Chinese Herbs That Help Control and Manage Menopause Symptoms

Management of menopause, which has a rather confusing and complex array of symptoms, can be facilitated with the use of Chinese herbal medicine, a healing modality that draws on the basic axiom that all things move or change. The flow of Qi (pronounced chee), the life force that animates and invigorates the organs and the body relies on the equilibrium maintenance between the complementary and yet opposing forces Qi: Yin and Yang. The development of illness is a sign of an underlying imbalance between Yin and Yang and a disruption in Qi flow.

There are twelve main organ-meridian systems in Chinese herbal medicine that are responsible for the health of the entire body. One of the most important of these meridian systems is the one related to the Kidney due to the fact that it stores Qi (also called Kidney energy or Jing) – much like electricity that is stored in a battery – and is where the opposing forces of Yin and Yang come from that normalizes Qi’s ‘ebb and flow’ through all the other organ-meridian systems.

In menopausal women, the Kidney organ-meridian system’s importance lies in its control of various parts of the body including fluids, hormones, inner ear, urethra, teeth, kidneys, skeletal structure, adrenal glands, the ovaries, and other substances produced by kidneys, adrenals, and ovaries as well as the physiological functions of reproduction, growth, and fluid balance during all ages.

Menopause – Signs and Symptoms

When menopause begins, it usually starts to occur when a woman reaches 45. This is typically the time when only a few primordial follicles remain in the ovaries that help an egg or ovum mature. As a result, the body does not produce enough progesterone and estrogen for a normal monthly cycle.

The first indication of menopause can be a change in a previously regular period. This can either be a missed period, a change in length or volume; sweaty palms, excessive sweating, or clamminess; commencement of hot flushes; aggravation or development of pre-menstrual symptoms (headaches, breast pain, fluid retention, etc.); mood changes including depression and anxiety; cramping and numbness in the legs especially at night; changes in the skin (dryness and reduced elasticity especially of the vagina resulting in painful sexual intercourse); loss of sexual desire; changes in body shape; and joint pains.

Chinese Herbal Treatment of Menopause Symptoms

The management of menopause in Traditional Chinese medicine deals with the balancing of Yin and Yang and restoration of Jing or Kidney energy to beef up the functions of various organs and tissues controlled by the Kidney organ-meridian system. In Western medicine, this strategy aims to

• Support healthy bone integrity
• Offset vaginal and skin dryness
• Improve genital sensitivity and sexual vitality
• Alleviate joint pain, palpitations, fatigue, mastalgia, dizziness, and headache
• Resolve mood swings, mild anxiety, insomnia, and irritability
• Reduce excessive sweating and hot flushes and normalize hormone function

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)

This herb is high in isoflavonoids and phytoestrogens which have beneficial health effects during menopause. Kundzu can help stop bone loss and reduce hot flushes. Its extract has estrogenic effects on the vaginal tissue that restores vaginal epithelial (membrane) integrity and relieves vaginal dryness and painful intercourse (dyspareunia) in postmenopausal women.

Anemarrhena asphodeloides

This herb is replete with steroidal saponins that enhance hormone function. It can be used as a Kidney Yin tonic to providing nourishing (tonic), moistening (muscogenic), and cooling benefits to decrease excessive perspiration and hot flushes, fortify the adrenal glands, and lubricate the vagina. After the menses have stopped, Anemarrhena asphodeloides can basically take over the role of hormone producer from the ovaries.

Morinda officinalis and Epimedium sagittatum

Both are Kidney Yang tonics. When used together they reinforce Yang. They have hormone regulating qualities that help bring back sexual vitality, psychological motivation, and physical drive. Morinda officinalis and Epimedium sagittatum are both urogenital tonics and considered as aphrodisiacs that besides helping dispel sexual disinterest also resolve urinary incontinence and bladder weakness. As an adaptogen, Morinda strengthens the body’s resistance to stress. Deemed as biphasic, Epimedium helps tonify Kidney Yin while stabilizing the Yang to prevent it from blazing upwards causing flushing and heat in the upper body.

Angelica polymorpha

In Chinese herbal medicine, this herb is one of the widely used and is especially important for women’s health conditions. Angelica polymorpha is also known as ‘female ginseng’ because it harmonizes Qi and invigorates and nourishes Xue or Hsue (meaning ‘blood’) which is especially important in the treatment of low vitality or fatigue, recovery from childbirth, pelvic pain, and dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation). It has been shown that Dong Quai is best used when it’s combined with other herbs. It is particularly potent for patients with Yin deficiency, as what typically happens in menopause (frequency and magnitude of hot flushes).

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Menopause Treatments and Drugs

Menopause has about more than 30 symptoms associated with it. Some of the more common ones include memory lapses, osteoporosis, depression and hot flashes.  Medications and other treatments are available to help relieve and remedy them.  Since menopause is not a disease but a natural phase in a woman’s life, the signs and symptoms of menopause are the ones targeted by these treatments.  There are three approaches in treating menopausal symptoms and the use of drugs is the last approach. Medications are only given to those suffering from severe menopausal symptoms. What kind of symptom is manifested, its regularity and the degree of its severity will prompt the physician to give the right form of treatment which are non-medicinal treatments first then finally medicines if the earlier approaches don’t work.

Drugs and other therapies for menopause are made to lessen and/or relieve the symptoms and other conditions that may come as you advance in age.  These medications always come with side effects, though, that are usually several and severe. When you consult with your doctor regarding your menopause symptoms you may need to discuss the side effects of these medicines as well.

Some of the treatments and drugs used in the treatment of menopause symptoms include:

  • Vaginal estrogen – This is a drug used to relieve dryness in the vagina. Forms of this medication are usually in cream, ring or tablet form. Vaginal estrogen can also be used to lessen or treat certain urinary symptoms.
  • Selective estrogen receptor modulators or SERMs – One specific drug called Evista (raloxifene) helps in enhancing the density of the bone of women after menopause. One benefit of this drug compared to estrogn therapy is that they carry no side effects that estrogen therapy has.
  • Hormone replacement therapy – By far, hormone replacement therapy is the most popular form of therapy in the United States.  HRT provides quick responses to menopause symptoms but it does have serious side effects and risks one of which is the likelihood for cancer. HRT is the fastest way to get rid of hot flashes.
  • Bisphosphonates – Bisphosphonates are needed by postmenopausal women who are susceptible to osteoporosis. These drugs include Boniva (ibandronate), Actonel (risedronate), Fosamax (alendronate). These drugs help prevent the risk of bone fractures and bone loss.
  • Clonidine – Available in patch or pill form, this is a drug that helps regulate blood pressure but it has also been shown to lessen the frequency of hot flashes.
  • Gabapentin – Neurontin is one popular brand of this drug and is also effective in minimizing hot flashes. This drug is primarily used to prevent seizures.
  • Seizure drugs – For postmenopausal women, these drugs are utilized to limit the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
  • Mild sedatives – Also used to treat hot flashes.
  • Blood pressure medications – For hot flashes.
  • Low-dose antidepressants – Effexor (Venlafaxine) is one effective antidepressant that treats hot flashes. Other types of this drug like Zoloft, Celexa, Paxil and Prozac among others are useful in treating hot flashes as well as menopausal depression in women.

Alternative Treatments

  • Acupuncture – Some women who have not successfully resolved their postmenopausal symptoms through medications and other conventional approaches have found relief from them using acupuncture therapy. Women who also have a predilection for opting for natural treatments can be helped by acupuncture for their menopause symptoms especially the hot flashes.  Acupuncture was developed by the Chinese thousands of years ago and deals with the energy in the body called chi that provides strength, wellness and vitality in the human body. Energy pathways where chi travels throughout the body are called meridians. Oftentimes, some of these meridians develop blockages preventing chi to nourish and vitalize the affected organs causing illnesses and pain. Acupuncture works by inserting needles into the blocked meridians and removes the blockages or re-channels the flow of chi to restore normal flow to the organs. Acupuncture is effective in limiting the frequency and severity of hot flashes and in depression during and after menopause.
  • Plant estrogens – These include isoflavones and phytoestrogens and they are usually found in flax seed and in soy supplements and beverages. Plant estrogens are useful in the control of hot flashes.

    Vitamin E – Some experts believe that taking a regular dosage of 400 international units of vitamin E aids in lessening the frequency and severity of hot flashes in women with menopause.

  • Black Cohosh – Black Cohosh is a commonly used phytoestrogen in the US and Europe and is very helpful in the alleviation of hot flashes. It can also aid in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, bone fracture and breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Black Cohosh is not that effective in treating menopausal symptoms though if the female is experiencing surgical menopause instead of natural menopause.

    Herbs – There are so many available herbal remedies and tea offered in the market for the alleviation of menopause symptoms. These include:

    • Vitex agnus castus – 175 mg everyday
    • Ginseng – 100 – 500 mg thrice daily
    • Evening primrose oil – 500 mg 3 -4 times everyday
    • Dong quai – Half a gram to a full gram each day

Dietary supplements for the relief of menopause symptoms are:

    • Wild yam
    • Chasteberry
    • Licorice
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – Scientists have just recently discovered that these types of fatty acids are useful in curtailing the incidence of hot flashes among postmenopausal women. They also provide these women protection against cardiovascular diseases. One particular type of omega-3 fatty acid called Ethyl-Eicosapentaenoic Acid (E-EPA) not only controls hot flashes in postmenopausal women but also helps counteract the depression of these women.

 

Brent Keime is a licensed acupuncturist and the founder of Brent Keime, LAc, MSTOM in San Diego, CA.

Menopause – Preparing for your Appointment

If you come ready, confident and prepared for your doctor’s appointment, you’ll be able to get as much useful information from your doctor as you can.  To prepare for your appointment, there are several ways to do it.  Here are some of them:

  • Know your own outlook for support and relief for your menopause symptoms – This can mean keeping the means of relief and support as natural as possible.
  • Write down in a journal or diary a list of things to discuss with your doctor during your appointment – This can be the ways to address potential problems during menopause
  • Write down or remember your lifestyle habits – This means you need to be as honest as possible with your doctor. If for example, you are a cigarette smoker, often drink alcohol or eat lots of sugar regularly, you need to let your doctor know. Never water down any facts or information about yourself. Doctors often give the best treatment for their patients when they are given truthful information by their patient.
  • Write down in the journal/diary your symptoms and how you are feeling – your physician will most probably ask you these questions:
    • When did you first start noticing your symptoms?
    • Have the symptoms improved or got worse since you first noticed them?
    • Describe to me your symptoms
    • What medications and products have you used to seek relief?

When you come in for your appointment make sure you bring your journal/diary with you. Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed of things about you that your doctor may need to know to better understand your condition. Use your journal/diary if they contain answers to some of your doctor’s question. You can tell your doctor upfront that you are willing to make changes in your lifestyle if that means the treatment of your symptoms. This will help you and your doctor to easily solve your menopausal problems. If you are willing to change your diet into a healthier and more balanced one and if you are also willing to perform certain exercises regularly, that will lead to a quicker resolution of your symptoms.

You need to ask questions if you do not understand the information your physician tells you. Let him know that you need to completely understand every bit of information he gives you. You can record what he says in a tape recorder or write down information in your journal/diary.

You’ll probably talk to your primary care provider first who may then refer you to a gynecologist.

In preparing for your doctor’s appointment, you can monitor and record the symptoms and signs of your perimenopause/menopause and your menstrual cycles for several months. This will give you a better perspective of the changes your body is undergoing during perimenopause and have important information to give your doctor.

In your journal/diary record your menstruation periods for a few months and include also the initial and final date of bleeding for your menstrual period. Indicate whether the bleeding was light, mild or substantial. Write down all the symptoms you have noticed and also all of your premenstrual symptoms. List down all the supplements and medications (over-the-counter and prescription) you are taking.

Some of the questions you can ask your doctor can include:

  • Am I going through menopause or not?
  • Are my bleedings due to menopause or from some other condition?
  • What other changes in my body do I need to expect?
  • Do you consider hormone therapy a good way to address my menopausal symptoms?
  • What can I do to stop or minimize my hot flashes?
  • What physical activity or diet modifications can I make to stay healthy and minimize my symptoms and/or complications from menopause?
  • Can you recommend alternative therapies such as acupuncture or herbal medicines to help treat my symptoms?
  • What other means can I avail of to feel more comfortable?
  • How can I prevent or treat my osteoporosis?
  • What do I need to do to lessen the risk for cardiovascular diseases?

Questions your doctor may ask

To better understand your perimenopausal/menopausal phase, your physician may ask you certain questions. These can include:

  • Do you still get periods of menstruation? If yes, describe them (are they light, moderate or heavy?)
  • What kind of symptoms do you experience?
  • How long have you experienced these symptoms?
  • Have these symptoms been distressful for you?
  • Do you take supplements and/or medications for your symptoms? If yes, what are they?

Alida van Heerden is a licensed New York acupuncturist and a NADA certified acupuncture detoxification specialist.