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.
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.
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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