Menopause is not an illness, but an inevitable change all women go through somewhere in their late 40’s or early 50’s. It is defined as the complete cessation of menstrual periods for 12 months. Some will barely notice going through it, but for others, it can be extremely disruptive and have a significant impact on quality of life. Symptoms can start before the periods stop in what’s known as the peri-menopausal phase. This phase can last anywhere up to 10 years and cause disruptions to the menstrual cycle, bringing changes to PMS symptoms and causing your periods to be more unpredictable, heavier or lighter, with shorter or longer cycles.
Symptoms affecting peri-menopausal and menopausal women include the infamous hot flushes, insomnia, low energy, brain fog, reduced concentration and memory, mood swings, anxiety, depression, reduced libido, weight gain etc… For most women these symptoms will start to die down once they are on the other side of the menopause, but some can continue to have hot flushes, anxiety, insomnia and other symptoms for years and years later. Aren’t women lucky?!
The menopausal menstrual changes and symptoms are caused by fluctuations in the ovarian hormones that have dominated a woman’s life since puberty. The oestrogen produced by your ovaries starts to dwindle and infrequent ovulation causes a decline in progesterone. Sometimes, the symptoms are not due to your sex hormones alone, poor thyroid function can also cause many of the symptoms outlined above. Your adrenal glands take over manufacture of the sex hormones from your ovaries, but produce a slightly different form of oestrogen and less of it. How your problematic menopausal symptoms are and how well your adrenals cope with their new role depends on several factors. Genetics play a part, but so do things like existing conditions, lifestyle factors and diet.
In conventional medicine, HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) is the go to therapy of choice for treating symptoms, however it is not the only option. There is a solid evidence base for acupuncture in the reduction of menopausal symptoms. It can help to rebalance hormones, modulate the immune system, support the digestive system, improve quality of sleep, reduce stress and anxiety. It is particularly effective when combined with appropriate diet and lifestyle changes. An acupuncturist will work with you to identify areas of imbalance and factors affecting your hormonal balance.
At the heart of Chinese medicine theory is the restoration of balance. The theory is a valuable tool for acupuncturists in understanding the symptoms caused by hormonal imbalances and to help predict how a woman’s menopause is likely to be. Chinese medicine places great importance in prevention rather than cure by understanding the cause of ill-health and imbalances. Diet and lifestyle factors can take a significant toll on your health, exacerbating imbalances and therefore, menopausal symptoms. Factors that influence symptoms include: excessive work; irregular shift patterns; stress – particularly emotional stress; poor diet high in processed foods, sugar and refined carbs; being underweight; poor gut health; alcohol; caffeine; toxic overload from the environment, cleaning products, hazardous chemicals in the work place and cosmetics.
Knowing what factors can influence your health can be empowering because it gives you the power to reduce your own symptoms by making appropriate changes. Making adjustments well before the menopause starts will make for a smoother, less symptomatic transition. However, changes at any stage in the process can help to reduce symptoms.
The beauty of Chinese medicine and acupuncture is that it focuses on the person rather than the disease as conventional medicine does. It recognises the individuality of peoples symptoms and differing lives. It embraces that difference and uses it to inform diagnosis and to tailor individualised treatment and lifestyle adjustments. Best of all it's a natural treatment that aims to restore your natural health rather than temporarily mask symptoms.
Jill Storstein DipAc, MSc, MBAcC is an acupuncturist in Aberfeldy. www.jillstorstein.com