Every woman you know is going to experience menopause. Some of us do it smoothly without too much difficulty, but those women seem to be the minority. A majority of women will at some point, generally between the ages of 45 and 55, have to deal with the uncomfortable array of symptoms that characterize our “change of life”. These include; hotflashes, nightsweats, loss of libido, fatigue, increased dryness in all areas of the body, insomnia or some degree of sleep trouble, and especially emotional sensitivity. That’s a terrible list of symptoms when you consider that most women are guaranteed to manifest at least some of them! Why do we get these symptoms? What are our options for dealing with them?
The question of why we get these symptoms has different answers depending on which point of view we take. From a traditional Western scientific point of view a woman’s ovaries have simply aged. As they produce fewer young eggs to mature this causes the menstrual cycle to become irregular. Eventually the hormone cycle that causes ovulation doesn’t happen and so the amount of estrogen in the blood drops off. The fact that the estrogen in the blood has decreased dramatically is what then gives rise to the hormonal fluctuations that cause so many of those aggravating symptoms. For the last several decades the treatment strategy of Western doctors has been hormone replacement therapy (HRT). From this standpoint, the loss of estrogen is seen as a problem and replacing it makes sense. But what if it is appropriate and natural that women run out of estrogen and stop being fertile? We are finding that after several generations of women have taken these hormones that excessive estrogen in the system can greatly increase the chance of all sorts of cancers! This is not an ideal answer to the problem.
From an Oriental medicine point of view menopause is simply a natural part of women’s lifecycles. Asian women do not have anywhere near as traumatic a time with menopause as we do. They simply take herbal supplements and go forward with their lives. Interestingly, the Oriental medicine theory as to why women have menopausal symptoms is similar to the Western view. Yin and yang are two of the fundamental ideas in Oriental medicine. Yin is everything cool, dark, heavy, and has substance while yang is everything warm, bright, light, and electric. These two forces balance one another and keep everything in check. Women are more yin in nature and we slowly lose yin over our lifetimes, especially when we have our periods since blood is a yin substance. At first these two forces are equal in the body but as women age, and have less yin, the yang appears to be in excess. The main symptoms of menopause support this idea. Hotflashes and nightsweats are both expressions of unbalanced yang rising and bringing heat up to the surface of the body. Treating menopause with acupuncture and herbs is fairly straightforward; you need to nourish the yin of the woman. Some women respond more quickly than others but generally symptoms can be greatly diminished within a month or two.