What is Menopause?
Menopause is defined as the cessation of reproductive ability and cyclic production of ovarian sex steroids due to loss of ovarian function in a woman that produces vasomotor, somatic, sexual and psychological symptoms (Gartoulla, Islam, Bell & Davie, 2014).
Causes & Symptoms of Menopause
Although Menopause is a natural part of a woman’s physiological life cycle, many women experience unpleasant signs and symptoms such as;
- Irregular & Excessive Menstrual Bleeding (oligomenorrhoea & menorrhagia)
- Hot Flashes & Night Sweats
- Low Libido & Vaginal Dryness
- Moodiness & Depression
- Low Metabolism & Weight Gain
- Osteoporosis & Arthritis
Research has shown, that women who have more health issues or stress are expected to suffer more during the change. In a systematic review of the effects of menopause in Australia; vasomotor symptoms affected 50% of women, over 70% had loss of libido and more than half had psychological symptoms (Gartoulla, Islam, Bell & Davie, 2014).
The most common diagnosis is the absence of menstruation for more than 12 months and potentially any of the signs or symptoms mentioned above (Goolsby, 2001).
How to Support Your Body Naturally Through Menopause – A TCM Perspective
- Enjoy a healthy, balanced diet – A varied diet, including plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, cereals, grains and small portions of meat and fish. They should also increase water, get the omega three and natural fats in (coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter).
- Reduce Heating Foods – The yin aspect reduces in the body causing dryness, night sweats and hot flashes thus you need to minimise caffeine, alcohol, dry food (too much bread, roasted and baked goods) and spicy food. They will only exacerbate your signs and symptoms.
- Probiotic Foods – regularly enjoy kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, miso soup, yoghurt and other fermented goodies.
- Drink plenty of filtered water to hydrate the body.
- Reduce and Manage Stress – Yes the stress will make signs and symptoms worse! Try to breathe, listen to meditation and don’t put yourself out or into stressful situations, self-prioritise.
- Exercise – every day even if it is just a walk for twenty minutes. Appropriate strength training can strengthen bones, not to mention make you feel physically and mentally well.
- Try a course of Herbs & Acupuncture – in Chinese medicine, menopause is usually the decline of both kidney yin and yang, so not only does the treatment principle aim to nourish yin and clear heat, but support the yang. Both combined have been shown to have better effect than just herbs alone.
- Avoid Ice Cold Things – please don’t resort to eating and lathering yourself in ice, or lengthy cold baths or showers. Nor drinking litres of ice-cold water, menopause is not a full-heat condition, you may get temporary relief but you will completely smother your yang (warming energy) which will only exacerbate other signs and symptoms such as the bloating, arthritis, poor metabolism, weight gain, poor circulation and poor libido etc.
- Get Plenty Of Sleep – yes the obvious! Let your body rest and rejuvenate.
Why Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture for Menopause?
Current medical treatment such as Menopause Hormone Therapy (MHT) has been associated with increasing cancer risks and most importantly menopause causes signs and symptoms that significantly affect a woman’s quality of life (Zhu, Liew & Liu, 2016).
Current medical treatments for menopause include Custom-Compounded Bioidentical Hormone Therapy (HT), Non-Hormonal Pharmalogics such as SSRIs, gabapentin and clonidine (Pace, 2017).
A recent Cochrane review regarding Chinese medicine for menopausal symptoms (Zhu, Liew & Liu, 2016) assessed 864 studies for review and found 22 Randomised-Controlled Trials (RCTs) eligible. In conclusion, insufficient evidence was found that CHM was more or less effective than placebo or HRT given the quality of RCT studies being poor to moderate. Hence the question for further research in this area shoule be, how can we better design an RCT for CHM treating menopausal signs and symptoms that will demonstartes its true efficacy? So many studies regarding Chinese medicine tend to be of poor quality, I suppose because you cannot patent acupuncture or ancient Chinese formulae.
The Importance of A Prescribed Chinese Herbal Formula
Although you can buy many herbs and concoctions over the counter it is always safest and most effective to have a prescribed formula by a good practitioner. You can research and find that herbs such as Black Cohosh (Sheng Ma), Ginseng (Ren Shen) and increasing soy in your diet will improve your menopausal state however taking everything and anything “supposedly good” for it is like throwing darts blindfolded, they may hit the target but they will probably miss. Doing so has also led to slanderous articles attacking natural medicine in the media when in fact, for example as this article describes the side effects of ginseng, rarely would a Chinese Medicine Practitioner prescribe ginseng on it’s own, it is always combined in a balanced formula so there will be no such side effects.
Chinese Medicine Menopause Consultations
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Gartoulla, P., Davies, S.R., Worsley, R. & Bell, R.J. (2015) Use of complementary and alternative medicines for menopausal symptoms in Australian women aged 40-65 years. Med J Aust. Aug 3; 203(3):146, 146e.1-6.
Gartoulla, P., Islam, M.R., Bell, R.J. & Davis S.R. (2014) Prevalence of menopausal symptoms in Australian women at midlife: a systematic review. Climeractic; Jan; 17(5); 529-539. DOI: 10.3109/13697137.2013.865721
Goolsby, M.J. (2001) Management of Menopause. J Am Acad Nurse Pract. Apr; 13(4):147-50. DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-7599.2001.tb00237
Haines, C.J., Lam, P.M., Chung, T.K.H., Cheng, K.F. & Leung, P.C. (2008). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the effect of a Chinese herbal medicine preparation (Dang Gui Buxue Tang) on menopausal symptoms in Hong Kong women. Climeractic; Mar(11):3; 244-251. DOI: 10.1080/13697130802073029
Monteleone, P., Mascagni, G., Ginanini, A., Genazzini, A.R. & Simonicini, T. (2018) Symptoms of menopause – global prevalence, physiology and implications. Nature Reviews Endicrinology, Feb. DOI: 10.1038/nrendo.2017.180
Pace, D (2017) The menopausal woman: the need for an individualized plan of care. The Nurse Practitioner; 42(12), p.43-49. DOI: 10.1097/01.NPR.0000526765.60971.37
Patching van der Sluijs, C; Bensoussan; A, Chang, S; & Baber, R (2009) A randomized placebo-controlled trial on the effectiveness of an herbal formula to alleviate menopausal vasomotor symptoms. Menopause. Mar; 16(2):336-344. DOI:10.1097/gme.0b013e3181883dc1
Zhou, J & Qu, F (2007)The Effect of Chinese Medicinal Herbs in Relieving Menopausal Symptoms in Ovariectomized Chinese Women. Explore: the Journal of Science and Healing, Sept; 3:5, pp. 478–484. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2007.06.002
Zhu, X, Liew, Y & Zhao Lan Liu (2016) Chinese herbal medicine for menopausal symptoms. Cochrane Gynaecology and Fertility Group. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009023.
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