Recently, Davina McCall's tv programme, 'Sex, Myths and the Menopause' usefully shone the spotlight on the menopause. Since then I've had a wave of new enquiries for help with menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, emotional turbulance. As a traditional Chinese medicine acupuncturist, yoga and mindfulness teacher I have a few tools in my wellbeing toolkit that you might like to try.
My post arrived this morning and in it was a book I had recently ordered: Managing Menopause Naturally with Chinese Medicine, by Honora Lee Wolfe. Why the growing interest in the menopause? Personally, the menopause is more on my mind as I tipple into my mid to late 40's. Although my periods may not stop until I'm in my 50's, physiologicaly I'm already changing, I'm in my peri-menopausal years. Science tells me that I've been in follicular decline since I was a foetus. My menopause is an inevitable, natural and gradual process over a lifetime - it hasn't happened overnight! These facts I cannot alter. What I might be able to do is influence my experience of the menopuse through my lifestyle choices. Preserving my energy reserves (Jing) for later in my life is more of a priority. For example, I’m balancing my bias for yang activity like mountain biking with more yin activity - strolling in woods and mindfulness. Likewise, I’m making more informed dietary choices such as substituting yin depleting coffee for Blood nourishing drinks, such as hibiscus and nettle teas.
The Nocebo Effect of Social Sterotyping
Jane Lyttleton, in her article Topics in Gynaecology, Part One, Menopause explores the idea that social and cultural factors may influence a woman’s experience of the menopause. She questions,
"...could the Western preoccupation with beauty and youth be adversely affecting the psyche of our menopausal women?"
She explains: “Stereotypes are powerful tools which could mould the social reality of individuals (…) the Lugbara women in Uganda (…) gain status after menopause say they experience no menopausal symptoms. The Indian women of Mexico become heads of their married sons’ families and households when they reach the menopause and sail through without a hiccup.” She explores the idea that psychologically life changes that occur concurrently with middle age may be having as much of an impact as hormonal (physiological) changes. As an acupuncturist I view menopausal symptoms as symptomatic of yin-yang disequilibrium. There is much debate about acupuncture simply being a placebo, but even if this were the case (which we acupuncturists, backed by growing research, don't believe) does it really matter? At least it does not harm, unlike the nocebo effect of social stereotyping.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) & Menopause
Social stereotyping may very well influence how we experience the menopause. Certainly, they may add additional emotional stress at a time of significant physiological change. From both WM and tCM perspectives there are other factors that determine menopause.
The renowned acupuncturist Giovanni Maciocia in his online article, The Treatment of Menopausal Problems and Chinese Medicine, usefully whittles the many symptoms associated with the menopause to identify just three with clear links to oestrogen decline: vaginal dryness, hot flushes, night sweats.
This means that other symptoms attributed to the menopause such as anxiety, poor sleep etc. may be exacerbations of a woman's pre-existing imbalances. For example, a life-long history of anxiety may become aggravated at this time of change.
It is worth remembering that the menopause is as natural as the menarche. According to the Chinese 'nourishment of life' tradition the aim is to live as well as you can for as long as you can. Women would not be able to live well for as long if they continued to use up their Jing every month (if we consider the release of egg at ovulation is a loss of Jing). This we cannot change.
the body makes a decison about when to preserve energy so that you can live well for longer.
You can support this natural self-regulatory process through conscious living. Reviewing your diet, your exercise regime, how much you rest to supplement and/or preserve your qi.
Lifestyle Tips for the Menopause
If you are reading this you are probably already menopausal. If you aren't and are in your 30's now is the time to make some informed life-style changes. These tips are founded on the tCM understanding of yin-yang balance.
slow down, rest more
reduce tea, coffee, alcohol
avoid greasy food
eat regular meals
don't be too thin, have some body fat (women produce oestrogen from fat cells/fatter women fare better than the very thin)
reduce stress, worry less. If you can't reduce external stress reduce your reactivity (internal stress response)
train your mindfulness muscle (Carlisle Mindfulness )
practice yoga regularly (for Carlisle classes visit: The Yoga Rooms)
try a course of traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture
Hot Flushes? Press Acupuncture points LU 7 & KID 6
I commonly use this pair of acupuncture points in my acupuncture clinics to support menopausal women. Use acupressure on acu-point Lung 7 on the right side of the body and KID 6 on the left.
A tailored acupuncture treatment would include other acupuncture points depending on your tCM diagnosis.
Location LU 7: On the thumb side of the forearm. Interlock your thumb and index finger of one hand with those of the other, the point lies on the edge of the index finger, in a depression between the sinew and the bone. Location KID 6: Find the tip of your inside ankle bone (the bit that sticks out the most). Measure the width of your thumb below the tip. Feel a little dip between two ligaments
How to apply acupressure: gently massage in slow circular movements applying medium pressure or press the acu-point with steady pressure.
Duration: 20 seconds - 2 minutes. Breathe deep and slow Remember: acupuncture is a complex medical model and 'cookbook' protocols (i.e. for hot flushes press x) are for you to try. If they help you that's great. If not, it may be that you would benefit from a bespoke acupuncture consultation. Remember you are unique and so is your menopause.
Try a course of traditional Chinese acupuncture
A course of acupuncture consists of a 90 minutes initial consultation, diagnosis and treatment. Followed by six 1 hour weekly treatments.
We would then review your response and treatment plan going forwards. Usually, more acupuncture treatments are necessary. We would discuss your lifestyle: diet, exercise, stress levels etc.
Acupuncture for Menopause Testimonial
51 yr old woman: hot sweats, sleep disturbance
I had been having terrible nightmares and waking up with hot sweats. The lack of good sleep was making me feel bad tempered and I stuggled to concentrate. A friend recommended I book an appointment with Ruth. After the first session I had no more nightmares! I am sleeping so much better now my night sweats have reduced and I'm much nicer to be around. Ruth is warm and kind and gentle and really cares about the whole you. Give it ago, I promise, acupuncture really does help."
For more information about how acupuncture may support you through your menopausal years contact me.
References & Reading
BAcC Menopausal Symptoms research factsheet
BAcC Ask an Expert, Could acupuncture help stop hot flushes due to the menopause?
Managing Menopause Naturally with Chinese Medicine, by Honora Lee Wolfe.
Topics in Gynaecology, Part One, Menopause Journal of Chinese Medicine (JCM), No. 33, May 1990, Jane Lyttelton