Acupuncture and The Menopause
The menopause is the medical term for the time, usually between the ages of 45 and 55, when a woman’s periods end. This happens as a result of a decrease in frequency, and eventual ceasing, of ovulation, and a consequent drop in oestrogen levels. The menopause is therefore characterized by hormonal changes which can trigger some of the following symptoms:
Vaginal symptoms e.g. dryness
The majority of women in the developed world will experience some of these symptoms, and for one in five they will be marked, with a significant impact on health and well-being.
Another consequence of the hormonal changes can be osteoporosis: the lower levels of oestrogen can lead to bone loss and a consequent risk of fractures.
Menopause and TCM
In TCM, the reproductive system and the bones are both associated with a concentrated form of Qi which is known as Jing or ‘vital essence’. Jing is partly inherited from our parents, and is gradually used up over our life. If we live a healthy and balanced life, we do not consume our Jing too quickly; if, on the other hand, we live a life in which we fail to nourish ourselves properly and push ourselves to work (and play) beyond our natural limits, we use up our Jing too quickly. This may explain why women in the developed world seem to suffer much more from menopausal syndrome than their sisters in the undeveloped world – they are using up their Jing too quickly in the pressured and unbalanced lifestyles which are considered normal in consumer societies.
Chinese Medicine cannot, of course, stop the ageing process, but it can support a woman to go through the transition which is the menopause in a natural and harmonious way. As Jing declines, a woman’s systems temporarily become out of balance. Treatments such as acupuncture, herbal remedies and Chi Kung can help to restore that balance, making the transition smoother and less disruptive.
Beyond this, Chinese Medicine is a holistic treatment which works on the level of the Spirit as well as of the body; it is particularly effective in supporting us through periods of transition in our life when, for example, our role in our family and in society is changing as our body changes.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Menopause?
Significant evidence has been accumulated in China over the years which suggests that appropriate acupuncture treatment during the menopause increases oestrogen levels, which may account for its success in treating menopausal symptoms. Similarly, Chinese trials suggest such treatment promotes bone function and decreases the loss of bone mass, thus combating osteoporosis.
Several smaller scale trials in the West, for example 1Cohen et al (2003) also suggest the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating menopause.
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After having surgery and radiotherapy for breast cancer, my consultant prescribed two drugs which created an early menopause. The menopausal symptoms were severe, especially the hot flushes – as many as twelve or fifteen per day and several during the night. The result; depression, tiredness and being continually uncomfortable. My husband suggested I try acupuncture after seeing a lady on TV for whom acupuncture had worked in similar circumstances. The immediate results were quite amazing. The hot flushes became less severe, my general mood improved dramatically and the breast pain I had since surgery disappeared. I highly recommend acupuncture as a complementary treatment for patients recovering from breast cancer.
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I first visited The Sean Barkes Clinic [Clinic of Traditional Chinese Medicine] for help with excessive temperature, hot flushes and night sweats. I was so hot that I had to have a fan on high at night to keep my temperature at a level where I could sleep; even then I would wake up several times a night soaked in sweat. Daytimes were no better as I was constantly red faced and sweating, then when I had a hot flush it got even worse.
I am 44 years old, somewhat overweight (although I am losing weight successfully) and started dipping in and out of the menopause about 6 years ago and am now in full blown menopause.
After my initial consultation, during which a detailed medical history was taken, a course of treatment was recommended and started. Having been warned I would probably feel worse during the two days following my first session I was quite delighted that I started noticing an improvement in my temperature after only a day and a half. The following weeks were quite an amazing journey, my overall temperature has dropped to a level where I can sleep at night without the fan switched on, and during the day I am no longer red faced and sweating. I won’t pretend I don’t still have hot flushes because I do, but now they are really few and far between and are a minor inconvenience.
Over the weeks other things have changed as well; I have had vertigo for years which has spoilt many things for me, now I have been free of vertigo for five weeks and am relishing the freedom I’ve gained. I’ve always been one to appear happy and confident sadly it was all front, however I now have a deep sense of peace and contentment, I’m happy – enough that work colleagues and friends have commented, I have boundless confidence and have regained an enthusiasm for life that I thought was gone forever. I no longer wake up exhausted I have energy to do all those things in life that had become such a chore. To top all this I feel really well for the first time in years.
If I can achieve all this in only a few short weeks then I can’t wait to see what the future holds. One thing I do know I am very grateful to the team at the clinic for helping me in such a profound way.
1 Cohen et al (2003) Can acupuncture ease the symptoms of menopause Holist Nurs Pract. 2003 Nov-Dec;17(6):295-9.
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