When it comes to Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) approach to treating menopause, we have to start first with some basic concepts. We all have a balance of yin and yang energies in our body at all times. Sometimes we will have more of one and less of another but ideally, we want to have a balance between the two. When they are not balanced, we can start to see some symptoms. Qi, the life-force energy that runs throughout our body, can become deficient and also stagnant. Our qi should course through the meridians with ease at specific times of the day/night. If our qi is deficient or stagnant, again we may start to see symptoms. The organ systems in TCM that play a role in women’s reproductive systems include the Kidneys, the Heart, the Liver, and the Spleen. The Triple Warmer is responsible for fluid metabolism while the Spleen is responsible for qi production from ingested food/liquid. When these 2 systems aren’t running smoothly, it creates a back-up which leads to an accumulation of dampness and then further into the production of phlegm. It is of the utmost importance that we as practitioners focus on getting the most thorough evaluation of the period cycle and the gynecological/reproductive/childbirth histories because it is imperative that we understand how the woman’s body works and what it has been through so far.
The Traditional Chinese medicine’s understanding of menopause is based on the belief that the woman’s body has a 7 year cycle where changes may occur as we enter the next 7 year cycle. Cycle #7 (age 49) tends to be where we see the onset on menopause, with the average age of onset being around age 51. Menopause is not seen as a disease that needs to be cured. It is a natural, normal physiological transition from reproductive possibilities to the non-reproductive time of a woman’s life. Generally, it is due to a decline in Kidney essence, yin or yang aspects of the body but premature menopause can be brought on by stagnation and Phlegm instead of Kidney deficiency.
What contributes to the severity of the signs and symptoms can include emotional stress (worry, fear, anxiety), overwork, and possibly having too many children too close thus taxing he Kidney organ system. Now what sets TCM apart from other medical systems is that differential diagnosing is crucial because there are a few diagnoses to choose from. For example, the signs and symptoms could be a result of Kidney yin deficiency, Kidney yang deficiency, or a combination of both. It could be a mixture of Kidney and Liver yin deficiency which creates some Liver yang rising (this is when we see the hot flashes in the head/face), Kidney and the Heart not harmonizing (the emotional roller coaster experience), the accumulation of Phlegm with Qi stagnation, and finally Blood stasis. Diagnosing and treating menopause with acupuncture and TCM can be very individualized and because of that, it can also be very successful! Chinese herbal formulas may be better than acupuncture in some presentations and can be given in patent form or individualized to meet the needs of the presenting signs using compounded powdered herbs. Yoga and taking time for one’s self is key during this transition and is oftentimes what gets lost. So take that time for yourself and go see an acupuncturist! You and your body will thank you for it!