Not long ago, I sent my sister a care package. It wasn’t packed with brownies and cookies and other goodies to eat. Her care package had only one thing; a Chinese herbal formula to treat the night sweats that are waking her several times every night.
How you experience menopause is different from every other woman. Your family history, physical and psychological makeup and overall health all play a role in whether or not you will have menopause symptoms or sail right through unaffected. Your views of aging and menopause, and those of the people around you, may also shape your experience. Over the past 50 years, with the availability of hormone replacement therapies, women have had the option of treating the discomforts associated with menopause medically. The upshot of this practice is that menopause if viewed by some as a disease or hormone deficiency, with hormone supplementation required to reestablish a healthy balance.
Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine offer another paradigm in which to consider the experience of menopause. They understand that signs and symptoms associated with menopause are indications of some kind of imbalance deep within the body. In general, imbalances are years in the making, and physiological events, such as adolescence, childbirth, or menopause, magnify the imbalance and result in symptoms. With menopause, underlying imbalances can certainly affect your symptoms.
So what’s out of balance if you’re struggling with hot flashes and/or night sweats? Well, it could be a couple of things. First, your Essence could be depleted. Essence is one of the most important substances in your body and provides you with the energy you need to power all the functions of life. As you age, Essence slowly becomes depleted. This depletion causes many of the common signs of aging, such as gray hair, thinning bones, weakness in your back and knees, memory loss, and fatigue.
Depleted Essence can also cause menopause symtoms, too; here’s how: Essence is similar to estrogen, in that Essence is responsible for puberty, fertility, libido, and menopause. During menopause, Essence drops dramatically, and this loss can create an imbalance that is associated with a wide variety of symptoms. A common problem is that when Essence is depleted, it may lose the ability to keep Yang in check. Yang is the active and warming energy in your body, and when it flares unchecked, you may feel that warmth in the form of hot flashes or night sweats.
Another common scenario for women who are struggling with menopausal heat is an imbalance between Yin and Yang. If Yang is hot and active, Yin is the opposite; cooling and rejuvenating. In many ways, Yin is similar to Essence in that it is restorative and nourishing. During menopause, Yin also tends to drop, causing Yang to flare up and make you feel hot. The heat associated with this drop in Yin is frequently felt at night, which is the cool, restorative, and quite time of day–just like Yin. Against the backdrop of night, the active heat of Yang is more pronounced, resulting in night sweats.
It’s important to mention that stress can aggravate your heat symptoms. That’s because strong emotions, especially stress, have the ability to make your energy stagnate. Similar to a car engine seizing up without oil, your stress, anger, or frustration creates heat.
An untreated depletion of Essence or an imbalance between Yin and Yang will ultimately cause symptoms. So what can you do? First, you can protect your Essence through good diet, sleep, and balancing your work with rest. An over-the-top lifestyle, such as working long hours, late nights, and too much sex, drugs, and rock and roll will, in time, deplete your Essence.
You can also address depleted Essence or a Yin/Yang imbalance through acupuncture and Chinese medicine. After a complete evaluation, you acupuncturist will develop a treatment plan to address your specific imbalance(s). She can incorporate the use of acupuncture with herbs, diet, stress relief, and lifestyle changes to balance your body and alleviate your symptoms to help you sail through menopause in a natural and drug-free way.