MENOPAUSE – A PROCESS – NOT A DISEASE
Dr. Christiane Northrup states in her book, “The Wisdom of Menopause”, that it’s rarely understood or acknowledged that these hormone-driven changes affect the brain, gives us a voice that insists on speaking up and a sharper eye for inequity and injustice. Wisdom and the voice to go with it increases as the hormones used in reproducing are “downsized”. We become refueled and driven again. We need outlets for this drive and action or our health can suffer. We can become “pressure cookers” –something has to give. It can be a renewed sense of us or in the form of illness (heart disease, depression or breast cancer).
There are four stages in life. They come and go, build and release, ebb and flow. They are different from the previous stage. There is always a beginning and an ending. We gain and we lose something along the way. Perimenopause and Menopause are part of this process. Being dragged into it kicking and screaming doesn’t work (I’ve checked with relatives and friends). Preparing for this new stage with ”tough ammunition “ is a good start. Some days may bring problems – they do for 80% of American women. But we are strong; we’ve faced many challenges, big and small on a daily basis. We’ve gotten this far and we have a long road to go. We MAY be at the halfway point of our life.
Just think, all this knowledge and experience and another 40 or 50 years to go! It’s going to happen (Menopause and Life), do we want it to be negative, debilitating, and sad or positive, energizing, enriching, exciting, fascinating, rewarding and marvelous?
In Oriental Medicine we look at life and health differently. There are 4 vital substances, Qi, Blood, Body Fluids, and Jing. Qi is the energy that runs the body. Qi is unlimited but can be deficient or excess. When Qi gathers it’s called life. When it separates, it’s called death. When Qi flows – that’s health, blocked Qi brings disease.
Blood nourishes the body. Blood is much more here than in Western Medicine. Without Blood, Qi cannot “root”. Blood helps with our physical mental and emotional states.
Body Fluids are tears, sweat, urine, gastric juices, synovial fluid around the joints and the fluids that flow around the spinal cord and the brain. These fluids keep our skin and hair moist and alive. Qi moves the Blood and Body Fluids.
Jing is the most vital essence we have during our lifetime. It determines our physical growth and development. The outward manifestation of Jing is our menstrual fluid, semen in men. Jing is the material basis of life formation. We have pre and postnatal Jing. When we are young extra Qi and Blood is stored into the postnatal Jing to be used later on in life. Menstruation is the superabundance of blood produced every 28 days. As life goes on, less Qi and Blood are produced and we start using up our stored Jing. This process takes many, many years.
According to OM, Menopause is a necessary, vital, homeostatic mechanism in our bodies. When menstruation ceases we stop losing blood. The use of prenatal Jing slows down also. This slowing down allows us to hold onto our Blood and Jing and enable us to live out our days. If menstruation continued we would age at a faster rate. So Menopause slows down the aging process. In the Chinese language, the uterus is called the “fetal palace” or the “blood chamber”. It is considered one of the 6 extraordinary vessels. Its purpose is to “store” a baby or blood (menstrual fluid). After age 49 that job is done.
Qi flowing smoothly is the most important aspect of this easy process.
And that is possible, in fact, easily obtainable. Pretend that you are a Christmas Tree. You have 14 strands of lights, some of your lights are bright, some are weak, and some blink, some race and some are not even on! The 14 strands represent the 14 Meridians running through our bodies. They have names such as the Liver, Lung, Spleen, Heart, Kidney, Pericardium, Triple Warmer, Bladder, Gall Bladder, Large Intestine, Stomach, Small Intestine Meridians, Conception and Governing Vessels. Each has a separate job to do and they closely interact with each other in many ways. These Meridians “control” or “support” each other.
YIN and YANG
Yin and Yang describe the world and all that is in it. They represent two opposing concepts, objects, temperatures, flavors, positive, negative, colors and on and on. If it exists it has a Yin and Yang to it.
Examples are hot and cold, up and down, light and dark, male and female, back and front, excess and deficient, health and sickness. day and night.
The 14 Meridians each have a Yin and Yang component (Liver/Gall Bladder).
Qi is Yang, it moves and it moves the Blood, which is Yin. In the Yang, there is Yin and vice versa. It really means that all things need each other to exist.
In the Yin/Yang model of life, hot and cold (and everything in between) are qualities that must stay regulated. One of the most common complaints is hot flashes. They can range from mild sensations to unbearable fiery pulsations that occur every half hour. If this continues the Liver Qi stagnates and turns into Liver Fire. That leads to painful breasts, headaches, red eyes, bitter tastes, a lump in the throat, anger, frustration, depression, bleeding gums, and toothaches. These are the symptoms for just 1 Meridian and there are 13 more! This Liver Qi Stagnation turned to Liver Fire can “invade” the Spleen/Stomach Meridians next. This causes tumors, cysts, prolapsed organs, weight gain, and phlegm. Continuing along the line, the Heart Meridian is invaded. This causes palpitations; memory loss, insomnia, anxiety, and dream disturbed sleep. Next, it invades the Lung Meridian – coughing, sinus congestion. Finally, it gets to the Kidney/Bladder Meridians and may cause urinary tract infections, edema, frequent urination and lack of bladder control.
The extreme heat sensations can dry out the “Blood” and Yin. This creates an imbalance of Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang. Heat rises and the hot flashes occur along with dry, red eyes, irritability, vertigo, and insomnia. These are mostly upper body symptoms because, again, heat rises. Heat is Yang, Cold is Yin. The most common time for insomnia is 3:00 a.m., the “Yin – best of the Yin” time.
We can also compare these heat symptoms to a pot of water boiling over. In OM we describe heavy periods as blood that boils and runs outside the Meridians.
After Menopause is completed our consumption of Yin slows down. We become less hot and we rebuild our Yin. This carries us through the rest of our lives. You may have noticed your Moms and Grandmothers carrying a sweater.
JING DUAN QIAN HOU ZHU ZHENG Or SYMPTOMS
In the United States, 80 % of women have symptoms through Peri-menopause and Menopause. In cultures where women are more respected, there are fewer symptoms. These symptoms do not have to be severe or interrupt our activities of daily living.
Symptoms that can occur with Menopause are insomnia, restlessness, heat/cold sensations, hot flashes, sweats (night and day), bloating, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, dry eyes, memory loss, edema, inability to concentrate, nausea, indigestion, headaches, anger, frustration, sadness, fear, depression, irregular cycles, cramping, breast pain, clots, tumors and cysts.
These symptoms occur when there is a blocked flow of Qi and Blood. The obvious answer would be to unblock this stagnation and that is done with Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine.
How do we determine which Meridians are affected and how do we treat them? Oriental Medicine diagnosing is based on “patterns of disharmony”. These patterns are based on a lot of questions
I ask my patients. I observe your gait, how you move, the color of your skin, your tongue, hair, body odor, and voice. I then take your pulses. We use the 12 meridians and each pulse can be described in 28 different ways. We then discuss your problems. I encourage you to tell me everything; you are not complaining but explaining. When I make my diagnosis it will involve some of the Meridians. The diagnosis may be Liver Qi Stagnation, Kidney Yin Deficiency or Ascendant of Liver Yang. The other Meridians can be involved also. This helps me formulate a treatment plan for Acupuncture treatment, diet, exercise, and Herbal Medicine prescriptions.
Exercise is very important to obtain and keep good health. Studies are showing daily that even moderate exercise prevents disease and slows the aging process. The old adage “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, pertains to everyone. Research shows that moderate exercise reduces the rates of breast cancer. It lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease also. We all know that exercise is important but only a small percent of American women exercise on a regular basis. The most common complaint I hear is lack of time and this comes from women who are “retired”. Housework, pulling weeds, stretching, window shopping, walking the dog, washing your car, Yoga, Tai Chi, swimming, fast walking, gardening, dancing around the house, cleaning out closets are all forms of exercise. It is still beneficial to take a 5-minute exercise break if you can’t work in 20 minutes a day. After a few weeks, you’ll probably notice a desire to spend more time during the day doing the activity you enjoy. Weight Watcher’s International gives points for all of these activities. We need to rethink our idea of exercise. Not everyone can work out at a gym 3 times a week. In our area, there are many fine gyms that only charge a monthly rate. We have Yoga, Tai Chi, and Belly Dancing and Dance classes here with inexpensive fees and times for most busy schedules. You could leave for work 10 minutes earlier and ride a stationary bike without working up a sweat – that’s still more exercise that most women get every day. Exercise doesn’t have to be something you don’t like – it just has to be regularly done.
Exercise keeps us more flexible. My Grandmother was 84 years “young” when she passed away. She had been dancing 4 times a week until a couple of weeks before she died. The Manager at her complex told me that the people who danced every week were in much better health than the ones who didn’t dance. Body fluids are Yin and they keep the tendons, ligaments, and joints moist and flexible. Moving keeps these young.
Exercise also helps relieve stress. Stagnation in OM is the opposite of movement. Exercise moves Qi and Blood and that prevents stagnation. Stagnation causes problems in the physical and emotional aspects of our lives. Depressed people do not exercise and it’s hard to be depressed when you do exercise.
One of the reasons we don’t exercise is the lack of time. Today, we spend so much time on our families, jobs, houses and anything else we can think of doing. We don’t put ourselves first and if we don’t our bodies have a way of falling apart so we do have to take time.
Relaxation, meditation, or prayer time included in our daily life is as necessary as diet and exercise. Getting started and getting it scheduled into our daily life takes planning. Again if you try to spend 5 minutes a day to start with you will be better off than without it.
I found that Yoga is a great relaxing way to get exercise. Also, there are many tapes on the market for relaxing. I play one for 15 minutes before I go to sleep at night.
In the Orient, flowers are used for many purposes. Not just for looking and smelling but as drinking teas. Flowers bring people joy and joy leads to relaxation (QI flow). Wu Shi-Ji wrote, “Enjoying flowers can divert a person from their boredom and alleviate suffering caused by the seven emotions.” The aroma of flowers can help also. Chrysanthemums (Ju Hua) calm the Liver and clear heat rising to the upper body. Roses move Qi and quicken the blood. Other flowers used to calm the spirit are lilies, orchids, and jasmine.
To relieve feelings of heat – take your second finger and press it in the palm of your hand. That is the Acupuncture point P8. Take your other thumb and press it for a minute.
Bend your elbow with the palm facing down. At the crease – apply pressure with your other thumb for 1 minute.
For stress – hold your hand face up. Trace from your 2nd finger down to your wrist. Lay 2 fingers across your wrist – press there for 1 minute.
Rub between your eyebrows for 1 minute
Tap the top of your head with all of your fingers for 1 minute.
Li Shi-Zhen of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) wrote: “Tai yang”(literally, supreme yang but is the name for the Sun), is true fire. “Without fire, heaven is not able to engender things and without fire, people are not able to live”.
The Yang Qi in the body is a moving, driving force. It needs to be replenished daily. In Florida, we do get enough of the sun just by going to our cars and into buildings. If you feel that you don’t get 15 minutes daily try to sit outside before 11:00 a.m.
During our rainy season leave your room lights on. Dreary days tend to make us feel tired.
To assist the Spleen and Stomach Meridians in digesting your food, the following guidelines are practiced in Asia.
1. Eat mostly cooked foods
2. Eat easily digested foods (not fried food)
3. Eat grains and vegetables, fruits, eggs
4. Eat small amounts of meat
5. Avoid cold and limit raw foods
6. Limit dairy products
7. Be careful with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and spicy foods
8. Limit caffeine, alcohol
9. Limit preservatives
10. No iced drinks (it makes “steam” inside)
Foods that are cooling are barley, asparagus, apples, bananas, celery and lettuce, beef, cantaloupe, broccoli, buckwheat, cabbage, clams, crabs, grapefruit, watermelon, wheat, mung bean sprouts, potato, plums, radish, spinach, squash, tofu, green tea, sweet potato,
Foods that calm the spirit are rice, wheat, mushrooms, and oysters
There are many vitamins and minerals needed for daily life. A good basis multiple with added Vitamin C, B’s and E is important. Some people may need extra calcium. Nutrition is NOT a “one size fits all.”
It’s very important to find a professional to help create the right plan for your needs.
BACH FLOWER REMEDIES
There are 38 different flower remedies. A practitioner can put together a formula just for your needs. Some of the common ones for Menopause are:
1.Walnut for changes
2. Mimulus for known fears, nervousness
3. Impatiens restores calm and peace
4. Larch helps with self-confidence
5. Crab Apple for negative feelings about image
6. Olive for tiredness
7. Impatiens for irritability
8. Gentian for depressed feelings
Rescue Remedy is excellent for any stressful situation.
Herbs are used as medicine in most of the world. Caution and care need to be used in self- medicating. Please consult a Herbalist. You will need a formula that will address your needs. One size DOES NOT fit all when it comes to Herbal Medicine. Homeopathic medicine works wonders also.
The more useful herbs for menopause are Wild Yam, Black Cohosh,
False unicorn root, Sage, St. John’s Wort, Chaste Tree, Rehmannia.
Do NOT discontinue your prescription medicines or add herbs without consulting your medical doctor or healthcare professional.