Various health concerns for many of our female patients include the symptoms of menopause: hot flashes, irritability, weight gain (or the inability to lose weight), irregular/missed/extra periods, skin dryness/rashes, sleep issues, worsening PMS, fatigue, and the loss of interest in sex.
These symptoms can be very concerning, especially when they occur in our late 30’s or 40’s. Let’s define what menopause is/isn’t and the “stages” it goes through. Really, it’s the state of healthy function (or the lack thereof) which makes the symptoms appear and become unbearable.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is defined as the point in a woman’s life when her estrogen production/levels drop and her menstrual cycles have ceased for a full 12 months. The average age of menopause in the U.S. is said to be 51, although it can vary widely. Some sources state that the period of menopausal symptoms can last up to 7 years for some women, although others report few symptoms or a far shorter period of them.
The period leading up to menopause, or peri-menopause, is the time when the body is experiencing declining amounts of estrogen hormone, and when many of the symptoms associated with menopause begin to occur. This stage commonly occurs in the 40’s, but can begin in a woman’s late 30’s (a condition referred to as pre- or premature-menopause). Many women can feel distressed, almost like they are going “crazy,” during this stage because things are happening in their bodies that they are not expecting yet. Moods and emotions can become very erratic, especially around menstruation.
Early menopause can occur due to a range of causes: genetic predisposition, cancer treatment side-effect, toxin exposure, or hysterectomy; just to state a few.
Treatment of Menopause
Western medicine commonly prescribes hormone therapy to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms of peri-/menopause, ranging from a low dose birth control pill to full on HRT (hormone replacement therapy). Often, an antidepressant or sleep drug will be offered to help deal with those issues.
In Oriental Medicine, we know that this process is a normal and natural state of healthy change in the body. The uncomfortable symptoms occur because of systemic imbalances that do now allow a smooth transition when hormone levels change. We treat the “problem” not by fooling the body into thinking it’s still making estrogen, but by helping it move into the next phase of life in a healthy manner. Some of the things that can help are:
Acupuncture – Depending on the organ function strength/weakness found in an exam, a treatment strategy can be created to rebalance the body so that this stage of life is experienced in a more comfortable and healthy way.
Herbs – Just like acupuncture, herbal formulas can help boost the weak, sedate the overactive, and thereby rebalance the entire body – which will alleviate unpleasant symptoms and create better overall health moving forward in life.
Diet – By eating a more clean and balanced diet, you can reduce inflammation, improve sleep levels, and help balance hormonal levels naturally. Get rid of/reduce processed foods, white flour, sugar, caffeine, alcohol. Instead try to eat more fresh, organic fruits and vegetable, lean organic meats (conventionally raised meat and dairy have far too many antibiotics and hormones added to their diets), have wild caught fish twice a week, cut down on complex and processed carbs (bread, pastas, sweets). Eliminate all artificial sweeteners. Stay away from “low-fat” things that should normally have fat in them. Healthy fats (avocados, egg yolks, organic coconut or olive oil, ghee) are actually good for you; and the body needs them to do a number of different jobs – like create hormones! Decrease or get rid of dairy – substitute goat’s milk cheeses, coconut or nut milk whenever possible. Avoid soy except fermented soy (tofu, tempeh or miso).
If symptoms are really bad, consider an elimination diet. Guidelines for them can be found online. The GAPS diet recommended for kids with suspected ADHD is a good one.
Supplements – Vitamin D, B12 and Magnesium are often deficient in patients with menopausal symptoms. B12 is especially at danger of being low if you are taking any PPI (proton pump inhibitor – for acid reflux) as these have been associated with a deficiency in that vitamin with long term use.
Exercise – Despite energy levels dropping, some exercise daily actually going to help increase them and decrease other symptoms. Walking is always good. Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Yoga are excellent ways to start moving the body without having to do a killer workout. Moderation is the key, as too strenuous a workout can do more harm than good. Work up to a higher level of intensity gradually.
Relaxation – It is natural for our body to have times of quiet and rest. In our society, that has become something we are made to feel guilty about. Meditation, prayer, quietly enjoying a cup of tea, reading a book just for pleasure – all are great ways to “quite the mind” from our daily stressors. This quietness can also be found in the more gentle exercise forms listed above.
Please consider trying some of these when you feel changes starting in your body. Menopause is not a disease. It is a natural and healthy stage in the development of a woman’s body; and, if treated as such, does not need to be a life-disrupting experience.
Nothing in this document is intended as a substitute for your doctor’s diagnosis and/or treatment. This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.