Autoimmune Disorders ·
Pregnancy related conditions ·
Skin Disorders ·
Treatment of Menopausal Disorders
By Netta M. Hart
Licensed Acupuncturist, NCCA
Many women in mid life are eventually faced with the decision of whether or not to begin hormone replacement therapy. We can find ourselves confused or uncertain regarding what to do or where to turn for reliable advice. There are several issues regarding ongoing health during menopause and varied approaches. In this two part series, my colleague Dr. Terry Vanderlinde explained the allopathic approach to menopausal health (see July 2001 issue) while this article presents the Traditional Chinese Medical approach.
Menopause is essentially the ending of menstruation. According to Western medicine, natural menopause is described as the phase in a woman’s life when menstrual function ceases due to age related ovarian decline. This process usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 50 years. Around age 50, a woman’s ovaries eventually stop production of estrogen and progesterone despite hormonal stimulation from the pituitary gland.
Although this process of menopause may be symptom free, at least 75% of women experience the most common symptom - hot flashes. Other related problems include night sweats, insomnia, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, depression, anxiety, palpitations, urinary frequency and or incontinence, vaginal dryness, vaginal irritation, reduced sexual desire and back pain.
Since Western medicine sees menopausal symptoms as essentially a lack of estrogen, their prescription is obviously estrogen replacement. Estrogen or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is very effective and well tolerated by many women. However, we now know that there can be serious side effects. So what is available for those women who cannot or choose not to take estrogen replacement?
There are clear benefits to HRT since hormones are crucial to our well-being and youthfulness. Estrogen has a strengthening effect on our entire being including organs, blood vessels, muscular system, bones, heart and skin. HRT can eliminate or reduce hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, vaginal dryness, anxiety and depression. Various herbal preparations are also very effective for these symptoms and are free of side effects. The question remains as to whether these herbal formulas can protect our hearts and our bones.
Until recently, clinical interest in these herbal preparations has been limited to practitioners of natural medicine so that little money has been available for research. A major pharmaceutical company has bought the patented herbal formula “Remifemin” and has continued to make it available without a doctor’s prescription. You have likely seen it advertised on TV. Remifemin is a formulated version of the herb “Black Cohosh” and is a powerful hormone balancer. It was formerly available primarily at health food stores and is now sold in most drug stores.
Black Cohosh, also known as Cimicifuga Racemosa and black snake root is derived from the plant’s root system. According to “Prescription for Nutritional Healing” by Balch and Balch, (a resource I highly recommend) it has a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system and is used to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Black Cohosh induces labor, helps with menstrual cramps and associated back pain and relieves menopausal symptoms. It is also helpful for snakebites and arthritis.
New Chapter is another company that offers a formula called “Estrotone”. It is a combination of herbs including Black Cohosh. This formula can be effective for all menopausal symptoms and I recommend it to many patients along with a natural multi vitamin and a highly absorbable calcium supplement, such as calcium/magnesium citrate for skeletal integrity.
Chinese Medicine understands menopause as a decline of kidney function.
Kidney energy in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is responsible for many things including growth, maturation, reproduction and bone density and strength. Therefore, abundant kidney energy is required to support ovarian and hormonal function. During the middle years for men and women alike, kidney energy begins to decline causing reduced overall organ function and for women, a decline in ovarian function. A generalized “drying out” of the entire system follows as wrinkles and teeth problems (bone) appear, muscles lose their firmness, and mucosa and sexual function diminishes. This is known in TCM as “Kidney yin deficiency”. It is a pattern of diminished fluids (dryness) and therefore increased heat (hot flashes). With aging, it is a natural, albeit often uncomfortable, process.
This process can be likened to a desert: little moisture and excessively hot.
Kidney yin deficiency in men can manifest as impotence, premature ejaculation, hot hands and feet or heat flushes in late afternoon. This pattern is often accompanied by low back pain, leg weakness, insomnia, and irritability and bruising.
In women, we see typical menopausal symptoms. Excessive dryness and heat upsets the system on all levels and that is why menopausal symptoms range from hot flashes to emotional upset and insomnia. Fluid is the largest part of blood content and quality blood is required for emotional ease and restful sleep.
A number of Chinese medical herbal formulas have been developed to address this heat/dryness condition. One such formula is “Quiet Contemplative” produced in the US by Jade Herbal Pharmacy. In their formulations guide written by Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, a leading herbalist of Chinese Medicinal, he states that this formula is derived from one of China’s most important tonics for the Yin, and is designed to increase and mobilize the Kidney Yin’s power to moisten, soften, stabilize, and root life. When the gentle tendrils of a person’s being have become withered, movement and sensations tend to be brittle, rough, shaky and unstable…it is used when a person lacks the graceful, responsive and contemplative qualities of a gentle stream. It is used when one is agitated, unsettled or nervously uneasy…and a choice prescription for fear that is accompanied by withdrawal and the desire to run away…Whenever the process of growing, maturing and aging is not graceful, this formula can be helpful.
This is a wonderful formula for menopause as it nourishes the body’s fluids, cools heat, tonifies the blood, relaxes the spirit and strengthens kidney function. It does not contain Black Cohosh or soy products. Quiet Contemplative addresses symptoms of aging on many levels for women and for men. It is a strengthening and tonifying formula without nasty side effects and is a tonic for our spirits as well as bodies. It is also highly effective.