Recently a member of HealthCentral’s menopause community noted that she turned to Chinese medicine to cope with hot flashes. She said her acupuncturist and herbalist identified a supplement that helped with those pesky issues.
That got me thinking – is Chinese medicine worth considering in relation to menopause? Here’s one reason why you might want to do some exploration -- only 10 percent of Asian women experience noticeable menopausal discomfort, as compared to 75 percent of American women. Yes, part of that difference might be diet and other lifestyle differences. However, that’s still a substantial difference, so I think it’s worth researching all the avenues that might be behind this difference.
What Is Chinese Medicine?
First of all, it might help to define Chinese medicine. Dr. Andrew Weil, who is founder, professor, and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, describes this practice of medicine as a healing system that was developed more than 2,000 years ago. The focus of this approach is holistic in that it encompasses how the body interacts with the different elements of life, including seasons, weather, diet, emotional states and time of day. “It sees the key to health as the harmonious and balanced functioning of body, mind and spirit, and holds that the balance of health depends on the unobstructed flow of qi (pronounced chee) or ‘life energy’ through the body, along pathways known as meridians,” Dr. Weil’s website states. Disease is believed to be caused by disruption of qi in the body.
Types of treatment in traditional Chinese medicine include acupuncture, herbal formulas, moxibustion, qigong, tuina (manipulative therapy), acupressure and cupping. This TEDx Talks video provides additional information of this type of medicine.
Hormone Therapy vs. Traditional Chinese Medicine
So how does Chinese medicine compare with Western medicine’s Holy Grail, hormone replacement therapy? A small study published in 2011 compared the therapeutic effect of Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and hormone therapy on a group of Chinese women’s menopausal symptoms. The researchers separated the participants into three groups. The first group were treated with only Chinese herbal medicine for two months. The second group had acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbal medicine during this time period while the other group received hormone therapy. After that period, the researchers found that the combination of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture was as effective as hormone therapy in treating menopausal symptoms and achieved better outcomes than herbal medicine alone.
Needless to say, the Chinese women’s lifestyle is definitely different from women in the West, which might account for these findings. And I do believe that more research is needed with a larger and more diverse group of women in relation to the effect of Chinese Traditional Medicine. Still, the research does hint that we might benefit from exploring alternative methods to see if they will help with hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.