Understanding Menopause: A Women's Midlife Journey
Kayla Perry, M.S.
CLINICALLY REVIEWED BY: DR. SARAH ANZOLA
Menopause is a normal physiological event that generally occurs between the ages of 48-55 years of age. This stage is brought about by hormonal changes and marked by the cessation of menstrual cycles. As the body transitions, women will often notice changes in their periods and randomized ovulation patterns, cluing them in to the shift that is underway. If the period is absent for a minimum of twelve consecutive cycles, menopause is considered to have taken place.
Perhaps the most easily recognizable symptom of menopause is hot flashes. Hot flashes are uncomfortable, intermittent periods where the body’s core temperature suddenly rises. The body then tries to cool itself off by dilating blood vessels to release heat. This leads to a hot sensation in the upper body, such as the head, neck, and chest, followed by perspiration. The hot flash may end with chills. Hot flashes that occur at night are called night sweats. Night sweats can disrupt sleep, leading to insomnia, fatigue, a foggy mind, and irritability.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), menopause is a normal part of a woman’s life associated with the body’s natural cycle and the aging process. According to classical Chinese Medicine literature, women age in cycles of seven years. Around the time of the seventh seven-year cycle (49 years of age), menopause takes place. The main TCM organ associated with the menopausal processes is the Kidney, which is the foundation of the body and the root of yin and yang. Yin (quiet, cool, dark, material) and yang (moving, warm, bright, action) ideally exist in harmony, balancing and refueling each other. During menopause, the Kidney yin and yang may become unsynched or depleted, leading to some of the unpleasant hormonal symptoms, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
4 Different Types of Menopause
The following is a brief overview of some of the most common TCM patterns associated with menopause. Note, your exact diagnosis may be different from or a combination of the following, and other TCM patterns may be present for you. Your TCM practitioner will evaluate your personal situation and come up with an individualized treatment plan accordingly.
Kidney Yin Deficiency: This is perhaps the most common of the TCM diagnoses in respect to menopause. As Kidney yin becomes depleted, this substance is unable to hold or control the yang. As a result, signs of heat become apparent, such as hot flashes, flushed skin, night sweats, dry mouth, and/or constipation. Because the body is lacking in yin, other symptoms may become apparent too, like poor memory, a weak or sore back, and vaginal dryness. Acupuncture and herbal treatment for this diagnosis focuses on nourishing Kidney yin to bring yin and yang back into harmony.
Kidney Yang Deficiency: While Kidney yang deficiency can be the primary diagnosis seen with menopause, this pattern often follows a prolonged Kidney yin deficiency. Because yin and yang can transform into one another, a yin deficiency can eventually result in a yang deficiency as well. A Kidney yang deficiency can manifest as pale skin, cold limbs, a feeling of being chilled, fatigue, loose stools, and urinary incontinence. Soreness of the low back or knees may also be present. TCM treatment for this diagnosis focusing on building up Kidney yang to naturally warm the body and restore proper Kidney function.
Liver Yin Deficiency: This is another TCM pattern that is often associated with Kidney yin deficiency. The Liver and Kidney are classically said to come from the same source, with the yin of the Kidney nourishing Liver yin. A yin deficiency of one organ can lead to a deficiency in the other. Symptoms associated with a Liver yin deficiency include dizziness, blurry vision, dry eyes or nails, a headache felt on the top of the skull, and a tendency towards anger or irritability. Treatment for this pattern usually focusing on tonifying both Liver and Kidney yin to balance yang and restore body fluids.
Kidney Essence Deficiency: In TCM, essence is described as the body’s foundation and what is inherited from one’s parents. This material is the source of human life and is the basis for all of the TCM organs and body functions. Essence is closely linked with our genetic make-up, individual development, skeletal system, and reproduction. Kidney essence deficiency may manifest as dental problems, decreased bone density, poor memory, early menopause, sexual dysfunction, and/or becoming fatigued easily. This condition is addressed by using acupuncture, herbs, and/or other techniques such as moxibustion to build up and restore Kidney essence. Kidney essence can also be replenished by getting plenty of rest and with food therapy.