control pill. Symptoms may last from six months to over three years. Approximately 10-15% of women will not experience any menopausal symptoms, and approximately 10-15% of women will experience severe symptoms.

Western medicine has often treated menopausal symptoms with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). There has recently been an increase in the number of reports and scientific studies warning about the perils and inefficacy of HRT for women in and around menopause. In the summer of 2003 the New York Times reported that a large federal study of HRT in post-menopausal women in the United States was abruptly halted because of an increase risk of invasive breast cancer. Previous reported benefits for taking HRT, including a reduced risk of heart disease, prevention of osteoporosis and Alzheimer's, and an overall improvement in women's health, have all been called into question.

For more information on the controversy surrounding HRT, you might want to read the articles at the following sites:

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Menopause

While Western medicine often views menopause as a disease, Chinese medicine recognizes this change in a woman's body chemistry as a natural transitional process. Ideally menopause is relatively uneventful, and in the East it often is, perhaps due to diet and lifestyle. Unfortunately, in the fast paced, stressful lifestyle of the contemporary urban Western woman, underlying patterns of disharmony often give rise to the typical menopausal symptom complex of hot flashes, night sweats, headaches, mood swings, etc.

In Chinese medicine, estrogen is similar to Jing, the essence that we received from our parents at the moment of conception. As we age, Jing declines and can lead to various signs and symptoms including loss of libido, backache, fatigue, and graying hair. Although Jing cannot be replenished according to Chinese medicine, it can be nourished and supported, slowing down the side effects and making the transition more graceful.

Another cause of menopausal symptoms is an underlying deficiency of Kidney Yin. The concept of Yin is one of cooling and nourishing. If Kidney Yin is deficient, heat signs will arise, including hot flashes, night sweats, heart palpitations, and insomnia.

Liver Qi stagnation is also often involved in excessive menopausal symptoms. One of the primary functions of the Liver energetic system (see Organ Meridians) is the smooth flow of energy, Blood, and emotions throughout the body. If Liver Qi becomes constrained, often due to diet and/or inappropriate response to stress, symptoms such as mood swings, depression, headaches, and insomnia may arise.

When practitioners of Chinese medicine treat excessive menopausal symptoms, they first determine where the energetic disharmony lies and what organ systems have become imbalanced. Chinese medicine has described strategies to treat these imbalances, without side effects, for thousands of years. Acupuncture is useful to help balance the Qi and to strengthen the internal organ systems. Chinese herbal medicine is often very effective in addressing the underlying Jing, Yin, or Qi disharmonies. Three formulas in my dispensary are frequently used. "Three Immortals" addresses general patterns associated with menopause. "Coptis Purge Fire" or "Great Yin" are effective for more severe hot flashes and night sweats.

If you are already on HRT, current thinking suggests that slowly tapering off HRT is less likely to trigger symptoms. Treatment with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can begin while one is on HRT.

If you are not on HRT, Chinese medicine can provide a safe and effective way to gracefully pass through this transitional period of your life.

For more information on Chinese medicine and menopause:

If you would like to pursue this form of treatment, contact me at the following telephone number or e-mail address. You will be asked to fill out a detailed intake form before your first appointment. You may pick this up at my office, or I can e-mail it to you.

Additional Information:

There are many excellent books on menopause and you are encouraged to pick one up. A few titles are:

Additional Considerations:

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Calvin Dale Smith, BA, MSc, DOM
Doctor of Oriental Medicine (USA)
Riverside Acupuncture and Wellness Centre
2211 Riverside Dr., Suite 106
Ottawa, ON K1H 7X5
613-232-5888
cdalesmith at calvindale.com