Acupuncture and Menopause
By Jill Ellen Smith L.Ac., M.Ac.
For the Howard County Women’s Journal
It is said that the only thing anyone can rely on is life…is death. Simple, yet maybe too simple. As we journey on in our lives we come to realize—hopefully—that death is as mysterious as inevitable. And it is not the only definite in our life.
We can rely on the sun rising and setting. We can rely on green in Spring and auburn in Autumn. We can rely on joy and sadness…on grief and ecstasy. And as women, we can rely on menopause. How we arrive at and go through our menopausal experience, however, is unique from woman to woman.
Menopause indicates the complete or permanent cessation of menstruation, and therefore, the decline of a woman’s reproductive function.
An interval of 6—12 months is usually necessary to establish the diagnosis. Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 48 to 55 years of age. Data indicates that the menopausal age has remained unchanged for centuries and is fairly consistent throughout the world.
Consistent with all women, the primary basis for the progressive decline of reproductive power is the ovary itself. Ovarian follicles are greatly depleted by the time of menopause. When a female is conceived, the fetus has approximately 6,000,000 follicles which decrease to approximately 600,000 at birth…300,000 at menarche (the beginning of a girl’s menses), and 10,000 at the time of menopause. This reality confirms that a woman’s reproductive power is naturally on the decline throughout her life. From a Western medicine point of view, the basis for a woman’s symptoms during these years is the decline in estrogen production by the ovaries. According to Western gynecologists, the symptoms associated with the menopause may be classified according to the organ or tissue involved:
- Brain: hot flushes, night sweats, depression, anxiety, insomnia, poor memory and concentration
- Heart: coronary heart disease
- Blood Vessels: arteriosclerosis
- • Bone: osteoporosis
- • Skin: thinning, slow healing, itching
- • Vagina: vaginal dryness and atrophy
From a Western point of view, menopausal problems are almost exclusively attributed to a deficiency of estrogen and the ‘cure’ is therefore Hormone Replacement Therapy in a variety of forms. As there is much controversy over the pros and cons of HRT, many women search for a more natural way of treating the symptoms that show up. It can be helpful for women to remember that the decline in estrogen levels following reduction in follicles is a natural physiological process that is part of a woman’s biological rhythms. Seen from this perspective, menopause is no more a ‘disease’ than menarche. It is a gradual naturally endowed process…like the blending of summer into autumn…as nature intended. If symptoms show up that disrupts one’s quality of life, the intensity of the symptom should help dictate her practitioner’s response. Acupuncture only, or acupuncture with herbs, or both combined with HRT are decisions that can be made by a woman and her practitioner(s).
An 80-year-old tree is cut down and we can examine the rings of its trunk. These rings can give us information as to the general health, life cycle, and environmental conditions that impacted this tree throughout its 80-year life span. The seasonal shifts along with extremes in weather patterns, illnesses, and pathogens can be revealed by the pattern displayed at the exposed spherical cross section of the trunk.
As in nature, a woman’s menopause will bear the imprint of her basic physical constitution and lifestyle. Constitution and lifestyle will also profoundly impact on how she responds to life’s stressors, the aging process, viruses and pathogens that attack her system, pregnancy and labor and delivery.
If a woman has a poor diet, and if she is overworked for several years prior to the onset of menopause, then problems will likely develop. Having multiple children too close together, will also impact on a woman’s constitutional strength. Persistent and chronic emotional stress such as worry, fear, and anxiety can have a profound impact on a woman’s menopause. According to Chinese medicine, worry, fear, and anxiety can weaken our storage of Yin energy, especially when these emotions occur against a background of overwork — which is all too common in our culture. The resulting symptoms that often bring women into an acupuncturist’s treatment room are insomnia, vaginal dryness, headaches, irritability, mood swings, lethargy, depression, inability to concentrate, backaches, hot flashes and night sweats.
Beginning acupuncture treatment earlier in one’s reproductive life cycle can greatly enhance a woman’s gynecological health and prevent the challenges brought on by menopause. As you may recall from my previous article, the acupuncturist will diagnose a woman based on the source of her symptoms. While her chief complaint may be specific menopausal symptoms, the acupuncturist will assess her basic constitution, as well as thoroughly investigate into the source of these symptoms. According to Chinese medicine, the primary source of symptoms, across the board, will be a decrease in the substantial life energy/force, which we refer to as one’s Essence. As Essence decreases, the body will manifest this decline by the symptoms already described. Remember, that a woman’s basic constitution along with her long-term lifestyle will impact on her Essence. The acupuncturist will work to restore the Yin/Yang energy that is declining. Oftentimes, herbal remedies are added to nourish a woman’s Essence on a deeper systemic level.
Contradicted. As described in my article Western Medicine, combining Eastern and Western medicine can be profoundly effective. Often, women can come off of HRT as the Eastern medical approach takes hold.
I’d like to make reference here to a woman’s overall menstrual cycle as well. Whenever a woman comes into acupuncture treatment for any variety of problems, the acupuncturist will receive some of the most vital diagnostic information about her through her report of her menstrual history.
The frequency, and length of the cycle; the quality/color of the blood; the presence of clots/ the volume of bleeding; the degree of cramping; and any other associated symptoms can be the key to the source of a woman’s chief complaint. Suffering through a menstrual cycle is not normal and is only reflective of an imbalance…an imbalance that is correctable through acupuncture and possibly herbs.
For the acupuncturist, women patients provide a wealth of rich diagnostic information that male patients have no frame of reference to. Remember…the balance of Qi (in its Yin and Yang manifestations) is at the core of all Eastern medical doctrine. As a woman ages the Yin substance of her reproductive system diminishes significantly. Restoring the balance allows a woman to experience her passage into her non-reproductive years with grace and as the beginning of a new era.
I invite any inquiries or requests for topics to cover in the Women’s Journal. You can reach me by email or phone.
I began seeing Jill Ellen in the fall of ’04. At that time I was “out of control”. I was constantly at the mercy of my temper. Jill has given me my life back, and my family and I are exceedingly grateful.
Carolyn V., Owings Mills, Maryland