Menopause is the natural termination of the menstrual cycle, lasting from a few months to years. The average woman experiences menopause at approximately 51 years, and it usually occurs between the ages of 40 to 55, at around the same age as the woman’s mother began menopause. Common physical symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, urinary problems, and headaches. Menopause is also characterized by emotional symptoms such as sudden mood changes, depression, irritability, insomnia, and nervousness.
During this time of hormonal and energy fluctuation, menopausal complications reduce the quality of a woman’s life and result in uncomfortable or even debilitating symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy is the standard Western treatment for menopausal difficulties; however, estrogen supplements have been linked to undesired side effects and increased health risks. Traditional Chinese medicine offers an alternate way to reduce menopausal symptoms through diet, herbal remedies and acupuncture.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Offers an Alternative
According to Chinese medicine, imbalanced interaction between kidney yin and yang leads to difficulties during menopause. The theoretic framework of yin-yang is used to explain aspects of the human body as well as to guide diagnosis and treatment. Women may have yin or yang deficiencies that affect how they experience menopause.
The kidneys are viewed as the central organs responsible for controlling other bodily functions, and kidney yin and yang deficiencies lead to certain associated menopausal symptoms, with different treatment existing for each type. Symptoms of yang deficiency in menopause may include tiredness, lower back pain, incontinence, and aversion to cold. Symptoms of yin deficiency (the far more common type) include hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and irritability.
Nutrition for Menopause
Some common foods that help build yin for yin-deficiency type menopause include wheat germ, mung bean, seaweed, cucumber, millet, black bean, tofu, kidney bean, barley, black sesame seed, and royal jelly. Women should follow a low-fat, high-fiber diet. In addition, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and reducing stress are all important. Chinese medicine can effectively and quickly treat symptoms such as hot flashes through many herbal formulas, commonly including dang gui (Chinese angelica) and yi mu cao (motherwort). Thus, traditional Chinese medicine can alleviate menopausal symptoms without the risks of hormone replacement therapy.
About the author:
In addition to her thirty years of acupuncture and Chinese herbal experience, Dr. Qiao “Chelsea” Xu has also practiced qigong and yoga over twenty years, utilizing concepts from these practices in her treatments. She offers treatment in pain management, female and digestive disorders, allergies, asthma, and stress. In her spare time, she likes to practice qigong, taiji, and meditation.
Kirsten Hurder-Karchmer was teaching linguistics at the University of Texas when she began having some serious auto-immune health issues. After seeing several medical doctors and having surgery she turned to AOMA faculty member Jamie Wu for acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments. Amazed by the results, Kirsten started looking into acupuncture as a career choice. She recalls, “I was already a teacher and thought that to be a good doctor, it required a great deal of patient education, so it seemed like a good match for me.”
Kirsten states, “I was instantly interested in gynecology because I saw that when you regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle, so many other problems are also resolved.” Upon graduation from AOMA in 2000, she was invited to help open the first women’s clinic in the AOMA professional clinic with faculty member Dongxin Ma. In 2001 Kirsten opened her current business in Austin, the Texas Center for Reproductive Acupuncture (TCRA), where she and her team specialize in infertility, ovulation disorders, and recurrent pregnancy loss. Success led to additional locations in San Antonio and Plano. Kirsten said, “Last year alone the clinic in Austin saw 220 patients, had 159 pregnancies and only 4 miscarriages. That is less than a 4% miscarriage rate in a risk population that should be more around 40%.”
The Austin and San Antonio clinics are fully integrated with western medical doctors, operation and recovery rooms, and technology such as ultrasound machines. In the Austin center Kirsten and her team collaborate with reproductive embryologists and urologists to help couples create families, and with Reproductive Medicine Associates of Texas to conduct research. Kirsten says, “We are currently conducting three large scale studies on the effects of acupuncture on in vitro fertilization (IVF), acupuncture anesthesia for oocyte retrieval or egg collection and recurrent pregnancy loss.” This research will be collected and published in the scholarly journal Fertility and Sterility in the next year or two.
Kirsten furthers her mission to change the face of health care through membership in the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine, doing research and developing training at one of the most successful reproductive acupuncture clinics in North America. She is becoming a leader and pioneer in her field of recurrent pregnancy loss. Her tip for success is, “The more I learn Western medicine the better I understand Chinese medicine. We can pioneer a new kind of medicine, but acupuncturists have to learn as much or more, if they want to integrate, than most doctors.”
After thoroughly studying OB/GYN and reproductive embryologist medical texts, Kirsten has been able to strengthen her ability to communicate with medical doctors and overlap Eastern and Western medicine. This deeper understanding has allowed her to build some amazing relationships with the physicians in her field. She responds, “Now they come to us when they get stuck for a bit of voodoo opinion.” Dialogue with medical doctors has helped Kirsten to speak in layman’s terms about Chinese medicine to make it more accessible to people of all backgrounds.
In conjunction with Dr. Francisco Arredondo, Kirsten and her team plan to open the nation’s first fully integrated center for underserved women experiencing recurrent pregnancy loss. The Hope Center will open in Austin and San Antonio in 2012.