Treating Hot Flashes with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine
Peri-menopause and menopause are natural parts of the aging process for women. They are not diseases. Due to a normal decrease in estrogen, the menstrual cycles cease. Most women will spend a third of their lives in this stage. While some women experience few problems, others find themselves struggling with hot flashes, night sweats, sleep and mood issues, dry skin, osteoporosis, urinary and thyroid dysfunction. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine offer safe, drugless options that effectively treat the effects of estrogen decline that can be so disruptive to daily life.
Chinese Medical Approaches
According to Chinese medical theory, the body’s Yin declines during peri-menopause and menopause. The Yin aspects of the human body include blood, lymph, hormones, and nutrient substances. The Yang aspects of the body have to do with the circulation of these substances. The body’s Yin keeps the body cool, moist and calm. Because Yin is decreasing, heat, dryness and irritableness can arise. Yin deficiency is common to all peri-menopausal and menopausal women, but each woman has her own associated conditions and/or symptoms that are unique. The beauty of Chinese medicine is that it allows for each treatment to be tailored to the individual woman. One size does not fit all.
Specific acupuncture points can cool the body and disperse energy that is blocked, helping to alleviate the affects of stress and balancing the mood while at the same time nourishing the Yin. Chinese herbal medicine works together with acupuncture to nourish and build Yin in the body, clear heat and balance mood swings.
Western Medical Approaches
The most common Western treatment for the disruptive symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Studies have shown that conventional HRT (estrogen made from horses and synthetic progesterone) can increase a women’s risk of heart disease and breast and ovarian cancer. Because the risks often outweigh the benefits, I advocate that the first line of care should always be that which is least invasive to the body and carries the least amount of risk. A few women find that absolutely nothing helps reduce their symptoms except hormone replacement. In these cases, I always recommend bio-identical, human hormones. In general bio-identical hormones cause far fewer side effects and the amounts of progesterone and the three estrogens (estradiol, estrone, and estriol) can be calibrated according to your needs based on laboratory findings.
Dietary and Lifestyle Recommendations
What we eat profoundly affects us. I encourage you to focus on foods that will be both supportive and protective of your heart and bones. Most women are losing bone mass by age 40.
Foods that provide the nutrition and protection peri-menopausal, menopausal, and post-menopausal women need include
- fruits and vegetables to stabilize blood sugar and provide fiber. Fruits such as blueberries and black berries are loaded with antioxidants.
- salmon, mackerel and halibut for the abundance of omega-3 fatty acids.
- leafy greens such as kale, collard greens, chard, spinach that are rich in absorbable forms of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium
- all legumes for protein, fiber, and antioxidants. A little known fact is that black-eyed peas have the highest content of antioxidants of any of the legumes.
- foods rich in phytoestrogens (some women have found that these reduce hot flashes) such as soy beans, tofu, tempeh, soy beverages, linseed (flax), sesame seeds, wheat, berries, oats, barley, dried beans, lentils, yams, rice, alfalfa, apples, and carrots. The evidence is growing to support the importance of phytoestrogens in our diet.
Foods and substances that promote hot flashes or aggravate mood swings include
- high fat foods, dairy products, red meats, alcohol, sugar, spicy foods, and caffeine.
- cigarette smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke. Smoke dries up bodily fluids. Chinese medicine can help you on your journey to becoming a non-smoker.
Exercise on a regular basis
- Exercise is not optional.
- Regular exercise helps manage stress, and numerous studies have shown that it helps prevent bone loss and cardiovascular disease.
- Find something that suits who you are as a person and what you are able to do. If you are a social person, join a walking club or go dancing on a regular basis. If you prefer more meditative activities take a Yoga class.
- There are many options; it’s a matter of finding the right fit.
Manage Stress in a Healthy Way
- We cannot avoid stress, but we can avoid its damaging effects by finding the strategies that suit who we are to shake it off.
- Regular acupuncture reduces the toxic effects of stress.
Menopause can be a time of empowerment if a woman chooses it to be so. Just think of all that Hilary Clinton and Jane Goodall have accomplished in their later years. My patients have found the books below to be helpful in navigating the peri-menopausal, menopausal and post-menopausal journey.
Awakening at Midlife by Kathleen Brehony
Better Bones, Better Body: Beyond Estrogen and Calcium by Susan Brown, PhD and Russell Jaffe, MD
The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause by Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge
The Menopause Self Help Book by Susan Love, MD
Please call Cynthia at Singing Crane Acupuncture with any questions or for further information at 503-233-2549.