Almost weekly we read about new findings that report links between cancer and estrogen, or studies questioning the validity of hormone therapy. This is not at all surprising to doctors of Oriental medicine, who view menopause as normal a part of a woman’s life as is the beginning of menstruation. It does not have to be a time of pain and discomfort.
Menopause is not a disease, but a natural occurrence. It is the permanent cessation of menstrual activity that happens to every woman at approximately 45 to 55 years of age. Drugs or surgery can also bring it on prematurely. It is estimated that in the United States about one in three women over the age of 50 is currently being treated with hormone replacement therapy, even some with a history of tumors, cysts or cancer – all of which are clear contraindications as estrogen also acts as a growth hormone and as such can cause or exacerbate these conditions. Recently the use of estrogen (such as Premarin – made from pregnant mare’s urine) has drawn a lot of attention. These hormones have long been prescribed to treat symptoms that have been associated with menopause, such as hot flashes, general weakness, dryness, depression, atrophy or shrinking of the breasts and genitalia, signs of aging and increased risk of osteoporosis. But new research is showing that there are real dangers to taking hormones, mainly increased cancer risks, and that the benefits may be questionable or less than they were thought to be.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) views this naturally occurring change as the beginning of the “time of wisdom” in a woman’s life, as nourishment of the uterus during child-bearing years shifts to the mind In the Orient, women who have gone through menopause are not considered “over the hill”, but are revered, honored and have a valuable place in society. The transitory symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats can be eased and balanced with herbs and acupuncture, the idea is to make the change as comfortable as possible, not to fool the body into continuing as if it never happened. Hormones only put off the experience and a woman who has been on replacement therapy will go through the entire process once she goes off hormones, even at age 90. The problems of osteoporosis, dryness, depression, etc., are issues of proper nutrition, exercise and balanced organ function are also addressed by TCM. Each woman’s individual needs are carefully reviewed and worked with to provide her with the maximum possible benefit, without increased risks of heart disease, cancer or negative side effects in order to ease her into her time of wisdom.