by Kaitlan Downes, MSAOM
Hot and Bothered? Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Help
Night sweats, hot flashes, irritability…sound annoyingly familiar? If you are one of the nearly 31 million women in US alone who experience overwhelming symptoms of menopause, this might be a typical day-in-the-life. Many women notice remarkable changes when they reach menopause, and for some this transition is both physically and mentally straining. This shift can cause symptoms that range from slightly uncomfortable to unbearable.
Many women in the West dread menopause. Perhaps we witnessed our female family members struggle through this time or have come to expect a difficult transition through health magazines or talk shows. We worry about the medical inconveniences of menopause, like hormone therapy, or are saddened by this sign of aging.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views menopause a bit differently (and more positively) than we tend to do in the West. Rather than a burdensome change, the Eastern view holds menopause as a gateway to woman’s rebirth. After the spring and summer of adolescence and the childbearing years, menopause offers a time of rest, relaxation, and focus. Women can step back from the heavy care-taking role and step into a more self-focused season.
Menopause can mark a time of beautiful change and discovery. Many women return to school or take up a new project around this time. Others may find new friends or yearn to travel. The wisdom we gain in our youth leads us to more opportunity to develop our passions more fully after menopause.
It can be difficult, however, to enjoy this transition or even consider taking up a hobby when you are suffering from severe menopausal symptoms. Hormone fluctuations can make this a miserable time for some women, and can even lead to more serious health concerns for others.
Fortunately, Chinese herbal medicine offers a wide range of herbs and formulas that can help ease this transition, moderate or eliminate symptoms, and improve your general quality of life. Making a smooth transition through menopause can help to prevent further illness later on as well as prepare you for generally better, more graceful aging.
Do You Suffer From Hot Flashes & Night Sweats?
Hot flashes and night sweats are one of the most common symptoms of menopause. Biomedicine explains these changes as shifts in the body’s hormone balance – specifically the drop in estrogen. Treatment often involves the use of hormone therapy to change the way the hormones are produced and balanced in the body.
Traditional Chinese Medicine also understands the link between hormones and body temperature (i.e. hot flashes and night sweats). The goal with Chinese herbal medicine, however, is to correct the underlying issue of why the hormones have become imbalanced.
To some extent, these hormone shifts are completely natural and expected. As we age, our hormone levels change to account for the different needs at different stages in our development. Around menopause, we no longer need the same balance of sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone that we once did.
For some of us, however, these imbalances shift dramatically and fluctuate wildly as the body tries to adjust. This causes a slew of menopausal issues, including hot flashes and night sweats. The most typical reason this would occur according to Chinese medicine is yin deficiency.
Yin deficiency is a pattern of imbalance in which the body’s cooling, nutritive resource (yin) falls below the necessary level for vibrant health. Mild yin deficiency can be seen in issues like dry skin or thin frame. In the case of menopausal hot flashes and night sweats, the body doesn’t have enough cooling yin to balance the normal heat of the body. This results in a build up and quick release of heat (flushes or sweats) to keep the body in homeostasis.
Best Overall Chinese Herbal Remedy: Liu Wei Di Huang Wan
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan is an overall nourishing formula. This formula’s strength lies in boosting yin throughout the body. Not only does it alleviate these hot symptoms, but corrects the heart of the issue: yin deficiency. Because of the wide-reaching effects of this formula, it can be used to help with symptoms like low back pain, dryness, thirst, dizziness, and lightheadedness in addition to other menopausal symptoms.
Extra Hot: Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan
Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan has been used for centuries to help reduce the intensity and frequency of heat symptoms. Because the herbs in this formula are particularly suited to clearing heat in addition to building up yin, it is best for women who have signs of intense heat such as red face, high blood pressure, irritability, and severe hot flashes.
Best for Night Sweats: Da Bu Yin Wan
If you tend to have more severe night sweats (waking up drenched one or more times per night) you may consider trying Da Bu Yin Wan or taking this in addition to Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan.
Do You Suffer From Insomnia?
Yin is responsible for more than just temperature regulation in the body; as a counterpart to active, moving yang, yin is also needed to return the body to a state of stillness and quiet. During menopause, with a drop in restful yin, we may have trouble with falling or staying asleep. Dream-disturbed or light sleep is also a potential issue during menopause.
Without the balance of yin, restless yang energy can build up and leave us wide awake or with intense dreams. Furthermore, our bodies cannot retreat into a deep, restorative sleep which only worsens the problem.
Best Chinese Herbal Remedy for Insomnia: An Shen Bu Xin Wan
An Shen Bu Xin Wan is a deeply calming formula that helps to relax the heart and support the connection between the heart and kidneys. This formula nourishes and relaxes the mind, eases anxiety and restlessness, and soothes the spirit.
Do You Suffer from Anxiety & Depression & Mood Swings?
During menopause, and even before or after, it is common for women to have changes in their moods and emotions. Many women actually experience anxiety-like symptoms due to the hormonal and physical changes in their body, but don’t realize that it is connected to menopause.
Anxiety and depression are often caused by a deficiency in blood, qi, and yin. Without a good balance of these substances in the body, organs and systems (including the heart and brain) cannot be properly nourished and emotional imbalance occurs.
Because menopause often implies a drop in the yin/blood aspect of the female body, women going through menopause can be quite susceptible to anxiety, depression, moodiness, sadness, or anger/irritability. To help restore the body and mind back to its healthy state, we need to boost and nourish from the root.
Best Chinese Herbal Remedy for Anxiety and Depression: Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan
These two conditions are usually due to a deficiency state. As yin becomes depleted, the calming and relaxing effect it has starts to diminish as well. This leaves us with a sense of fear, worry, or emptiness.
The classic menopause formula, Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan, is a great choice for those who experience anxiety and/or depression during menopause. It is a great overall formula to help with the discomforts of menopause (like hot flashes and insomnia), but because it nourishes and calms, it also helps to ease the mind and heart.
You can pair this formulas with Fu Fang Wu Wei Zi if you specifically have trouble with anxiety causing sleeplessness at night. Alternatively, use this formula if you feel your menopausal symptoms are mostly mental, and lack any signs of heat like hot flashes or night sweats.
Best for Irritability or Anger: Jia Wei Xiao Yao Wan
One of the most popular and effective formulas for tension and irritability is the Free and Easy Wanderer Pill, Xiao Yao Wan. When dealing with an elevated level of heat in the body, as with menopausal irritability and mood swings, the enhanced Jia Wei Xiao Yao Wan is the best choice. This formula helps to smooth out the emotions, while clearing excess heat and nourishing yin to help restore mental calm.
Do You Suffer From Dryness?
Dryness is an uncomfortable symptom of menopause and can show up in different ways. For some women, vaginal dryness is the biggest and most troublesome sign as it can greatly interfere with daily comfort and a healthy sex life. Other women notice stark changes in the quality of their skin, hair, and nails. Others may notice a constant dry throat, nose, mouth, or intense thirst.
Best Chinese Herbal Remedy For Dryness: Gu Ben Wan
The best Chinese herbal formula for dryness, especially associated with menopause, is Gu Ben Wan. Gu Ben means “nourish the root” and that is exactly the goal of this formula. Gu Ben Wan is a deep yin nourishing formula that cools, supplements, and enriches the nutritive resources and fluids in the body. This helps to disperse fluids throughout the body to moisten and protect areas like the vagina, mouth, eyes, and skin. It has the added benefit of also helping with hot flashes, irritability, anxiety, and insomnia when due to a lack of yin.
Not everyone experiences “typical” symptoms in menopause. Some women may find that they do not experience hot flashes, increase or erratic energy, or insomnia, but an overwhelming sense of fatigue, soreness, coldness, frequent urination or incontinence, or dizziness.
In this case, yang has fallen out of balance rather than yin. We need to support the qi and yang in these cases and this is best done with You Gui Wan, AKA Yanourish. This formula helps to boost and support the active, warming energy of the woman to bring her back to life.
Embrace Change, Live Fully
Change is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. The best way to navigate the journey through menopause is to seek balance and relief in any natural way possible. Chinese herbal medicine has helped women revive themselves through this transition for millennia, without the use of hormone therapy or drugs.
Along with supplementing with Chinese herbal medicine, consider taking other steps to truly engage with your menopause journey. Meditations, journaling, and creative endeavors are wonderful ways to connect deeper with yourself. This is an amazing time to dig back into any pastimes or hobbies you left behind while raising children or perfecting your career. Try out a new skill, read more books for fun, engage with a new community, or spend more time in nature. Connect to the world around you and embrace the changes. Grow into the wise, powerful woman you have become!