I won’t deny the sudden onset I feel of warmth and perspiration in the early morning, and as the covers fling off I get chilled. I won’t yet admit to experiencing true perimenopausal symptoms; I am still in my 30’s. I can provide information from the perspective of Chinese Medicine and relate it through the many hours with friends and clients who have been or are in this pivotal time.
It all begins with PMS. The week prior to the period is a great example of the body knocking at the door. The physical & emotional alterations within those seven days are the method your body chooses to say, “Hey there’s something to deal with here and now. The longer you put it off the harder I will knock and just wait until you enter perimenopause.” It’s true. Your hormones are you, not separate from you. Any symptom during those few days preceding menses is a preexisting issue which is heightened, not caused, by hormones shifting. The interplay of estrogen, progesterone and other hormones causes changes in neurotransmitters altering perception, feelings and sensations. Estrogen, a calming hormone, wanes during the second half of our cycle .
We are wired as women to address needs and situations of others before our own and tend to swallow our anger to keep the peace.
Continuing to avoid the knocking at the door can lead to the three big diseases for women during perimenopause: heart disease, depression or breast cancer. According to Chinese Medicine, up to age 35 we have the strength of the Liver, Gallbladder, Stomach, Essence, Blood & Qi to keep the peace and take care of others. Continuing to push things down causes more energy to back up and cause stagnation which can stress every organ system and create further stagnation, mixed stagnation & deficiency or build up of heat. I’ve witnessed women who fume and remain silent in response to confrontation. I’m far from the epitome of self-expression and demonstration, but I want as little to accumulate into physical masses, emotional stagnation and physical stasis which are the diseases of menopause. I always hear “Daddy didn’t know what hit him” when my aunt describes my grandmother’s outspokenness when menopause hit. I just giggle. We are a fiery gender at the core.
We become pressure cookers as we age and eventually the steam will be released. Physically the steaming and heat cause deterioration of muscles, connective tissue, thinning skin, and reduced bone density. Once menopause arrives, women have more me-time and choose to find balance and wellness, are less willing to stay silent, and are just hitting their prime.
In Chinese Medicine theory, blood, emotions and energy flow like best friends through the body. Hormones are a component of the blood in this theory. If any of these wanes or gets stuck along the way, the others will wait up. Which means pretty much everything is going to get backed up or flow erratically for a short time. The result is PMS or, later on, perimenopausal symptoms.
Generally women experience symptoms in their late 40’s but definitely by age fifty, though high stress levels and lifestyle imbalances (maybe due to adrenal taxation) cause early perimenopausal symptoms. Whenever it does begin, the blood, and therefore hormones, yin, and fluid aspect of the body begin to wane. The Liver controls the free flow of qi and blood. If it is negligent in its duties, emotions, bleeding, stress come in fits and starts. Eventually, after maybe two years, symptoms calm. In the meantime, as the yin—cooling moistening energy– disappears, we experience hot (warm) flashes, night sweats, memory issues, bone density issues, and endocrine imbalances. Without sufficient yin to subdue it, yang flies upward resulting in the pressure cooker releasing—emotional outbursts, heat rising, palpitations, anxiety, sleep disturbances. We need a balance of both yin and yang to restrain and contain each other. ( Each woman is different therefore their pattern will be more intricate and involved than yin deficiency.) We begin to draw on our energy reserves, our Essence and Marrow. Our brain, bone and marrow belong to the Marrow aspect of our energy. As we draw on our Essence, symptoms around bone density, memory, and endocrine system arise.
Treating with acupuncture & herbs, we still place perimenopause symptoms within the categories of organ energy, qi, blood, yin and yang and don’t try to adjust hormones according to the Western paradigm. Estrogen is fairly yin and progesterone is fairly yang but there are more factors to consider.
Acupuncture greatly reduces the acute symptoms and hormone imbalances related to perimenopause and PMS. Chinese herbs, nutritional supplements, and diet and lifestyle changes assist in building and maintaining the yin aspect of our energy. Allopathic practitioners provide hormone creams and antidepressants which can help quell the menopausal symptoms but they are unable to treat the underlying imbalance as Chinese medicine does.
The big five things that you can do for you are:
· Reduce Stress
· Drink Water
· Exercise moderately
· Make colorful fruits & veggies 50% of diet
· Reduce intake of refined foods, carbs, sugar, soda, alcohol and caffeine
A great resource for other things you can implement now is The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, MD
And, when you are ready to look at Chinese medicine to help rebalance your system, look for a qualified practitioner through the national certification commission -NCCAOM, your local acupuncture association oracufinder.