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!
Top Tips for a Happy, Healthy Menopause
- First and foremost, avoid exposure to all the hormones in the environment such as those in pesticides, herbicides and environmental pollution. The chemicals used these products and in HRT are synthetic hormones which can lead to a condition hat is becoming more talked about called Oestrogen Dominance. This is too comes to elaborate on here, but suffice to say that wherever possible you would be extremely well advised to use natural hormones rather than synthetic ones.
- Acupuncture can help regulate the emotional highs and lows associated with the changes in hormonal levels
- At Barefoot Medicine we recommend a vegan supplement of natural essential fatty acids containing the full spectrum of omegas in the right ratios. Order here
- Eating a healthy natural diet with little or no processed food can really help regulate your hormones and this can be topped up with using high quality food supplements such as Juice Plus (encapsulated fruit, vegetables and berries) which you can order here
- Simone is a fully qualified herbalist and is able to write a tailor-made herbal prescription for you that will take into account any other pre-existing conditions that you may have.
- Remember that all intensively reared meats have been given antibiotics and hormones so if you eat meat, please ensure it is organic so as not to unwittingly add hormones into your system as it is undergoing so much change itself.
- Never heat your food in plastic containers in a microwave oven because this causes the plastic to leach xeno-oestrogens into your food.
- Remember that caffeine and/or alcohol alone can trigger a hot flush even in someone who is not menopausal, so reducing your intake will help dramatically.
- Organic Soya contains isoflavones which are phyto-oestrogens that not only have oestrogen-likes effects on the body, but they block the harmful effects of the xeno-oestrogens. Soya foods include miso, soya sauce and tempeh, all of which will be good for you so long as they are organic. Other foods that are high in beneficial isoflavones include soya beans, chickpeas, lentils, alfalfa, fennel, kidney beans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin and sesame seeds. Brazil nuts, walnuts, linseeds (flax seeds).
- Joint pain is also eased by many of the foods listed above, particularly the oils from the seeds.
- Calcium levels can be boosted with Brazil nuts and sesame seeds to help avoid bone weakness developing.
- Although hormone creams are available, it can cause more problems that it resolves if you have not had you hormone levels tested properly. Hormones exist in such a delicate balance in our body that it is difficult to get it right once you start adding more in the hope that something will work.
- Macca root, a Peruvian vegetable, has been used for centuries to regulate hormones and it is also rich in protein, minerals, vitamins, fibre and essential fatty acids. If you take it regularly then it may help to reduce hot flushes, depression and palpitations associated with menopause..