Menopause is often used to describe the changes a woman goes through towards the end of her reproductive life. Technically, menopause simply indicates the complete and permanent cessation of menstruation, and is declared when she has not had a cycle for 12 months. The period of time leading up to this event is commonly referred to as perimenopause, indicating the transition leading up to menopause. This is also sometimes referred to as the “climacteric” phase, more accurately describing the 2-5 year process of ovarian and hormonal changes that lead up to and surround the time in a woman’s life in which she undergoes the shift from a reproductive to a non-reproductive woman.
It is during this time that women typically experience common symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irregular cycles, restlessness, increased anxiety, poor sleep, hair loss/thinning, dry skin and vaginal dryness. The menopause, or climacteric years do not need to be seen as something to ‘fix’ or ‘heal,’ but rather managed in order to maintain as much comfort and balance in each individual as possible.
Although there are universally shared symptoms, every woman will have a unique process as her body undergoes this process. Some may have very little, if any symptoms, and some may experience more severe physical changes. Some may have more symptoms leading up to menopause, while some women will experience lingering symptoms after they have reached menopause. Some may bleed very heavily, while others simply bleed less and less until they reach menopause. These individual variations are due to several factors including family history, reproductive history, constitution and lifestyle.
According to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) theory, these symptoms typically occur due to a deficiency of yin. Yin energy (water) naturally declines as we age, especially in women. Yin is considered a cooling and moistening substance, so when we are yin deficient, we start to see hot and dry patterns in the body. When the yin is deficient we also see a predominance of yang energy (fire), which is heating and drying, contributing to the common presentation of climacteric conditions. By restoring the deficient yin, we bring balance to the yin and the yang, thus bringing relief from these common complaints, and restoring a sense of equilibrium and nourishment.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs offer a safe, gentle and effective treatment for both the underlying cause (the root, or Ben) and the resulting symptoms (the branch, or Biao) of this natural phase of a woman’s life. It is very effective on its own, and can also safely be part of a treatment plan that includes hormone or other Western medical therapies.
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