Reclaiming Personal and Sexual Identity During Menopause
Menopause signifies the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It is estimated that 1.3 million women in the U.S. will reach menopause each year between now and 2010 when that number doubles, and a total of about 60 million women will have experienced menopause by then. The majority of women end their menstruation between the age of 48 to 52, but uncomfortable symptoms of peri-menopause or pre-menopause can begin as early as forty and last until fifty-five years of age. A woman may notice that her menstrual cycle starts to be different from what it used to be—slight irregularity, increased breast swelling, abdominal bloating, mood swings, sweets cravings and low energy. As she gets closer to the actual menopause, the cessation of her menstruation, the symptoms may become more extreme such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, decreased libido, headaches, insomnia and moodiness.
When the menopause phase is finally over a woman needs to be concerned about the consequences of a decrease in the various essential hormones of her body, mainly estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for maintaining the health of her bones and the elasticity of her blood vessels and skin. Osteoporosis and heart disease are two conditions most emphasized by the medical community, but quality of life issues such as weight gain, dry and wrinkled skin and mucus membranes, thinning and loss of hair, lower vitality, decrease in sex drive and mood swings can become very difficult for many women.
Current Western medicine offers Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which may be useful for some women whose uterus and ovaries have been removed. However, many women have been wary of the potential side effects of hormone replacement therapy including the increased risk of certain cancers. Their fears were abundantly justified when a recent study concluded that a popularly prescribed synthetic estrogen and progesterone pill can cause increased risks of breast and reproductive cancers as well as a danger of blood clots while offering no protection against heart disease. The study was halted immediately because it was apparent that the risks were too great to continue. It is important if you or any one you know is contemplating using HRT to consult a gynecologist for advice on its risks and benefits
For many women, the need for relief from symptoms during and after menopause remains paramount and an increasing number of them are turning to and finding answers in Chinese Medicine. From very early on in its five thousand year history, Chinese Medicine has had a specialty focused on women’s health. Therefore, solutions have been devised for centuries that effectively deal with the symptoms of menopause and the aging process. They include acupuncture, dietary therapy, herbal therapy, meditation and energy exercises.The termination of menstruation means the ending of a woman’s biological obligation to procreate.
At around age 50, this time also usually coincides with the completion of a woman’s child-rearing duty. With her familial obligations mostly fulfilled, she is now freer to pursue her life and personal dreams. Further, by this time, she has acquired tremendous life experience and wisdom that will allow her to fully blossom into who she is in the second half of her life. What an important and powerful time this change brings on! No wonder the Chinese call menopause “A Second Spring!”
We strongly believe that a menopausal woman should be empowered with the knowledge to make choices and decisions about her body and her life. At Tao of Wellness, we have a health program that tailors individually to each woman’s needs during her change of life. We also ask our patients to help themselves with the following during peri-menopause and menopause:
A diet rich in minerals will prevent osteoporosis. Dark, leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes are helpful. Soy in particular has been found to contain phyto-estrogen which is helpful in reducing hot flashes and night sweats and protecting against heart disease. Tofu, made from soy, has additional calcium which is excellent for bone health.
Spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, beet greens, lettuce, parsley, soy, black beans, lima beans, navy beans, mung beans, lentils, split peas and adzuki beans.
A diet rich in essential fatty acids and omega 3 and 6 oils is important in preventing heart disease. In particular, taking a tablespoon of flax oil daily will help maintain elasticity of the blood vessels, increase tissue lubrication and protect against reproductive cancers.
Salmon, sea bass, halibut, tuna; nuts and seeds such as walnuts, sesame, pine nuts, sunflower seed and flax seed.
Adequate protein is also important in providing ingredients for hormonal production in one’s body. Chinese medicine believes that Lamb is especially excellent for nourishing the hormone glands (endocrine system).
Fish, organic chicken, turkey, ostrich, lamb and beans.
It’s important not to neglect grains and fiber. Many women are afraid that if they consume grains and starchy foods, they would gain weight. It’s a matter of quantity and timing. Chinese medicine believes that small portions of cooked whole grains and starch such as potato should be eaten best at dinner for its beneficial fibers and minerals that are helpful to lower cholesterol and prevent bowel cancer. Further, these carbohydrates burn quick and clean, leaving no excess accumulations behind and helping one’s sleep.
Oats, millet, buckwheat, brown rice, barley, rye, amaranth, quinoa, whole wheat, corn.
Chinese medicine has within its arsenal close to 10,000 substances from nature in Materia Medica. The advantages of Chinese herbal therapy are the lack of side effects and that it’s time-tested, and naturally effective in supporting body’s normal functions. It is a sophisticated body of knowledge that requires years of learning and mastery. One of the strengths at Tao of Wellness is our access to the Ni family treasure-trove of proven formulas passed down over many generations. We are happy to share the results of our forefather’s work, specifically a formula for menopause and peri-menopause: Passages. The herbs contained within Passages have been shown in studies from China and the West to be useful for the natural relief of symptoms of menopause.
Wild Yam and Dang Gui—traditionally used to naturally stimulate the production of progesterone and estrogen in a woman’s body (Not a replacement but rather getting one’s body to do what it is supposed to do)
Epimedii herb, Immortal grass, Rehmannia root and soy—together provide nourishment of hormone glands and support adrenal function while increasing one’s libido and sexual vitality.
Conch and Zizyphus seed provide a natural source of calcium, reduce night sweats, relieve headaches and balance the mood to help one’s sleep.
Anemarrhena and Gardenia fruit balance the body’s thermostat, relieve hot flashes, ease anxiety and lessen cravings
Alisma and white Peony root eliminate excess fluids while lubricating mucus membranes and skin as well as strengthening elasticity of the blood vessels
Many women in Asia have used Tai Chi and other Chi (energy) Exercise to help them manage stress and restore vitality and normal functions before, during and after menopause with good success. There are classes in your local areas or you can contact Yo San University for instructions in these exercise forms. One can also learn simple Chi (energy) Exercises from videotapes available at Tao of Wellness or your local bookstores. Studies have shown that Tai Chi can promote balance, cardiovascular health and emotional well being.
In the seasons of one’s life, if the ending of the menstrual cycle means the winter of a woman’s ability to bear children, then what comes after menopause is the second spring—the season of rebirth when she is empowered to live the way she dreamt. There are infinite possibilities for creativity and personal growth. This can be both an exciting and challenging time in a woman’s life.
We at Tao of Wellness have helped countless American women over the last 26 years and will continue to serve our patients in helping you make a smooth passage into your second spring and reclaim your personal and sexual identity.