Perspectives and Wisdom for Feminine Health
Perimenopause and Menopause
By Wend, Sterndale
Menopause: Nurturing Your Life Purpose
Take a deep breath and consider a new phase In your He in which you possess deep wisdom gleaned from a fresh perspective. Your powers of assessment are heightened. You are active, fulfilling your life’s mission. Or, you ore completing the mission you’ve worked at all your life and discovering a new purpose.
You can look forward to clarity, focus and insight after passing through the natural hormonal and energetic shifts of menopause, which usually starts between ages 45 and 55, and lasts from 5 to 10 years, and possibly longer.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) describes menopause as a deep energy shift within a woman’s body, mind, emotions and soul. It is a transformative time to balance and harmonize energy. Both Chinese and Western medicine describe this as a time when a woman prepares for a long, healthy second half of life.
The one-year anniversary of your last period is the one day of menopause. The phase before that day is perimenopause, and the phase after that day is postmenopause.
This article shares some information about the phases of menopause, what to expect, and what may help to ease this transition.
Natural menopause is not a disease: It is a slow shift of hormonal balance that can be uncomfortable at times. Each woman’s experience is unique. manifesting out of genetics, environment, health habits, emotional and spiritual self-care, and self-awareness. As you review the lists of possible symptoms, remember that it is unlikely that you will experience them all, and they may show up in different phases of menopause than are noted here.
• After years of sleeping through the night, you may start to wake up before dawn, agitated and tired, unable to get enough rest.
• Menstrual cycles will Iikely become irregular. Months may go by without menstruating, and then, surprise — intense cramping and heavy bleeding.
• Below-normal body temperature combined with some of the following, may point to possible thyroid complications: fatigue, headaches, weight gain, irritability, memory loss, anxiety, joint and muscle aches. Twenty-six percent of women are diagnosed with hypothyroidism around the time of perimenopause.
• Fibroid growths can be hormonally stimulated, and usually shrink after menopause when hormones have settled into their new state of balance.
• Stress from the parts of life that are no longer satisfying may bring on migraines that may in turn bring on dizziness and nausea.
• Comfort foods are not comforting, and might only make us fat.
Psychologically and Emotionally
• A gnawing impatience and irritability over something minor can grow into anger.
• Buried memories may return, while short-term memories become elusive.
• Unceasing worry about the future, and sadness about life’s uncompleted plans and unmet desires, can taint everyday successes.
• Social support structures might thin out, bringing on a sense of isolation and loneliness.
Messages from family and culture con be so suggestive that a woman may have symptoms based upon those messages. It is a good idea to ask your mother how she experienced menopause, but to also know that what she describes is somewhat unique to her. Evaluate everything you read and hear against your own experience and for your own needs.
More Common During Postmenopause
• Hot flashes are common for about 80% of women during postmenopause. A hot flash may start as a small heat inside your chest and face that spreads almost instantly through your neck and head. Sweat may gush, your heart may race and skin may crawl.
• Night sweats might accompany hot flashes, giving you something to do when waking up predawn… take a shower and change the sheets.
• Skin can become thinner as hormones shift. Vitamins and herbs may help.
• Genital atrophy occurs in about 20% of postmenopausal women. This can reduce interest in sex, and increase the risk of infection.
• Loss of interest in sex may be the body’s way of asking you to focus inward. It could also come from shifting hormones, or it could be a result of intense stress that brings on adrenal exhaustion.
Possibilities Throughout Menopause
• Migraines are more common right before menstruation.
• Breast swelling and tenderness may indicate on iodine deficiency. Eat kelp and eggs, and stay away from caffeine.
• Fatigue that goes on and on, when accompa-nied by depression, irritability. insomnia and apathy, may point to adrenal fatigue and stress.
• Vaginal dryness, frequent urination and infections may signify hormonal decline.
• Fuzzy thinking can be another way the body asks us to turn inward. Keep a clear mind by stabilizing blood sugar. Your healthcare practitioner can help by recommending herbs. Honor the body’s desire to turn inward with meditation. The Meditation of Purity may be especially helpful and soothing at this time.
• Osteoporosis, the medical term for thinning bones, is more common in Western women and men between ages 51 and 75. It is six times more common in women, can be hereditary, or result from prescription drug use, corticosteroids, natural thyroid supplements, and is made worse by smoking, drinking alcohol and drug abuse. Some research suggests that eating more green vegetables can help maintain a proper alkaline balance and may prevent osteoporosis.
Menopause is considered premature if it starts before age 40. It can be brought about by disease, nutritional deficiency, ongoing intense stress, or intense athletic conditioning.
Artificial menopause can come about after a hysterectomy, radiation or chemotherapy, or the older method of tubal ligation that blocked blood supply to the ovaries. Twenty-five percent of American women go through artificial menopause.
In TCM, the feminine yin energy in the kidneys powers the body. It maintains youth, energizes libido, brings fertility supports tissue elasticity and strength, and supports regeneration. Yin energy supports reproduction, teeth, bones, hair, ears, body development, maturation and aging.
A woman with kidney yin that is out of balance or weak during menopause might have dry, thin hair and bad teeth, be paranoid, and may worry a lot. This woman may notice vaginal dryness, and may sometimes get dizzy. Kidney deficiency can also appear as a weak and sore lower back and legs, being unable to stand for periods of time, and thinning bones. The Western equivalent is osteoporosis.
Kidney yang deficiency is much less common, and shows up as either heavy menstrual bleeding or little to no menstrual blood; a sore and weak lower back and sore knees; swelling in the face, arms and legs; cold arms and legs; loose stools; and high-volume urine flow or urinary incontinence.
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, secreting hormones that help us deal with stress. They con be depleted through overwork, poor eating, lock of sleep, and other stresses.
You can exhaust your adrenal glands with too much exercise, unfulfilling work, late hours and not enough sleep or daylight. Adrenals can be further exhausted by unhealed trauma, injury or illness, or chronic or severe allergies. Exposure to industrial or other toxins on a regular basis con hinder the adrenal glands and other body functions. Those with exhausted adrenals may be very worried all the time and have a tendency to get angry, and feel guilty. fearful and depressed.
Preferably, make lifestyle changes to support healing the adrenal glands. Get enough protein; eat protein with every meal or snack. Stay away from coffee, fasting, and cleansing regimens. Sleep as long as you need. Overtaxed adrenals may signal the body to sleep 10 or more hours to rejuvenate. Engage in regular light or moderate exercise. Get 10 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight 3 or 4 times each week.
The endocrine system, which includes the thyroid, produces hormones. Throughout menopause, the thyroid may cause problems that you don’t physically experience. A woman having thyroid difficulties might get depressed, be irritable, have low energy, put on some weight, get confused, and have trouble sleeping. This list of physical indicators may sound familiar, as this is a description of shifting hormone levels. When progesterone levels are low and estrogen is rising, the hormone produced by a healthy thyroid can be blocked. Thyroid supplementation doesn’t address the blockage. An unhealthy diet and stress can make lt worse. A proper assessment is necessary.
Hypothyroidism is also linked to iodine deficiency. The number of people with iodine deficiency is increasing. Some attribute this to lower concentrations of iodine in the soil, eating less salt, fewer eggs, and less fish. One of the best ways to increase your body’s levels of Iodine is by eating sea vegetables Iike nori, kombu, wakame, kelp, and arame. Also, sea vegetables are rich in minerals that help to replenish electrolytes, and can help to reduce and prevent hot flashes. Be careful not to get too much iodine because it can cause the body to shut down the thyroid. Increase your iodine slowly, and to be safe, be monitored by your properly informed healthcare practitioner.
Thyroid and Time
We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that time is going too fast to get everything done, and then stress levels go up. Dr. Christian Northrup wrote, “Psychologist Gay Hendricks suggests that we adopt ‘Einstein time’ and see ourselves as the place where time comes from. He also points out how subjective our experience of time teak is”….depending on how we feel about what we are doing. Activities that challenge, cause us to lose track of time and to feel satisfied afterwards, are activities that feed the soul. Set healthy boundaries around time for yourself, and you may find that your thyroid improves.
Liver and Blood
The liver’s health impacts reproductive health. If the life-force energy in the liver, known as Qi, stagnates, we may become irritable, nervous. have constipation, heart palpitations. sleep problems, and be emotionally erratic and weak overall.
Deficiency in both kidney and liver yin energy may result in hot flashes. heart palpitations, weak knees and lower back pain, extreme thirst and sweating.
Liver stagnation may show up as blood clots. short or irregular cycles, breast tenderness and lumps, anger, frustration, depression, and PMS. In TCM, all depression is believed to be caused by liver stagnation.
In TCM, blood supports our tendons, skin, hair, and joints. It nourishes the mind, assisting with memory. It ensures restful sleep. It helps us to feel grounded, and to know our boundaries as it guards against stress.
A woman with blood deficiency may get dizzy, have hot flashes, trouble sleeping, dry skin and a sallow complexion. sweat a lot, be emotionally unstable, and experience muscle pains.
Anger That Finally Releases
A lot of anger that we couldn’t previously express con come out of long-term storage during menopause. Old memories may return as If they were yesterday. We might be rigidly impatient with relationships, work, and other ways we have used our time and effort.
They may no longer serve our growing awareness of a deeper purpose. Lock at the emotion from the inside out before scuttling anything out of your life.
Oftentimes anger hides another emotion that needs care, perhaps sadness, guilt, regret or longing. As we meditate into the center of anger, we can rediscover what else resides therein. As we look at those emotions and memories, we gain insight by asking questions: “What else was going on?” and “What do I know now that I didn’t know then?”
It is possible to find forgiveness for the unforgivable. Forgiveness is not about condoning behavior, or even allowing it in our lives. It is about seeing a broader perspective of the circumstances that contributed to, or surrounded, a person or events. When we seek to forgive, we must forgive ourselves. As we forgive, anger leaves, compassion enters and we can make wiser choices from greater awareness. We may then recognize where to initiate fresh boundaries, and when to end, change or find new relationships or Jobs.
Much of our health is determined by what we think and feel about our life experiences. Medical studies around the world have shown that pent-up emotions can contribute to disease. Negative emotions like anger can impair the heart and potentially contribute to a heart attack. Expressing anger in healthy ways, like an extra trip to the gym, can relieve stress and improve health.
Depression Is the Body Talking
Depression is another indicator that something deeply buried is trying to express itself through the body. When depressed, you may feel depleted and uninterested in social interaction. This can be made worse by lack of quality sleep. Depression is listed among the causes of many illnesses. Depression can make an illness feel worse, which then increases the depression, and so on. Even when an imbalance is dealt with, depression usually continues.
The key to reversing depression without having to swim in personal issues is to increase positive emotions through action, especially by helping others. When we help someone, our brain produces chemicals that help us feel happy and increase the capacity for social bonding. Try brief acts of benevolence and assess how you feel afterwards. For instance, distribute food you’ve baked or grown to your neighbors with a little note expressing gratitude for them, or ask your neighbor if you can pick up anything for them when you head to the store, or entertain the baby in line next to you by making funny faces so their parent can focus and pay for their items. When you look for ways to help others, those ways will show up. You may notice positive energy increasing within as you expand your view toward others.
Taking Care With Acupuncture and Herbs
Acupuncture has been used to treat gynecological problems for over 2.000 years. Acupuncture can help balance energy, can cool hot flashes and may even stop them.
The effect is cumulative; the body retains the energy from each treatment and gains more with the next treatment. Don’t give up after the first few treatments. Depending on the complaint, it may be 10 or more treatments to notice improvement.
Working with a knowledgeable herbalist has helped some women. Herbal combinations have an impact greater than each Individual herb on its own. Be as clear as you can about your body and expectations for treatment uniquely suited to you. Ask about risks and alternatives to any recommendations.
Be careful not to kiss the benefits goodbye with poor health habits. Retain the cumulative effects by taking responsibility to improve your health.
Unfortunately, despite all the clinical and laboratory research, Western medicine has not yet agreed on when and under what physical conditions to start treating menopause with hormones. Some propose beginning during perimenopause. Others prefer to start only after menopausal symptoms have become uncomfortable. And others discourage the use of drugs altogether, saying the risks outweigh the benefits.
Talking Points for Your Healthcare Practitioner
Whether considering acupuncture. herbs or hormones, first document some talking points for you and your healthcare practitioner.
Document your physical symptoms. Include severity and timing:
1. Hot flashes that interrupt your ability to get enough quality sleep.
2. Leaking urine when laughing, coughing, or on the way to the bathroom.
3. Severe headaches a day or so before menstruating.
Document whether you hove a current diagnosis or are at risk of any of the following conditions that may influence treatment recommendations. If you aren’t sure, you may find out more by asking family members or, if available, a DNA test.
1 . Heart disease.
3. Cancer of the breast, ovaries, uterus or bowel.
4. Alzheimer’s in your family history.
These assessments will also help. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend others.
5. Get your hormone levels tested.
6. Get your thyroid checked.
Discuss your healing goals with your healthcare practitioner. For every mode of treatment they suggest, ask how much success other women have had when treating your specific complaints.
If considering hormone therapy, ask these questions of yourself and your doctor: “Do I need hormone therapy, at least for right now?’ If so, “What kind? What strength? How will I take it? In what combination? For what symptoms? For how long? What are the risks?”
Include in your research and discussions o consideration of when to start treatment. Some of the latest research suggests that starting earlier may be more helpful than waiting until later. Find out how long you need to continue treatment before you feel any relief. It may take months. Also ask if there are any indicators that it is time to stop treatment.
Choosing Your Care
Listen to your health practitioner and your inner voice. Ask your body what it needs and wants. You may choose to meditate, write in a journal, or sleep on advice for a few days. Studies have shown that when you agree completely within yourself and with your practitioner, your choice of care is likely to be more effective.
Give your body enough time to adjust to treatment. As you proceed with your plan, your body may respond in ways you didn’t expect, so you’ll make adjustments
along the way. Nothing in our bodies Is isolated. The good news is that as you take certain supplements with one goal In mind, you may alleviate other complaints. And, as you continue to make lifestyle changes. you might be able to slowly reduce some supplements that are less necessary.
Self-Care During Menopause: Food
A bad diet and long-term emotional depletion are big contributors to health difficulties during perimenopause. In Western medicine, a woman with more difficult menstrual cycles is likely to have more difficulty during perimenopause. In TCM, a woman who has symptoms during perimenopouse is considered to have illness. It is never too late to change.
1. Tryptophan-rich foods, such as turkey, bananas, whole grain crackers, figs and dates.
2. Bioflavonoids can be helpful in balancing menopausal hormones and may assist in relieving hot flashes. Biofiavonoids are abundant in the spongy white part inside citrus rinds, in cherries, cranberries, blueberries, bilberries. many whole grains, grope skins, and red clover.
3. Cooked brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.
Eat smaller amounts of these:
1. OiIy, spicy, pungent foods such as curries or chilies.
2. Ginger and ginseng during perimenopause.
3. Cooling foods such as melons, bean sprouts, celery, apples, asparagus, and grapes.
Stay away from these:
Heat-producing foods that may bring on hot flashes or aggravate mood swings, such as dairy products, red meats, preservatives, additives (including antibiotics and hormones fed to animals during the production of meat, chicken and eggs), food coloring, alcohol, sugar, chocolate, sodas, spicy foods, and caffeine.
Controversy is another way of saying that something may be useful to one woman. and not helpful for another. Your decision will be driven by your body’s condition:
1. Soy: Some women report great benefits from eating more soy, and for others it has not been beneficial and is not recommended.
2. Some practitioners advise cooking your food lightly. Some say eat more raw foods, and others advise staying away from raw food.
Self-Care During Menopause: Lifestyle
Moderation and variety have been shown to support health. As always, consult your healthcare practitioner with any questions and concerns. You Will likely ease some discomfort with these lifestyle changes:
1. Exercise regularly.
2. Practice relaxation techniques and get enough rest.
3. Practice altruism through organized volunteering and/or random acts of kindness.
4. Get enough natural light.
5. Set healthy boundaries for yourself.
6. Engage in activities aligned with your personal life purpose and creative expression.
7. Stop smoking, or don’t start. Cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke should be avoided as they may dry up yin and bodily fluids.
When the discomfort increases, remember that hatching a new body takes work, gentleness, and support. If you are experiencing menopause, keep reminders around you from your future self of what you are becoming. These may be expressions of your new voice in the world — any art that inspires you to create more art, or maybe your gym shoes to remind you of the healthy body you are cultivating with new exercise habits that ore truly fun. Act from your strengths, and recognize the Increase in your ability to use clear logic and deep intuition.
Self-Care During Menopause:
The Bodhi walking meditation, Bogua, generates life-force energy, Qi, which is extremely supportive during all health challenges. It supports cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health, and bone density. This walking-and-turning-and-walking meditation generates a feeling of comfort in the body while it relaxes the mind.
The non-religious prostration that is practiced in Bodhi Meditation is similar to the sun salutation practiced in yoga. It aids in weight loss, as it develops physical fitness and overall health. It decreases self-centeredness, and breaks down the sense of separation between self and others. Prostration promotes patience and compassion.
Everyday city living encourages us to protect ourselves and to build defenses against others. All the Bodhi Meditation practices help us access our compassionate core, which is filed with our personal wisdom.
The Transition to Wisdom
Watch out for society’s biases against aging. Studies have shown that people who repeat the clichés about aging tend to experience those clichés. If you are out for a brisk walk and come across a huge staircase, climb it If you get tired along the way, say something like “I can do this. My body Is getting strong.” Those sentences send the message of heath and ability to your body. If you were to say, “I’m getting too old for this,” you may find yourself aging more quickly. Studies have validated that the words we choose reinforce our experience. If you forget where you put your keys, avoid this statement: “Oh, I’m having a senior moment.” Instead, say something like “I’m finding my keys” to trigger your brain to remember where they are. Pessimistic thoughts have been shown in study after study to contribute to depression. A well-rounded perspective includes laughter, tears, and constant questioning of the authority of our points of view. Support your health and challenge your assumptions about growing old and you may experience more wisdom and long life.
This information came from the book. The Wisdom of Menopause by Dr. Christiane Northrup; various references in U.S. Notional institutes of Health: an article at acupuncture.com, “Menopause, Diet, and Chinese Medicine” by Benjamin Carter, an article in Spirit of Ma’at online magazine. Vol. 2. No. 11, “Menopause From the Chinese Perspective” by Lesley Tierra, with Julia Griffin: online information from the book, Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Women’s Guide to a Hormone-Free Menopause, by Dr. Nan Lu: an article in Acupuncture Today, “Menopause: Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspectives, Parts 1 and 2” by Dr. John Chen: writings on forgiveness by Dr. Frederic Luskin; writings on compassion by Karen Armstrong: and various sources within Bodhi Meditation International. Discuss all that you’ve read here with your healthcare practitioners, and other knowledgeable people in your life.