lInterested to know more about Traditional Chinese Medicine? Although, Hong Kong and Chinese women tend to report far lower rates of menopausal symptoms than their Western counterparts, typical symptoms for both peri-menopause and menopause include; irregular periods, hot flashes which may lead to sleep issues, mood changes, vaginal and bladder issues due to hormonal changes, decrease in fertility, and changes in sexual function. Other symptoms may include loss of bone, weight gain, and changing cholesterol levels leading to various cardiovascular issues.
Perimenopause is often called the menopausal transition, it refers to the time during which a woman’s body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years. Menstrual irregularities can be seen around the age of 40, but some women may notice changes early on during their 30s, however, the age of onset can vary in women.
Menopause is reached once a woman has gone through 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, this marks the end of the perimenopause period, typically women undergo these changes around their 40s and 50s.
We ask Dr. Michelle Law 羅佩雯 on how Traditional Chinese Medicine can support both Chinese and non-Chinese women through perimenopause and menopause phases.
How does Chinese medicine view menopause and perimenopause?
From Chinese medicine perspective, menopause is the stage in a woman’s life when a special substance (called Tian Gui 天癸) which promotes and sustains our physical, reproductive and sexual functions is depleted. According to the Chinese medicine classic “Huang Di Nei Jin 黃帝內經”, this substance acts on our female organs, starts to rise at age 14, reaches its peak at age 28, starts to decline at age 35, and is depleted age 49. As this substance diminishes gradually after its peak, the one to two years before its absolute depletion is defined as perimenopause. Usually, menopausal or perimenopausal symptoms are the result of the inability of the body to cope with the lowering level of this substance.
What does Chinese medicine recommend to women who are undergoing menopause or perimenopause?
Chinese medicine practitioners reckon this substance is nourished by the Chinese kidney and spleen systems. If women suffer from severe menopausal or perimenopausal symptoms, they could seek Chinese medicine treatments, such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, to supplement the Chinese kidney and spleen. These treatments could bring forth a slower reduction of this substance and thus a smoother transition towards the menopausal state.
Are Chinese herbal medicines safe? Can they be taken in conjunction with Western medicines such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT)?
Chinese herbal medicine is generally safe in nature. There are, however, two additional factors to consider regarding the safe application of Chinese herbal medicine. Firstly, the herbs should be ideally prescribed by Chinese medicine practitioners who can go through your medical issues and history and make sure the herbs prescribed do not contraindicate your other medical conditions. Secondly, the herbs should be bought from credible sources. This ensures herbs are safe in pesticides levels, bacterial growth, and heavy metals. For those who are already taking HRT, they are strongly advised to visit a Chinese medicine practitioner to get a carefully adjusted prescription of Chinese herbal medicine in order to prevent drug-herb interaction.
Is there anything women can do to prevent and minimize menopause symptoms? Any lifestyle habits that make a difference?
Yes. Menopause is related to the weakening of the Chinese kidney and spleen systems which are remediable to a certain extent by lifestyle modification. Appropriate nutrition, balanced combination of rest and exercise such as qigong or taichi, moderation of emotions, and prevention of excessive sexual activity can help prevent and minimize the menopausal symptoms. Some typical Chinese kidney and spleen strengthening food are listed as follows:
|Grains||Rice, millet, buckwheat, wheat|
|Vegetables and beans||Chinese yam, eggplant, pumpkin, taro, potato, lotus root, Chinese chives, fennel, pok choy, Black bean, pea|
|Fruits||Mulberry, papaya, prune, apricot, apple, fig, grape, date|
|Nuts||Walnut, chestnut, ginko, peanut, pumpkin seed|
|Meat and Seafood||Duck, pigeon, quail, chicken, pork, beef, lamb, deer, shrimp, eel, scallop, sea cucumber|
|Others||Gogi berry, black sesame, lotus seed, fox seed|
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Dr. Michelle Law Pui Man 羅佩雯 B.C.M. (CUHK), PhD in Public Health (Family Medicine) (CUHK), was born in Hong Kong and studied Traditional Chinese Medicine in the School of Chinese Medicine at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). After obtaining her Bachelor Degree she pursued further postgraduate study at the Faculty of Medicine of the CUHK. She graduated from PhD (Family Medicine) study and her thesis is focused on acne vulgaris induced by hormone imbalance. Clinically, she has special interest in reproductive medicine and has extensive experience in treating patients with infertility or its associated problems. She is a practitioner in Vitality Centre, as well as the Honorary Assistant Professor of The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and The Centre for Health Education and Health Promotion, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.