When researchers discovered that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could do more harm than good for menopausal women, there was a collective female groan. Without the help of HRT, how could they endure the night sweats, hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings and other unpleasant symptoms that often accompany menopause?
Fortunately, hormone replacement never has been the only option for managing menopause. Millions of women over many, many years have used a variety of other approaches to help quell their roiling hormones. “There’s a lot that you can do,” says Christine Kleinschmidt, a licensed acupuncturist at WellBody Acupuncture and Chiropractic Clinic in Maplewood. “Everyone’s different, so there’s not one single answer, but women have many choices—they don’t have to suffer.”
Menopausal symptoms often indicate a general imbalance within the body, Kleinschmidt says. She uses traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)—primarily herbal remedies and acupuncture—to help alleviate this internal disharmony.
“Usually, we can recommend a combination of herbs and acupuncture treatments to help stabilize and then maintain the body’s balance,” she says. However, she notes that just as with allopathic medical treatments, patients must be properly assessed by an experienced TCM practitioner in order to determine the proper combination of treatments needed.
“Traditional Chinese medicine uses tongue and pulse diagnosis as two of its primary diagnostic tools,” explains F. Afua Bromley, a licensed acupuncturist with Acupuncture St. Louis. “I examine the color, coating and shape of different parts of the tongue, which correspond with various organ systems.”
“With pulse diagnosis, a well-trained acupuncturist can ascertain different qualities of pulse on each wrist,” she continues. “Each corresponds with a different organ system and gives a better sense of which imbalances are present in each system and how those imbalances are interrelated. So, between the tongue and pulses, I get a better sense of what is going on.”
According to Oriental medical theory, menopause involves a decline of the yin (or nourishing energy) of the kidneys, she adds. “It is not the sole thing happening to the body during menopause, but it is often the culprit of a lot of the most complained-about symptoms. Through acupuncture and/or herbs we nourish and help balance the yin, and the symptoms go away.” She also advises patients to eat a well-balanced diet, limit caffeine, exercise regularly and manage stress to help ease menopause.
The speed at which symptoms are alleviated varies because each individual is different, notes Michael Max, a licensed acupuncturist and director of the Yong Kang Chinese Medicine Clinic in Kirkwood. He typically sees patients being treated for menopause symptom relief once or twice a week for three to six weeks. “Because it’s a more natural method, it takes a little time before you get big results,” he says. “But usually we see significant results within three weeks.”
Max emphasizes that menopause is not an illness and should not be viewed as such. Rather, he says women—and men, who also experience age-related physical changes—should understand those changes as a “new season that the body and soul are moving through.”
Max and his colleagues who practice TCM advise that everyone has to come to their own decisions on how to handle their health care. Practitioners recognize the value and importance of Western medicine and often work with patients to find complementary treatments that bring the best of both practices to bear on a specific condition.
“Regardless of the route an individual takes, the goal is the same: to get the right treatment at the right time,” Max says. For some women, traditional Chinese medicine may be the right treatment at this very important time.