In this blogpost, Katy explores a possibility that many women approaching or going through the menopause may not have considered: using acupuncture instead of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
The menopause – for some an incredible journey from one stage of life to another. For others, something to be dreaded. For all women – something we all will go through at some point.
Women tend to go through natural menopause between 45 and 55 years of age – with major exceptions due to early onset menopause or surgical menopause. This period in a woman’s life can involve one or more of a range of symptoms, which are experienced to varying degrees and levels of distress and disruption to normal life.
These include night sweats and hot flushes, insomnia, anxiety, depression, fatigue, headaches, aches and pains, palpitations and genital and urinary problems.
It is estimated that up to 60% of women’s lives are sufficiently disrupted to warrant visiting the GP, where the standard treatment is a prescription of HRT (hormone replacement therapy). For some, this brings immediate relief with no or little side-effects and the added benefit of preventing the development of osteoporosis.
For others the side-effects of HRT (weight gain, bloating, breast tenderness, nausea, cramps, indigestion, fluid retention, headaches, mood swings, depression acne and backache) outweigh the benefits.
A woman may be reluctant to take HRT because of the associated risks of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer. Others feel uncomfortable about taking medication for such a long period of time. Some are not able to take it because of a pre-existing condition such as high blood pressure. Some have been on HRT for many years but feel unsure about stopping because of the return of the original symptoms.
So what’s the alternative?
Well you might decide to just grin and bear it and hope that it passes. Alternatively, you might try acupuncture.
According to traditional Chinese philosophy, our health is dependent on the body’s energy (or qi) moving in a smooth and balanced way along channels in the body. The flow of energy can be disturbed by a number of factors, including emotions, injury, age, lifestyle and even the weather.
In Chinese medicine it is the kidneys that are responsible for reproduction, growth and development. The menopause is a sign that a woman’s childbearing years are coming to an end and the body is preparing for a new stage of life. During this process the energy of the kidneys is depleted and the balance of yin and yang is disrupted.
As yin decreases the body heats up – causing hot flushes, night sweats, dizziness, menstrual irregularities and anxiety. Yin and Yang are interdependent so yang deficiency can then arise causing chills, fatigue and depression. As time passes the vitality of other meridians is disrupted – our liver qi may stagnate causing mood swings and depression, our heart qi may become hyperactive causing insomnia and palpitations.
The beauty of acupuncture is that it treats the person rather than the disease. This means there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment – the patient presents with a set of symptoms that are unique to them and treatment is tailored to that individual.
But does it work?
My clinic experience tells me that it helps. To give just one example, one client who has recently been through the menopause couldn’t believe that her gynaecologist doesn’t routinely recommend acupuncture as an alternative to HRT when she found her quite extreme symptoms were completely under control within a matter of weeks after starting a course of treatment.
To date, there have only been a few clinic trials but these have shown that acupuncture is effective in treating hot flushes, anxiety and depression.
My advice would be to give it a try. If you’re thinking of HRT why not see if acupuncture can help before – you might find you don’t need to use HRT, or are able to take a lower dose. If you want to take HRT but can’t because of an underlying condition, acupuncture could help with the menopausal symptoms and the underlying condition.