Cailey Halloran, L.Ac., Dipl. O.M.
The primary reasons women seek Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) during menopause are relief from hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood changes, loss of energy and sleep disorders. A study by the Stanford University School of Medicine, found that acupuncture greatly reduced the severity of nocturnal hot flashes compared with a placebo group (1). A February 2015 meta analysis of twelve studies with 869 participants conducted by the North American Menopause Society found that acupuncture reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes as well as improved quality of life (2).
What is a hot flash? In TCM, the concepts of yin and yang are frequently mentioned. Yang refers to heat or energy in our body, while yin refers to our fluid, or ability to cool. When the yin begins to decrease, the appearance of an excess of heat occurs. A hot flash in TCM is a bursting forth of yang (heat) that is not controlled by yin or fluids. Acupuncture can be very useful in balancing the yin and yang and finding what we call homeostasis, or middle ground. When appropriate, Chinese herbs are prescribed to regulate, astringe (hold in the fluids), and nourish the yin (or promote fluids). In cases of severe hot flashes, we may also prescribe herbs that clear heat. Food therapy is a great way to prevent severe swings in mood and reduce hot flashes.
Some yin nourishing foods are as follows: mung beans, kidney beans, string beans and black beans; seaweed, spirulina, barley, black sesame seeds, melons, pineapple, pear, peach, avocado, coconut and raisins. Brown rice and barley also help to improve digestion and calm the mind.
In TCM it is believed that we are born with a finite amount of essence given to us from our parents; this is sometimes referred to as Pre-Natal or Pre-Heavenly Essence, Jing, or our genes. As we age, our essence slowly becomes depleted. This is shown in grey hair, a diminished sex drive, brittle nails, hair and bones as well as digestive and vision changes. In TCM each organ is assigned functions. Our diagnosis comes through the questions we ask that help us discern which organs are affected. The Kidneys hold our essence. They provide energy and warmth to the body and are in charge of sexual and reproductive functioning. While living a healthy lifestyle slows the process of losing our essence, aging is inevitable. As we age, we lose our essence and its fire and its vitality slowly wanes away. It is this natural phenomenon that can often cause the undesirable symptoms many women experience with menopause. Luckily, Chinese Medicine is a super star when it comes to helping alleviate the unwanted side effects of “The Change”.
While we have little control over the amount of essence we come into the world with, we do have more control of our Post-Heaven or Post-Natal essence. Post-Heaven essence relates to our lifestyle ranging from the food and fluids we consume, how much we sleep, what drugs we might take, and our thoughts. We have many choices with how we treat our bodies. Many people find acupuncture and Chinese medicine long before menopause and use it throughout their life as well as through personal and seasonal transitions to nourish our pre- and post-heavenly essence. Chinese dietary nutrition and meditation such as Qi Gong and Tai Chi will also contribute greatly to the lessening and resolution of menopausal symptoms.
Other tips include: avoiding spicy and fried foods, avoiding or reducing alcohol, cigarettes, coffee and excess meat products. Often times there is a decrease of calcium absorption during the first stages of menopause, so increasing foods rich in magnesium and Vitamin D will help improve calcium absorption. Vitamin E is also important as it stimulates estrogen production. Try this recipe to nourish your yin!
Grass Fed Beef Gelatin (adapted from Wellness Mama):
I use Great Lakes Beef Gelatin for this recipe which can be found at Vitamin Cottage
Ingredients: 1½ cups of organic or freshly juiced fruit juice of choice ¼ cup cool water ¼ cup hot (near boiling) water 1 tablespoon of Beef Gelatin 1-2 cups of sliced fruit or fruits of your choice *can double recipe*
1. Pour the cool water in a mixing bowl and add the gelatin
2. Stir briskly until mixed- it will thicken up
3. Add the ¼ cup of hot water and stir to mix
4. Add juice and mix well
5. Place fruit into the container that you are going to make the jello in- an 8x8 baking dish or similar vessel will do
6. Pour the jello mixture over the fruit and stir lightly to coat
7. Refrigerate covered for at least 2-3 hours or overnight
8. Slice, serve and enjoy!
(1) Journal of Fertility and Sterility. Volume 86, Issue 3, Sept 2006 700-710 (2) North American Menopause Society volume 22, issue 2, 234-244p