Patterns of Imbalance Associated with Menopause and Chinese Medicine
Typically the symptoms of menopause are simply grouped together as random occurrences that may occur during peri-menopause and menopause. Here, we have broken down the specific Organ System imbalance according to Chinese medicine for a better understanding, as each woman will experience menopause differently depending on her particular health make up. Not every single indication is needed to imply an Organ system imbalance, but you would expect several indications to start forming a pattern of imbalance. Most women have multiple indications and require more than one herbal formula to begin bringing their bodies, minds, and hormones in to balance.
Kidney Deficiency and Menopause
The most common indications of menopause, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats, are all attributed to Kidney Yin Deficiency in Chinese medicine.
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Increased anxiety and panic
- Stress urinary incontinence
- Thinning hair
Liver Imbalances and Menopause
In Chinese medicine, the Liver and Kidney energetic organ systems and their inter-related balance influence hormonal balance greatly.
- Trouble Sleeping
- Emotional Changes
- Mood Swings
- Breast pain
- Aching joints
- Itchy crawly skin
- Brittle cracking fingernails
- Irregular Periods
- Vision changes
- Prolonged bleeding
Heart Imbalances and Menopause
The Heart energetic system is at the center of emotions in Chinese medicine, and is grounded by abundant Blood. With Blood Deficiency there are many emotional disturbances with menopause. Abundant Blood is vital for emotional and physical health, but it is also critical that the Blood is well circulated and does not stagnate. This is especially important with the onset of menopause as heart disease becomes more prevalent.
- Trouble Sleeping
- Emotional Changes
- Bouts of Rapid Heart Beat
- Feelings of Dread
- Burning mouth syndrome
- Blood Deficiency and Menopause
- Disturbing Memory Lapses
- Cognitive Changes
- Tingling Extremities
Spleen Imbalances and Menopause
Spleen Qi Deficiency is not uncommon in our culture, and Qi Deficiency in general
has become more and more common with women who find they take on more and more tasks and having less time for recuperation.
- Prolonged bleeding
- Weight Gain
- Digestive Problems
Heavy Menstruation and Prolonged Bleeding with Menopause
During the peri-menopausal phase, symptoms of PMS and irregular bleeding are not uncommon. Liver Qi Stagnation and uterine Blood stagnation have symptoms of breast tenderness, cramps, moodiness, brown menstrual blood, heavy bleeding, and headaches with menstruation. Chinese herbs can soothe Liver Qi Stagnation and break up uterine Blood stagnation to help balance the body and alleviate the upheaval associated with peri-menopausal changes.
Menopause and the Need to Nourish the Skin
After menopause occurs and menstruation stops, women must take greater care in protecting their heart and building blood that will nourish the skin, joints, hair, and organs. The last thing a woman wants to do is become dried out and brittle. One only has to observe nature to realize that young spring growth is flexible and moist, whereas, dead wood is dry and brittle.
Traditional Chinese Medical View of Menopause
In Chinese medicine, menopause is often referred to as the ‘second spring’ because this is when a woman enters into her power years. This is a difficult concept to wrap around a westerner’s mind, since a woman outgrows her value as her beauty fades in our media driven culture. But traditionally, a woman’s value, influence, and power grows as she matures with wisdom; the matriarch once held a high position of respect and reverence, even in our culture.
Menopause signifies the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle, not of her value and beauty. The majority of women end their menstruation between the ages of 48 to 52, but uncomfortable symptoms of peri-menopause or pre-menopause can begin as early as forty and can last beyond fifty-five years of age. Women who undergo a hysterectomy or who have their ovaries removed experience menopausal symptoms immediately.
While menopause signifies the beginning of the winter season for bearing children, it has traditionally marked a new spring for women whose time is freed-up for creative endeavors, personal growth, financial ventures, and travel. With its close understanding of the female body, Oriental medicine has always addressed the special needs of women throughout their lives. Menopause, in particular, is an area in which Oriental Medicine shines, helping to relieve uncomfortable symptoms that accompany the onset of menopause.
Menopause from an Eastern Perspective
According to Oriental Medical theory, menopause occurs when a woman’s body begins to preserve Blood and energy in order to sustain her through her later years. The Kidney is the organ system in Oriental medicine that is viewed as the root of reproduction, vitality and longevity. Menopause signifies the depletion of the fertility; Essence stored within the Kidneys is depleted. Blood and Essence from the Kidneys are conserved and cycled through the body to nourish the woman’s spirit and extend her longevity. Thus, in Oriental medicine, menopause is seen as true change in life from mother to enlightened and wise being.
Signs of Peri-menopause
A woman may notice that her menstrual cycle changes and become irregular. Breast tenderness, abdominal bloating, mood swings, sweets cravings, and decreased energy can all be part of the peri-menopause experience. As the actual menopause, the cessation of menstruation grows nearer, the symptoms may become more extreme; hot flashes, or “hot flushes”, night sweats, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, headaches, insomnia, and moodiness may aggravate the transition.
In Chinese medicine, menopause is considered a normal transition that should pass quickly and smoothly. Modern women experience so much stress throughout their adult lives that our endocrine systems become un-balanced, and menopause becomes yet another source of stress.
Lifestyle and Dietary Instructions in Menopause
Menopausal women are encouraged to maintain a healthy weight and to follow a diet with a high content of protein, whole foods, and vegetables to stabilize blood sugar. Some foods may exacerbate hot flashes or increase mood swings; limiting the intake of dairy products, red meats, alcohol, sugar, spicy foods, and caffeine can help to decrease hot flashes for some. Menopausal women must also nourish their bodies with foods rich in calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, greens, and protein. Eating a whole food, organic diet is recommended at every stage of life.
Lastly, try to eliminate stress, tension and anxiety; better yet, learn techniques to cope with stress so that you can diminish the effects that it has on your body and mind such as meditation, tai qi, or yoga.
Understanding Natural Hormones-Phytoestrogens
Obviously, women are avoiding synthetic HRT, and searching for natural ways to balance hormones after recent studies have proven that synthetic hormones may do more harm than good. Few areas of women’s health stir up as much confusion and debate as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which is normally started when the first symptoms of menopause appear. While HRT may alleviate hot flashes and prevent osteoporosis, they may also increase the risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer, and have a number of significant side effects. Oriental medicine has long recognized that health and vitality can be sustained over a woman’s lifetime by restoring balance within the body and supporting the natural production of essential hormones.
Many women believe that bio-identical hormones are made from herbs, and many informative websites and pamphlets that I have read do tend to suggest that bio-identical hormones are based in herbs. The truth is that bio-identical hormones are very much man made; the chemical compounds are identical to hormones found in the body, but bio-identical hormones were developed in a chemistry lab. Often, this process starts with wild yam herb, as it contains hormone-like chemical constructs that are building blocks for developing bio-identical hormones; however, bio-identical hormones are not herbal.
Phyto-estrogens are substances that are found in many herbs. While phyto-estrogens are not human estrogens, and a not bio-identical to human estrogens, they have been proven to be beneficial to women’s health and influence hormonal balance in the body. Patients sometimes have concerns over phyto-estrogens, especially if they have had breast cancer, or if their family has a history of breast cancer. Utilizing foods and herbs through traditional methods has not only been proven safe and helpful in these situations, but phyto-estrogens can actually protect from breast cancer.
Hot Flashes and Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine reduces nighttime hot flashes caused by menopause, according to a study published in the journal, Fertility and Sterility. Researchers found that seven weeks of acupuncture treatment reduced the severity of nighttime hot flashes by twenty-eight percent among menopausal women compared with a six percent decrease among women who had a sham acupuncture treatment.
The effects of acupuncture vs. a sham acupuncture treatment on the severity and frequency of nighttime hot flashes were compared. Taking part in the study were twenty-nine menopausal women experiencing at least seven moderate to severe hot flashes per day.
All of the women underwent nine treatments from trained acupuncturists in sessions over seven weeks. Twelve of the women received real acupuncture using points selected to target hot flashes and sleepiness. The rest of the women received a sham acupuncture treatment using non-penetrating needles at random acupuncture channel points.
Throughout the study, the women reported the number and severity of their hot flashes. The results showed that nighttime hot flash severity decreased significantly (twenty-eight percent) among the women who received acupuncture vs. a six percent drop among the women who got the sham treatment. However, they did not see a similar finding in the frequency of nighttime hot flashes between the two groups.
Heavy Menstrual Bleeding and Abnormal Periods Resolved with Chinese Medicine
There are many types of irregularities that can occur during the menstrual cycle and Traditional Chinese Medicine differentiates each syndrome to create effective treatment strategies. A normal period would occur approximately every 28 days and last 3-5 days. A normal menstrual flow of blood would be bright red, without discoloration or clots, and would flow at a regular pace. Emotional stress is often part of the causes of all of these menstrual problems. Additionally, other disease patterns will include aspects of irregular periods such as PCOS, endometriosis, PMS, and uterine fibroids. As with most health conditions, more than one pattern of imbalance is common in Chinese medicine.
Heavy Periods in Chinese Medicine
Women often experience abnormallyheavy periods and hemorrhaging during menopause, but flooding menstruation can happen throughout the reproductive years. There are three main causes of heavy bleeding during menstruation according to Chinese medicine and more than one cause can be responsible:
Blood Stagnation Causing Flooding
It sounds counter-intuitive that stagnation could cause heavy bleeding; it would seem as if stagnation would stop the flow of Blood; however, Blood and Qi must flow freely throughout the body to maintain good health. Symptoms may include sharp abdominal pain, blood clots, and pain that is intensified with pressure to the abdomen.
Spleen Qi Deficiency Causing Flooding
One of the many functional jobs of the Spleen energetic organ system is to contain the Blood. Flooding due to Qi Deficiency would be marked by fatigue and other symptoms of Spleen Qi imbalances.
Blood Heat Causing Flooding
Ongoing Liver Qi Stagnation can result in Blood Heat and Reckless Blood according to TCM. Symptoms would include irritability, restlessness, or headaches.
Long Periods in Chinese Medicine
Periods that last longer than normal (6-10 days) do not necessarily have heavy bleeding and can be caused by two main imbalances:
Liver Qi Stagnation Causing Long Period
The Liver energetic organ system (TCM) stores and manages menstrual Blood. Ongoing stress in woman’s life can create Liver Qi and Liver Blood Stagnation with symptoms of dark blood clots and brown blood at the start of menstruation, frustration, headaches, or depression.
Kidney Yin Deficiency Causing Long Period
Long periods of scanty bleeding with indications of night or afternoon sweats, feeling of fever, or hot flashes are most common in peri-menopausal women. Women may experience dull aches in the lower back with Kidney Deficiency.
Early Periods in Chinese Medicine
An early period a cycle that is shorter than 26 days and would have to occur more than two months in a row for this diagnosis.
Qi Deficiency Causing Early Menstrual Periods
Spleen Qi Deficiency from poor dietary habits or from exhaustion and overwork result in the Spleen Qi not “holding the Blood” due to Deficiency. Loose stools and tiredness may be experienced.
Heat Excess Causing Early Menstrual Periods
Blood-Heat from excessive alcohol consumption, ongoing feelings of frustration and anger, or chronic Liver Qi Stagnation can create Heat that can enter the Conception Vessel, or Ren Mai and the Chong Mai that are extraordinary vessels involved with women’s reproductive health. This is a condition based on Excess rather than Deficiency and the blood flow may seem excessive.
Empty Heat Causing Early Menstrual Periods
Kidney Yin Deficient Heat can result from ongoing physical exhaustion, birthing many children, and chronic stress. These early periods occurs because the Kidney is not controlling the Conception Vessel, or Ren Mai and the Chong Mai that are extraordinary vessels involved with women’s reproductive health. These early periods would be due to Deficiency with night sweats possibly.
Bleeding Between Periods in Chinese Medicine
Kidney Yin and Liver Yin Insufficiency Causing Bleeding Between Periods
The Liver and Kidney energetic organ systems are often used to balance hormonal fluctuation in Chinese medicine. In this case, empty heat develops often in older women approaching menopause and presents with hot flashes and emotional outbursts.
Blood Stasis Causing Spotting Between Periods
This could be caused from surgery of reproductive organs, having multiple births close together, or chronic Liver Qi Stagnation. One may have brown blood at the onset of menstruation, and sharp menstrual cramps.
Kidney Yang Deficiency Causing Bleeding Between Periods
This bleeding would occur mid-cycle near ovulation and is often associated with causes of infertility is generally considered a Yin Yang imbalance in TCM; if a woman is Yang Deficient, she will not have the motivational force necessary to ovulate. Menstrual blood may be diluted or pink in color.
Scanty Short Periods in Chinese Medicine
This would refer to very light bleeding and can include elements of early periods or short cycles. Blood Deficiency, Kidney Yang Deficiency, Kidney Yin Deficiency, or Spleen Qi Deficiency with Internal Dampness can all contribute to short periods and scanty bleeding in TCM. “Qi not controlling the Blood” is a common diagnosis, and is often due to Spleen Qi Deficiency.
Blood Deficiency Causing Scanty Periods
This sometimes occurs after many years of heavy periods, or can result from general Blood Deficiency that has developed over time. The complexion would likely be pale or dull, and one may have a poor memory or feel dizzy. Insomnia may be present.
Kidney Yang Deficiency Causing Scanty Periods
While there will also be indications of Blood Deficiency, one would have a feeling of coldness possibly with sharp cramp pains made better with heat compresses. Menstrual blood may look watery or pink in color. Consider our organic Ancestor Treasure formula and topical Kidney Yang Plaster applied over the kidneys and lower abdomen.
KIDNEY YIN DEFICIENCY CAUSING SCANTY PERIODS
There would be indications of Blood Deficiency along with hot flashes, afternoon sweats, and/or night sweats. One may also notice an achy lower back before and during menstruation.
Blood Stagnation Causing Scanty Periods
This would likely present with clots in menstrual blood and painful periods made better with the passing of blood clots.
Dampness Causing Scanty Periods
This condition may be marked by tiredness while menstruating, thick phlegm vaginal discharges between periods, and brown blood at the onset of period.
Cold in the Uterus Causing Late Periods
Cycles longer than 30 days can be due to exhaustion form overwork or chronic bleeding, but a more common cause in Chinese medicine is internal Cold-Damp conditions from Spleen Qi Deficiency which can develops by eating too many raw foods, poor dietary habits, or environmental exposure to damp conditions over an extended period of time. Consider our organic Restore the Middle Way formula and topical Kidney Yang Plaster over the kidneys and lower abdomen.
Kidney Yang Deficiency Causing Late Periods
Kidney Yang Deficiency could lead to Cold in the Uterus with achie cramps made better with heat compresses to the lower abdomen and lower back. Consider our organic Ancestor Treasure formula and topical Kidney Yang Plaster over the kidneys and lower abdomen.
Liver Qi Stagnation Causing Late Periods
Because the Liver controls the menstrual Blood, it often plays a role in irregular periods. You may notice breast tenderness before your period and emotional upset.
Amenorrhea-No Periods in Chinese Medicine
Pregnancy is the most common cause of cessation of the menstrual cycle, but it can also be caused by the onset of menopause, over exercising, breast feeding, birth control medicines, certain pharmaceuticals, diabetes, IBS, or having many pregnancies close together. In Chinese medicine, causes can include Blood Deficiency, Spleen Qi Deficiency, Yin Deficiency, or Yang Deficiency.
Source: Ageless Herbs