Menopause Symptoms: Natural Treatments
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
The female reproductive cycle begins during the teen years and declines around the fifth decade of life. The ovaries gradually reduce their production of female hormones, such as estrogen, as a natural biological process. The end result of this decline is the cessation of menstruation. Known as menopause, this process affects every woman, though some experience a higher degree of discomfort than others.
Without the beneficial effects of estrogen, women are at a higher risk of developing medical conditions such as cardiovascular and degenerative bone disorders. As estrogen production declines, the body’s hormonal balance is lost, resulting in menstrual irregularities, hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, and memory impairment. Some women may also experience cold hands and feet, insomnia, loss of skin elasticity, weight gain, and urinary and vaginal changes.
Western medicine has traditionally recommended hormone replacement therapy (HRT), with both estrogen and progesterone. However, after some results of the landmark Women’s Health Initiative were published in 2002, the use of HRT dropped significantly, and breast cancer rates dropped dramatically the following year. Studies are still in progress, but experts believe that reduced HRT use resulted in the lower occurrence of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer.
Estrogen and other hormones represent the yin, or the substance aspect, of the body. Hormones are primarily associated with the essence of the kidney-bladder network. The decline of the kidney essence over time affects the formation of blood, bones, and body fluids, producing symptoms of dryness, aging, and bone degeneration.
Chinese medicine has long recognized that the human body is highly regenerative. By providing the right nutritional foundation and supporting glandular functions, all biological substances - including hormones- can be naturally restored without replacement. This is a basic tenet of the Taoist art of longevity. The key to dealing with bodily decline is to address it early, during perimenopause, before menopause sets in. With an appropriate diet, lifestyle, and exercise regimen, and by using acupuncture and herbal therapy to support healthy glandular function, the passage through menopause can be smooth and even empowering.
A patient who came to see me about five years ago for mood disorders is representative of the many women I see who are going through menopause. She had been put on antidepressants and antianxiety drugs by her psychiatrist but was still having symptoms. She wanted to get off the medication. I never recommend that a patient go off any medication without checking with the prescribing physician, so I called up her psychiatrist and worked out a therapeutic program that he agreed with. As I began treating her, I noticed that she had started to show perimenopausal symptoms. Within two months, she developed hot flashes, insomnia, palpitations, anxiety upon waking, and weight gain, and her mood took a turn for the worse. I knew that unless we turned our attention toward regeneration, her mood wouldn’t improve. As I worked on her menopause issues with acupuncture and herbal therapies, I spoke to her about the concept of Second Spring. Menopause is a pivotal junction in a woman’s life. The loss of childbearing capability can represent freedom for a woman for the first time to live her life as she wants to. Typically the first half of a woman’s life is devoted to family and does not belong to her. By menopause many women’s familial responsibilities have been substantially fulfilled, making it an opportune time for a woman to reestablish her personal and sexual identity. The process can be very empowering. I counseled my patient on changing her diet, lifestyle, and even career choices. She is now past menopause and has lost most of the weight she gained, is symptom free, and is happily pursuing a new career. Moreover, she has been off the psychotropic drugs for more than two years, with the blessing of her psychiatrist.
The following suggestions are those that I give my patients who are nearing or going through menopause.
• Diet should include ample leafy green vegetables for their mineral content;
Favor nuts, seeds, and their oils; rich supplies of essential fatty acids;
Favor lean protein sources including fish, egg whites, shellfish, and poultry;
Eat beans and legumes for their abundant supply of natural phytoestrogens- Mother Nature’s hormonal supplement.
Eat a large variety of foods to ensure the broadest nutritional support.
Stop smoking and eliminate alcohol,
Eliminate dairy products, coffee, sugar, deep-fried, fatty foods, and processed, refined foods.
• Make your own trail mix, including almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, dried cranberries, prunes, and goji berries, or any other combination of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. Their high content of antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and fiber helps provide nutritional support during menopause, and they are good for memory too.
• Cook up some Second Spring Chili, with beneficial phytoestrogen-rich beans and legumes: 1/2 cup each soy, black, kidney, navy, and adzuki beans, with 1 can tomato paste, 4 cups chicken stock, 4 cups water, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 5 chopped garlic cloves, and 1 chopped onion. Cook for 2 hours and add water as needed. Feel free to adapt the recipe to use your favorite beans, vegetables, and spices. • Make a juice from cucumbers, celery, watermelon, and apples to relieve hot flashes.
• Essential fatty acid supplements, including fish oils (1,000 milligrams EPA; Boo milligrams DHA), evening primrose oil (450 milligrams GI.A), flaxseed oil, and borage oil are helpful for reducing symptoms of menopause.
•Vitamin B complex and vitamins C (1,000 milligrams), and E (Boo IU) can help you cope with the changes, especially mood swings, of menopause.
• Vitamin D (Boo IU), calcium (1,000 milligrams), magnesium citrate (500 milligrams), boron (10 milligrams), and zinc (50 milligrams) can help support bone health during menopause.
• DHEA (1 gram) is a precursor nutrient for the production of hormones in the body.
• Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to www.askdrmao.com.
• Black cohosh, red clover, evening primrose oil, saw palmetto, and valerian are herbs used to help cope with menopausal symptoms.
• A tea made from motherwort, mulberry, sesame, zizyphus, and Chinese senega supports healthy menstruation and calms the spirit.
• A formula from our family medical tradition called Passages Plus helps provide support for my menopausal patients. It includes herbs traditionally used in Chinese medicine for healthy hormonal function, such as wild yam, rehmannia, dong quai, epimedium, fermented soybean, conch shell, zizyphus, gardenia, alisma, peony root, and other Chinese herbs.
Regular physical exercise has been clinically proven to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. I recommend a 30- minute walk every day combined with the Eight Treasures Qi Gong mind-body exercise. One section of the practice that I often use with my patients, known as The White Crane Strengthens Its Vital Force, helps strengthen vital energy and support menopausal changes. Do the sequence twice daily for optimum results.
In a quiet, comfortable environment, preferably outdoors, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, spine erect, tailbone tucked in, and head tilted slightly forward. Drape your arms at your sides, with your shoulders relaxed.
Begin with rhythmic, slow, and relaxed breathing. Inhale deeply but softly, and imagine the breath extending all the way down to the lower abdomen, about two finger-widths below the navel. Exhale gently and softly. Stay in this position for 7 breath cycles, relaxing and calming your mind. Now, begin the exercise: On an inhale, raise your arms to your head, placing your palms behind your head and interlocking your fingers.
Exhale, and bend forward at the hips while gently pushing your head down with your interlocked hands. As your head reaches the lowest point, move your hands over your head and extend them to the ground in front of you, keeping your fingers interlocked. Push your extended hands down toward your feet, touching the tops of your feet. Inhale, and grasp the backs of your ankles with both hands, pulling your bent upper torso toward your legs. Touch your nose to one knee, if possible. Exhale, release your grip on your ankles, and gently rise up with your hands in front of you and your palms facing the ground.
Repeat the above sequence 3 times.
This exercise should be gentle, smooth, and rhythmic.
Don’t overstretch or force the movement. If you’re unable to touch your nose to your knee, just bend as far as you can.
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• Find the acupoint Forceful Torrent (KID-3), in the depression between the inner anklebone and the Achilles tendon of the right foot. Apply steady pressure with your right thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left foot. This point benefits the urinary system and strengthens the kidneys.
• Find the acupoint Three Yin Crossing (SP-6), four fingerwidths above the inner ankle of the right foot. Apply steady pressure with your right thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left foot. This point benefits the kidneys and helps strengthen the yin energy.
• Nicotine, coffee and alcohol; their use has been shown to worsen menopausal symptoms.
• Stress and emotional upset, which can cause an adrenaline rush that heightens hot flashes and sweats.