By Christina Morris, L.Ac.
Hot flashes affect an estimated 85% of menopausal women. Increasing numbers of women are searching for alternative treatments for menopausal symptoms, especially with the recent concern regarding hormone replacement therapy (HRT). A hot flash is a sudden sensation felt as a surge of heat on the face, neck, shoulders, and chest, and lasting an average of 2.7 minutes. Hot flashes that occur during the night are called night sweats. Forty-five percent of women who experience hot flashes continue to have them for up to 10 years after menopause. Research shows that traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and herbs, can decrease and often eliminate hot flashes as well as offer significant relief to other menopausal symptoms.
Menopause is a normal transition from the reproductive to the non-reproductive years of a woman’s life. Hot flashes occur as a response to declining estrogen levels. This decline affects the temperature control center of the brain. In order to cool down, the body releases heat and increases blood flow to the surface of the skin. This increased blood flow visibly appears as a flush. A sensation of heat is experienced, perspiration, and often a speeding of the heart, followed by a drop in body temperature. A hot flash is often preceded by a chill due to the drop in body temperature. Warmer temperatures, stress, spicy foods, as well as caffeine and alcohol can all trigger hot flashes. Hot flashes can be especially bad during the summer months.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) believes that as a woman ages, kidney energy declines affecting the reproductive system. TCM views the kidney energy as the “gate of vitality”. Kidney energy is like a fire heating a pot of water. The fire is the source from which all systems in the body get energy to function, while the water from the pot steams out to cool and nourish the body. As the fire declines with age or a poor lifestyle, systems in the body begin to slow down, and the steam from the pot cannot cool and nourish the body as efficiently. At this point, the body begins to make its transition.
This change does not only affect fertility. There are three main areas which are often affected during the transition. The first is blood, circulation and the nervous system. The resulting symptoms may include hot flashes, night sweats, declining vision, dizziness, ringing in the ears, and graying hair. The second is the mental and spiritual aspect, creating emotional changes leading to depression, anxiety, poor concentration, focus and memory, insomnia and irritability. The third relates to the endocrine system and metabolism leading to irregular menses, vaginal dryness, decreased sex drive, fluid retention, weight gain, loss of bone mass, and joint pain.
Traditional Chinese medicine views hot flashes as an imbalance between energetic organ systems. Acupuncture and herbal therapies are effective means to bring the body into balance during menopause. Menopause will still occur but the associated negative symptoms such as hot flashes do not have to occur during this transition. If you decide to try acupuncture, you should be sure to see a licensed acupuncturist. You may also want to check if your health insurance covers acupuncture as part of its alternative and complimentary medicine coverage. Menopause is a natural part of life but does not have to be accompanied by undesirable symptoms.