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Writer-s-Bloc

Yin, yang of menopause

By Michael Côté

Menopause is said to occur when a woman has not had a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months.

It is a natural part of aging where the body starts producing less estrogen and progesterone, although it can also be brought on by chemotherapy, hysterectomy, or a hormonal insufficiency.

Common symptoms for women transitioning into menopause are irregular periods, hot flashes, poor sleep, insomnia, night sweats, and emotions like anxiety or grief.

Because menopause is a natural and healthy part of aging, it doesn’t require medications.

Hormone replacement therapy, low dose antidepressants, or other medications may be prescribed to manage chronic conditions that are associated with this stage of aging.

In Chinese medicine, the natural aging cycle for females generally follows multiples of seven.

  • Teeth start to change around seven
  • menarche occurs around 14
  • wisdom teeth sprout around 21
  • physique is robust around 28
  • the face starts to show signs of aging around 35
  • hair begins to turn white around 42
  • menstruations stops by 49 

This often varies by about five years in either direction and is perfectly normal and healthy.

If you start getting hot flashes or cold flashes, night sweats, insomnia, or other complications, that’s when you would seek out treatments. 

In Chinese medicine, the goal for any health problem is seek harmony of yin and yang.

Yang basically means the presence of the sun and all that it represents like warmth, activity, and movement.

Yin means the absence of the sun and all that it represents like cold, inactivity, and fluid.

In allopathic medicine this harmony is called homeostasis. The ancient Chinese described this concept of homeostasis thousands of years ago using the words yin and yang.

In simple terms, if you’re too warm, and getting hot flashes, we need cool you down, so we will choose acupuncture points or herbs that are more yin in nature.

If you’re too cold, and get cold flashes, we will choose herbs and acupuncture points that are more yang in nature.

This means that if a woman experiences hot flashes, we will often suggest that dairy, alcohol, sweets, coffee and red meat be reduced or eliminated from the diet because they are quite yang in nature.

In Chinese medicine, we also try to determine which organ system, if any, could have better communication with the rest of the body.

This communicating function of organs is known as qi.  Most commonly, if a woman experience hot flashes, the kidneys and liver system are not communicating as well as they ought to, as is often the case with yin deficiency.

A patient I will call Louise, for example, gave me permission to share her experience. Louise came to me complaining of hot flashes.

She’d already seen her family doctor and had ruled out ovarian cysts, cancer, and thyroid problems, but she was getting severe hot flashes and night sweats.

The night sweats would awaken her at night and she would have wet sheets and pyjamas.

She didn’t want to try hormone replacement therapy yet, so she came to me.  Louise didn’t smoke, but she would have a glass of red wine each night with dinner, and four to six cups of coffee each morning.

Louise’s pulse was rapid, thready, and weak. Her tongue was red and dry with cracks. This was a typical case of kidney-yin deficiency.

Because she wasn’t taking any prescription drugs, I prescribed Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (a traditional formula for kidney yin deficiency), did some acupuncture to nourish kidney yin, and recommended that she reduce her coffee and wine intake.

Two weeks later, after taking the herbs consistently and having had four acupuncture treatments, she reported that her night sweats were more manageable as she no longer had wet sheets or pyjamas at night and her hot flashes were less severe.

If she doesn’t have too much coffee or wine, it will probably take Louise another two to three weeks before the hot flashes are reduced even further. 

Every person is different, so for someone else, it might take fewer treatments and no herbs, or herbs only and no acupuncture; it could take longer depending on the individual case.

There are about 27 different underlying causes in Chinese medicine that someone can get hot flashes at peri-menopause or menopause. 

I hope this gives you a glimpse into the Chinese medicine perspective on health and the ways that it can make a good adjunct to allopathic care.

If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to book a consultation or treatment, please contact me at the Okanagan Acupuncture Centre at 1625 Ellis St. in downtown Kelowna.

Michael Côté, R.TCM.P is a registered practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Useful links:

For a summary on the research on acupuncture and Chinese medicine for menopausal symptoms, see the British Acupuncture Council website.

In B.C., the person making the Chinese medicine diagnosis, selecting the acupuncture points, or prescribing herbs should be registered with the CTCMA.

In depth information on the herbs and syndromes in Chinese medicine can be found on this website.

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