How Acupuncturists Treat Menopause and Its Symptoms
By Alicia Shulman, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac
Key Takeaways from this article:
- East Asian medicine views menopause as a natural part of the aging process
- Menopause does not have to be symptomatic
- Acupuncture works to bring the body back in balance, thereby easing symptoms
- Dietary & lifestyle advice: omega-3 fatty acids, herbal infusions, and energy medicine
Acupuncturists and Doctors of Oriental Medicine view menopause as a woman’s normal physiological transition to a nonreproductive stage—a natural course of aging.(1) In fact, Linda Joy Stone, OMD, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., proposes that menopause slows the aging process by conserving the body’s vital essence that would normally be lost each month.(2)
Rather than considering it as a hormonal deficiency, acupuncturists characterize menopause as a decline in Precious Essence and a corresponding increase in yang energy. Precious Essence is a form of energy that the Chinese call prenatal energy, which is stored in the kidneys, and it bestows elasticity and strength to the tissues, regenerative properties to the body, and enhances fertility and libido.(3)
If we take care of ourselves, the menopausal years can be a time of great vibrancy, enjoyment, and productivity. Once their cycles have ceased, many women find that they have more energy, have a clearer sense of who they are and what they want, and they find it easier to speak their minds. Lesley Tierra, L.Ac., writes: “This can be a rich time, and deep inward direction can come out of it.”(3)
According to East Asian medical theory:
- Kidney yin deficiency is responsible for the most common menopausal symptoms: thinning hair, reduced menstrual periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, dizziness, tinnitus, itchy skin, insomnia, and joint soreness.
- Liver qi stagnation produces the symptoms of emotional unease such as nervousness and irritability, as well as constipation, palpitations, and insomnia.
- Blood deficiency may present as dizziness, hot flashes, dry skin, insomnia, and also emotional unrest.
- Uprising deficient heat is associated with severe symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats, emaciation, and dizziness, nervousness, and irritability.
How Acupuncture Supports Menopausal Symptoms
Menopause does not have to be symptomatic. The acupuncturist’s goal is always to bring the body and its systems into balance, and thereby reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms. Your practitioner will diagnose your personal imbalances by questioning you about your symptoms and lifestyle, taking your pulses, and examining your tongue. Common treatment strategies for menopausal symptoms include supporting the kidneys, clearing stagnation from the liver, promoting blood flow and volume if necessary, and clearing any signs of excess heat in the body.
As holistic practitioners, acupuncturists usually make dietary recommendations to support women through their transition. These generally include:
- Eliminating stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol, as well as refined foods such as flours and sugars, and processed foods such as fried foods.
- Foods that support the body during menopause include whole grains, dark leafy greens, lots of cooked vegetables, seaweeds, and small amounts of fish and animal protein.
- It is important at all ages to make sure our intake of essential fatty acids (EFAs) is balanced. Most people who eat a standard American diet are deficient in omega-3 EFAs and consume too much omega-6 and omega-9 EFAs due to the consumption of seed oils and grain-fed animal meat. Flax seed oil is one of the riches sources of omega-3 EFAs and also of lignans, a type of beneficial phytoestrogen. Flaxseed, which is best consumed ground, is one of the best sources of dietary fiber. If you buy flaxseed pre-ground, make sure it is golden flaxseed, as the dark seeds go rancid too quickly to be of value. Fish oil (and particularly krill oil) is another great source of omega-3 EFAs.
- Herbal infusions are powerhouses of nutrients that support women’s bodies during all stages of life. Two of my favorites for menopausal women are (1) nettles (Urtica dioica) for their ability to support the adrenal glands, increases energy, help prevent night sweats, build blood, and soothe the liver; and (2) oatstraw (Avena sativa) to strengthen the nerves, ease emotional distress, promote sound sleep, and assist libido. (Eating stone-ground oats is another way to benefit from this plant.) For loads of information about herbal infusions and their benefits, read Susun Weed (www.susunweed.com/).
- Acupuncturists often encourage patients to eat seasonally. This means including more raw, cooling fruits and vegetables in the warmers months and more cooked, warming foods in the cooler seasons.
Another Form of Energy Medicine
Although acupuncture is one form of energy medicine, there are many others. One of the country’s foremost experts on energy medicine is Donna Eden, whose book Energy Medicine for Women contains valuable information and exercises anyone can do to help support their health and energy on a daily basis. A multitude of Donna’s videos can be found on YouTube for free.
Research that Supports the Efficacy of Acupuncture and TCM for Menopausal Symptoms
A mounting body of published literature supports the efficacy of acupuncture and Chinese herbs for managing the symptoms of menopause. A small study conducted in China found that the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine together was as effective as hormone therapy in treating the symptoms of menopause.4 Other studies have suggested that acupuncture alone is more effective at controlling hot flashes than herbal therapies.(5) Furthermore, a qualitative study published in 2009 concluded that women who receive acupuncture treatment for hot flashes may experience many more benefits than reported by the outcome measures in clinical trials.6 Finally, a pilot study of acupuncture versus sham acupuncture found that not only did acupuncture significantly reduce the severity of the subjects’ hot flashes, but it also lowered their levels of LH and raised their levels of estradiol compared to the effects of the sham treatment.(7)
- Maciocia G. Obstetrics & Gynecology in Chinese Medicine. London; Churchill Livingstone. 1999.
- Cunningham D. The Moon in Your Life—Being a Lunar Type in a Solar World. Weiser Books; Revised edition (March 1996)
- Griffin J. Menopause from the Chinese perspective. The Spirit of Ma’at. http://www.spiritofmaat.com/archive/jun2/chinese.htm. Accessed June 5, 2017.
- Azizi H, Liu YF, Du L, et al. Menopause-related symptoms: Traditional Chinese Medicine versus Hormone therapy. Alt Ther Health Med. Jul/Aug2011;17(4):48-53.
- Nedeljkovic M, Tian L, Ji P, et al. Effects of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine (Zhi Mu 14) on hot flushes and quality of life in postmenopausal women: results of a four-arm randomized controlled pilot trial. Menopause. 2013 May 13. [Epub ahead of print].
- Alraek T, Malterud K. Acupuncture for menopausal hot flashes: a qualitative study about patient experiences. J Alt Compl Med. Feb 2009, Vol. 15 Issue 2, p153-158.
- Sunay D, Ozdiken M, Arslan H, et al. The effect of acupuncture on postmenopausal symptoms and reproductive hormones: a sham controlled clinical trial. Acupuncture in Medicine. Mar 2011;29:1:27-31.