In the UK a shortage of Hormone Replacement Therapy drugs has now become a reality and it is becoming evident just how many women have relied on it without being given an alternative way of managing their menopausal symptoms, so taking a look at how the Chinese view the menopause may shed some light on what else can be recommended.
A woman typically spends forty years of her life losing blood on a monthly basis jut in case that is the month she falls pregnant. If we assume she will have two successful pregnancies, that means just two of the 480 periods will be fruitful. Imagine all the nutrients that go into our blood and get carried around to nourish our bodily systems and just how much is needed to make a good uterine lining to house a baby for nine months, only to find that most of the time no baby appears and all that goodness ends up down the loo!
What happens, then, when instead of losing all this goodness and of playing a constant game of catch-up so as not to become anaemic, we suddenly get to keep it and nourish our own body! The ancient Chinese texts tell us that this is the time when all those nutrients go to our brain and we become the Wise Women of the community. We not only have life experience and the wisdom that comes with age, but we have more goodness in our body that is being used in a far more productive way.
Why, then, in the West is the menopause regarded as a time when women suddenly need medication to adapt to what is a natural bodily process? Why are the symptoms so horrendous for so many women who wake in the night soaking wet with perspiration, who at any given moment can flush up bright red and become too hot. There is no dough that while some women sail through the menopause without many symptoms at all, for others it can be a living hell.
This is where the very different approaches of Eastern and Western medicine really come to the fore. Western medicine is all about x causing y and how we can measure everything to get rid of the effects of x. In Traditional Chinese Medicine we do not have such a reductionist way of looking at the complexities of the human body. We look at Patterns of Disharmony, believing that there are tendencies or nuances that take us from one state to another and that all the body needs is nutritional changes, acupuncture or herbal medicine to make the gentle nudge that is required for the body to restore homeostasis – even when that homeostasis is in a different place to where it was before. i.e. from menstruating being the norm to menopause being the norm. Why on earth would we want to trick the body into thinking the it still has or needs the same hormones as before?!
In TCM we work WITH the wisdom of the body and we help it to find its won balance, which is why treatments are all tailored to the individual rather than ‘one size fits all’ medication that risks leaving everyone with unwanted side-effects.
The shift that takes place during the peri-menopausal period is, in TCM, about the shift that happens between your Yin and Yang energy. It is a time when your Yin energy is most depleted because not only is Blood regarded as a Yin substance but you Yin energy is that which makes all your internal functions happen (growing your hair, replenishing your skin cells etc). As we age, our Yin energy becomes depleted and in the West we now recognise this as oxidative stress. This is why Chinese dietary therapy and herbal medicine play such a central role in our health, because we can change our nutrition from Yang nourishing foods to Yin nourishing foods. Acupuncture can be used to strengthen our energy but of greater importance, I believe, in the West is that it can get stagnant Qi moving again. Stagnant Qi refers to any kind of ‘stuckness’ whether it is emotional (represented by bad tempers, holding onto the past etc) or physical stagnation (which causes pain and is also caused by pain). In simple terms, Qi stagnation is the opposite to homeostasis. It is when nothing flows properly and one symptom leads to another in a vicious circle. Acupuncture is, in my opinion, absolutely fantastic at breaking this cycle and gently but effectively nudging the body back to doing what it inherently knows it should be doing.
There are 3 phases to the menopause. The perimenopause when periods become heavier, lighter, the cycle length changes and hot flushes may occur. During this time you can benefit from acupuncture, herbal remedies and yin nourishing foods.
The second phase is the actual menopause when periods stop altogether. During this time it is particularly important to have good nutrition that is high in antioxidants. Acupuncture can help restore homeostasis.
The third and final stage is post-menopause which occurs 12 months after your last period. This is the time when all the signs of ageing typically set in because of the drop in both oestrogen and progesterone.this can cause hair loss, although bizarrely an increase in facial hair is likely, wrinkles can appear, there is a loss of muscle tone, hot flushes can worsen and insomnia can arise. Joints may begin to ache and nones can become more brittle. Vaginal dryness increases as the blood flow is restricted, making sexual intercourse painful or uncomfortable and the friction can increase the risk of infection. Do note, however, that regular sexual intercourse will increase the blood flow to the area and alleviate some of these symptoms!
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