In modern day society, people have come to accept various health problems as “normal” occurrences of life. However many of these disorders, or imbalances, are not “normal” from a traditional Chinese medical standpoint. Specifically, we commonly see hot flashes and night sweats to be accepted as a rite of passage into menopause. There is, however, another way!
Classically, Chinese medicine looks to the kidney energy when dealing with any symptoms involving the aging process. This is because the kidney energy governs growth, reproduction and aging. As we go through the various stages of life, we tap into the kidney energy. If people have not taken good care of their health throughout the years, it is likely that the kidney’s energy will become depleted more quickly than expected. The kidney is also the root of yin and yang in the body. Yin and yang are substances required for normal bodily processes—just as blood and lymph are important from a Western medical standpoint. Yin is cooling, substantive, heavy and dark; yin gives root to blood. It is most abundant during the evening and night hours. Yang is heating, ethereal, light and bright; yang gives root to qi energy. It is most abundant during the morning and afternoon hours. Every person has a balance and yin and yang in their bodies. However, women have a tendency to burn out their yin quicker than their male counterparts. Since yin is the cooling counterpart to yang, heat signs are expected when yin becomes deficient. Also, “yin time” is the evening and night, in which time hot flashes and night sweats are most likely to present themselves. Thus, one treatment principal is to nourish the kidney yin and clear heat.
Another organ that may become involved in menopausal symptoms is the heart. The heart houses the shen, or consciousness. Classically, the shen allows people to interact with the world during the day and sleeps in the heart at night. When the shen becomes disturbed (by heat, for example), it becomes unsettled and can lead to symptoms of insomnia, vivid dreaming, anxiety and heart palpitations. The heart is associated with the fire element and the kidney with the water element. While these two organs are associated with completely opposite elements, their proper functioning is imperative in maintaining a proper qi dynamic within the body at all time. The kidney water is used to temper the heart fire. When kidney water (yin) begins to wane, the heart fire begins to spread and eventually goes unchecked. When this happens, severe symptoms of anxiety and restlessness may begin to surface.
It is important to remember that in Chinese medicine, no two cases are treated in the same manner. The above description of organs gives the practitioner a general idea of where to start, but it is necessary to understand the specific symptoms of each individual person in order to deliver proper treatment. Ideally, it is important to keep a balance in our energy throughout life. This is a form of prevention—if the kidney is well nourished throughout life, menopausal signs are less likely to present themselves. Working with an acupuncturist can help determine which energy channels are vulnerable to imbalances and bring them back into harmony before disease can manifest itself.