Let’s be real now: Menopause can be rough.
Here in the Western Hemisphere, the default approach to middle-age and menopause seems overwhelmingly negative. Women who are doing their best to understand and adjust to the ways they are changing hear comments like, “Well, you’re not getting any younger,” or “If things get bad, there’s always hormone therapy.”
Whew. Those responses just about define “unhelpful,” don’t they?
But I’m here to tell you I know about a better way. Traditional Chinese Medicine offers positive solutions. This 5,000-year-old body of wisdom teaches that all of nature, the entire universe over, is interconnected and moves together in a cyclic fashion. We are, along with everything around us, continuously changing and adjusting, evolving and even improving as we move from one stage or season to the next.
In other words, the very essence of life is change. Menopause, like any other phase, is a perfectly normal part of that universal rhythm.
In this loud, fast, stressful, and demanding modern world, we surely could benefit from such a gentle, accepting philosophy that respects every individual in every phase of her life—from childhood to menopause, and far beyond.
- It’s not “getting old,” it’s Kidney deficiency.
The Kidney is the organ system the ancient masters associated with the energy that drives growth from infancy to maturity. Menopause, in Chinese medicine terms, is the phase of life during which Kidney qi begins to decline. To regain balance then, a woman’s Kidney needs good support during midlife and beyond.
In the Eastern world, the vocabulary is different than in our youth-focused American culture. The ancient Chinese texts don’t talk about, for example, “hot flashes,” a term that in the West often comes with jokes and distinct lack of sympathy.
Instead, the ancients regarded this symptom—a sudden sensation of heat in the face and neck that causes drenching perspiration, then disappears just as suddenly, leaving a woman with chills and general discomfort—as a sign of deficiency in Kidney yin. Other signs of Kidney imbalance that often arise during menopause are dryness, hair loss, or lack of vitality.
Please note that I’m using hot flashes as a single example. Though they are quite common, not all menopausal women suffer from this symptom. Different individuals experience Kidney deficiency in very different ways.
- …and it’s not “moodiness,” it’s stagnation of Liver qi.
The Liver is also of special concern during menopause. The organ systems of Chinese tradition are interdependent. When the Kidney is deficient, the Liver becomes less able to direct qi through the body. This stagnation of Liver qi can manifest as irritability, anxiety or tension, sadness, fatigue, or a sense of overwhelm—in typical Western terms, the mood swings that sometimes come with menopause.
So, Kidney and Liver—that’s the “why” of menopause. But I’m betting you want me to address the question “What can I do?” Well, I’m here to tell you that Chinese medicine offers very effective solutions.
When women come to me with disruptive Kidney or Liver symptoms, acupuncture is almost always at the top of my recommendation list. Acupuncture offers wonderful effects in terms of balance and tranquility in general, but it’s also extremely effective in alleviating hot flashes and other typical menopause symptoms.
Sound scary? Don’t make the mistake of thinking acupuncture is all about “needles.” The extremely thin, flexible filaments used in this technique are not uncomfortable at all. In fact, many patients relax so completely during acupuncture that they actually fall asleep!
Another effective treatment for the symptoms of menopause is Chinese herbs such as chasteberry, ashwaganda, and red clover. A qualified herbalist can recommend herbs to address your particular needs. In addition, some Chinese masters have special expertise in qi gong, a type of body movement that optimizes the flow of qi throughout all the organ systems.
Remember, in all things, balance is key.
The Eastern medicine tradition is based on meridians, pathways of energy through the body. These pathways connect the body’s systems, so that if one is out of balance, everything is out of balance. This interconnectedness extends beyond the physical body and into an individual’s life—unbalanced nutrition, work/life, or relationships lead to disharmony in the body.
Before you blame your time of life (or, worse, let someone else get away with calling you “hormonal”), think about this:
- In your schedule, do you have lots of work but not much regular, solid rest?
- Are your workday meals on-the-go fast food rather than a quiet, mindful refueling?
- Do you focus on everyone else’s needs and let self-care go by the wayside?
An imbalance in lifestyle can be just as detrimental to the way you look, feel, and function as the wildest of hormone swings.
Please, give your body, mind, and spirit a reprieve. Ease that natural energy flow by dialing back the pressure. Remember that food is medicine: Avoid heavy carbs, sugar, and alcohol, all of which can aggravate symptoms. Finally, give yourself at least an hour of “power-down” time before you go to bed to allow your thinking to clear and your body to relax.
I’ve seen a dramatic change in my patients struggling to navigate midlife issues when they reject the Western notion of “over the hill” and instead apply time-tested Chinese principles. Please consider seeing a practitioner trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine. If you’re in the New York area, I would be honored to be your guide or help you find a qualified specialist near you. Contact me. You deserve to reclaim your wellness, along with your sense of discovery, joy, and growth—at any time of life!