Women's Health: Menopause
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Menopause usually begins sometime between 45 –55 and is the result of the fall in the number of eggs in the ovaries. Ovulation becomes less frequent and eventually stops so periods are no longer experienced. During this time the reproductive hormones change. Oestrogen levels fall so that there is virtually none secreted by the ovaries, progesterone levels also fall. This stimulates the brain (via the pituitary) to produce high levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone and Luteinising Hormone. Blood tests to determine if a woman is going through menopause test the concentration of these hormones. Although the type of oestrogen responsible for the menstrual cycle is no longer produced, there is still a form of active oestrogen produced after menopuase. Now the ovaries and adrenals produce androstenadione which is changed to oestrone (a type of oestrogen) in the fat cells of the body. Many women put on weight after menopause possibly in an attempt to produce enough of this oestrogen. Even if other forms of oestrogen are given as treatment after menopause, the body rapidly changes this oestrogen to oestrone.

The medical profession has adopted the attitude that menopause is a disease requiring treatment. The assumption is made that when the ovaries stop producing oestrogen all women must necessarily be deficient in oestrogen and require replacement hormone therapy. Implicit in the idea of oestrogen deficiency is the notion that women need the same level of oestrogen after menopause that they needed in the reproductive years, and that for one third of their lives the body is malfunctioning. But a woman whose body is no longer preparing for pregnancy each month does not need the same high levels of oestrogen that went with the reproductive cycle. Another theory used to explain the physical symptoms of menopause is the rate theory i.e. the symptoms are a temporary reaction to the relatively sudden fall in total oestrogen levels; a withdrawal similar to a drug withdrawal. So rather than a hormonal deficiency it may be more reasonable to talk of menopause as a period of adjusting to changing levels and types of sex hormones which adversely affects some women a great deal, some women not at all, and the majority of women in a mild and transient way. (Lyttleton J, Topics in Gynaecology Part One. Journal of Chinese Medicine May 1990).

During in this period of hormone adjustment and stabilization, women can experience a range of symptoms:

  • Hot flushes and sweating (occur in 70-80% of menopausal women).
  • Headaches.
  • Palpitations.
  • Pain in the joints
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Insomnia.
  • Psychological disturbances (anxiety, irritability, nervousness, and moodiness).
  • Vaginal atrophy

Treatment with Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medicine with its emphasis on balance can help smooth the way in times of adjustment. Acupuncture can relieve the most common symptoms of menopause primarily by regulating the drastic changes in hormone levels women experience during menopause. This leads to a significant decline in hot flushes and an increase in energy, appetite and sense of wellbeing without the harsh side-effects of hormone replacement therapy. Treatment length will depend on the symptoms and disharmonies presented.

Research: Can acupuncture ease the symptoms of menopause?

In a randomized, 2-group clinical study, acupuncture was used for the relief of menopausal hot flushes, sleep disturbances, and mood changes. The experimental acupuncture treatment consisted of specific acupuncture body points related to menopausal symptoms. The comparison acupuncture treatment consisted of a treatment designated as a general tonic specifically designed to benefit the flow of Ch'i (energy). Results from the experimental acupuncture treatment group showed a decrease in mean monthly hot flush severity for site-specific acupuncture. The comparison acupuncture treatment group had no significant change in severity from baseline over the treatment phase. Sleep disturbances in the experimental acupuncture treatment group declined over the study. Mood changes in both the experimental acupuncture treatment group and the comparison acupuncture treatment group showed a significant difference between the baseline and the third month of the study. Acupuncture using menopausal-specific sites holds promise for nonhormonal relief of hot flushes and sleep disturbances.

Reference: Cohen SM, Rousseau ME, Carey BL. (2003) Can acupuncture ease the symptoms of menopause? Holistic Nursing Practice Nov-Dec;17(6):295-9.

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