A couple weeks ago, I came across a female patient struggling with Menopause. When I explained to her that it is a transition she is going through in response to her body’s declining ability to reproduce, her response was: “So this is God’s punishment for women becoming useless?”
I understand her sentiment. For many women, Menopause can be a rather frightening and frustrating rite of passage that feels like a punishment commonly fraught with insomnia, eruptions of volcanic-like hot flashes, headaches, inexplicable mood changes, vaginal dryness, lowered libido, lack of focus, and trouble with memory. These are just a few of the many unpleasant symptoms a woman may experience during this phase in life.
Still, Eastern medicine has a very beautiful view of Menopause, and sees it as a positive change in a woman’s life rather than a punishment.
In traditional Chinese Medicine there is a vessel called the Bao Mai, in which the heart sends blood and Qi down to the uterus. There is also the Bao Luo, in which the kidneys send essence (substance) to the uterus. Together, the Bao Mai and Bao Luo allow for the blood lining to be formed in the uterus. This creates a hospitable environment for a zygote (fertilized ovum (egg)) to take root and develop into a fetus.
Eventually, when a woman reaches the phase when her reproductive abilities are exhausted (each woman only has a finite number of ovums that can be fertilized), the Bao Mai (connection between heart and uterus) changes its course. Instead of sending blood down from the heart to the uterus, the Bao Mai reverses the direction of its flow, sending essence picked up from the kidneys to nourish the heart. The heart is where a person’s Shen or “spirit” resides. So instead of preparing the uterus for the growth of a baby, the body’s Bao Mai sends these resources to the heart to nourish a woman’s spirit.
At this stage, a female becomes the “wise woman,” or the “mother of her community.” Menopause should not be viewed as a loss of youth or purpose, but rather as a time for gaining wisdom and greater spiritual awareness. However, in the midst of the Bao Mai changing its course there is an insufficiency of blood and essence (Yin). Yin and Yang are interdependent. The heavy quality of the body’s Yin helps anchor Yang. As the Bao Mai re-orients itself, this lack of Yin struggles to anchor Yang. When Yang is not properly anchored, its energy can lose control and flush upward. Un-anchored Yang may manifest as hot flashes, headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, hypertension, palpitations, insomnia, and anxiety. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
The average age of menopause is 51 years old, but with premature ovarian failure it can start before the age of 40. The Menopausal pathoconditions mentioned above can start before menses stops and last anywhere from several weeks to decades after the permanent cessation of menstruation. Even though Western Medicine and many women consider menopausal difficulties to be a natural and unavoidable part of menopause, just as the belief that PMS and pain are a natural and inevitable part of menstruation, this is simply not true! These discomforts indicate an imbalance in the body and can be treated naturally and effectively with a combination of Acupuncture, Herbal therapy, and lifestyle modification. Hormone replacement therapy increases one’s risk of breast and uterine cancer. The safer alternative of bio-identical hormone therapy has yet to really show its efficacy. Studies show that Chinese herbal therapy like the herb shan yao (mountain yam) and the formula Er Xian Tang are just as effective if not more effective than bio-identical hormone therapy. They’re safer too. Check out this study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22314633
If you are a woman who is struggling with menopausal symptoms, please know that it is not a punishment for you to endure alone. As an Acupuncturist and Herbalist, I’m here to help, and as a fellow female I’m here to offer a little guidance and moral support.