Every good thing comes to an end, I like to say; and that applies to our reproductive capacity, too. But that doesn’t mean life after menopause is a complete drudgery and not something to look forward to. Au contraire!
What’s in store?
Actually, many women are looking forward to the freedom and stability the ending of their menstrual cycles can provide. The transition from pre-menopause and perimenopause to menopause and post-menopause can be a rocky ride and bring various discomforts along. The litany of signs and symptoms ranges from the well-known hot flashes and night sweats to physical manifestations like dryness, wrinkles, weight gain and loss of muscle mass to mental and emotional changes like forgetfulness, insomnia and anxiety/depression. Once we’re past menopause, our risk of experiencing serious conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breast cancer, as well as osteoporosis also increases.
Women in industrial countries enter menopause at an average age of 51 years, but it’s not uncommon to occur several years earlier or later. Technically, you’ve reached menopause once you haven’t had a period in 12 months. But the years leading up to and following menopause are also part of this transition, the cessation of menses is just the most obvious sign. Some women go into sudden menopause due to medical or surgical procedures, often in connection with cancer therapies.
Your body rearranges itself
It’s important to remember that menopause is a natural process, not a disease. Your body goes through a transition that’s mostly preprogrammed in your genes. So, knowing what your mother or older sisters experienced can give you a hint of what to expect. Still, your own experience may turn out to be very different. Your genes are not the only ones that have a say. Your lifestyle is the counterpart of your genetic information and can determine how your genes are expressed (epigenetics) and manifest in your body. Lifestyle comprises everything from where and how you live, what you eat, what medications (including hormonal contraceptives) you take, your toxin and radiation exposures, all the way to your mindset, attitude, and your social connections.
All these areas of your lifestyle can either help to ease your journey or make it more difficult. As pretty much always, appropriate wholesome nutrition and smart stress management are fundamental strategies that you can tackle, enlisting guidance and support as needed. Other areas in your life, like your job, your family, or where you live, can feel like they’re out of your control. Sometimes, the best you can do in this case is try to change your attitude and perspective.
Conventional medicine has very little to offer to women going through the transition other than prescriptions of synthetic (or so-called bio-identical) hormones and other pharmaceuticals to address cardiovascular conditions, metabolic dysregulation or bone loss, as well as mental health concerns. None of these drugs have the capacity to heal you and may instead cause a range of uncomfortable or worrisome side-effects. Hopefully, you can avoid getting on that slippery slope.
Looking at the transition through a different lens
Everything I’ve said so far may be old news to you, so I want to shift gears and introduce you to the way East Asian medicine has traditionally looked at women’s reproductive health, and the transition into menopause specifically, and how doctors in this field support the health and resilience of their patients with botanical medicine, nutrition therapy, acupuncture and advice on exercise and lifestyle strategies.
Classic texts describe a woman’s lifecycle in seven-year phases, once she’s reached seven times seven, at about 49 years, her Ren Mai and Chong Mai (two of the extraordinary vessels governing Yin and reproduction, according to Chinese medicine) are empty, Tian Gui (heavenly dew) is exhausted and her menses will stop. This is a natural progression, not a disease. The symptoms manifesting during perimenopause and menopause are signs of Kidney Jing (essence) depletion, appearing as Kidney Yin, Kidney Yang or dual Kidney Yin and Yang deficiency. Any of these energetic deficiencies can combine with, or perpetuate, excess conditions like Dampness, Phlegm, and stagnation of Qi and Blood.
According to Chinese medicine, these conditions are caused by lifestyle factors like overwork, too many childbirths in close succession or late in life, chronic illness, poor or inappropriate nutrition, excessive worrying and other emotional imbalances. The understanding is that a woman who is able to live a healthy and energetically well-regulated life during her reproductive years should expect to have an easier transition into menopause than individuals who experienced considerable stress on all levels of their lives. While this probably doesn’t bear out in every single case, I can confirm that most women who’ve reached out to me for help during this phase in life admit that they’ve had more on their plates than they could chew.
How to get there
As a Chinese medicine doctor and naturopathic practitioner, I always start with a comprehensive health history to understand a woman’s background and environment before focusing on individual symptoms such as hot flashes, dryness, loss of libido, weight gain, sleep, memory and emotional problems. I will weave all this information into a diagnosis that describes the symptom picture and etiology in coherent language, leading to our treatment principles and resulting herbal prescription formulas, acupuncture protocols, supplements, along with recommended nutrition and lifestyle changes.
Deeper changes take time, they depend to a large extent on your commitment and compliance with treatment recommendations, so we will be working together for several weeks or months for optimal results. You should expect that your symptoms will gradually ease and your energy and vitality improve. Once you’ve weathered the storm, you may find yourself feeling more comfortable and optimistic than before you approached your perimenopause and menopause.
© 2021 Christiane Siebert