Saturday, July 27, 2013

Chinese women and menopause

In the American culture, menopause — the time when a woman's menses gradually cease, normally between age 35 and 60 — is often accompanied by flushing or hot flashes, mood swings, depression, insomnia, and thinning of bones, skin, and vaginal walls. In Western medical practice, this plethora of symptoms is treated with "hormone replacement therapy" (HRT): a regimen of prescription synthetic hormones.

Yet in the Chinese culture, hot flashes are considered less common. Why? Because there were no studies on the matter, of because the culture, climate, or diet helps women better combat unpleasant menopausal symptoms?

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Age of Menopause

A study conducted by the Chinese Menopause Society, Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing, surveyed a total of 1850 women; a relatively small sample for research, but a huge breakthrough for medical research, since the topic of menopause until recently has not been considered as open for discussion and research.

A breakdown of the average participant ages shows Chinese women dealing with menopause at or just under the standard North American menopausal benchmark age of 51.
*Average age for natural menopause: 49.60 years old
*Average age for entering menopause transition: 46.22 years old
*Average age for onset of menopausal symptoms 46.28 years old

Spiritual transition

According to traditional Chinese medicine, during menopause there is a natural decline in what's known as "Precious Essence" — which is a "yin," or passive, feminine energy. But while Precious Essence declines, Chinese medicine also sees a corresponding increase in "yang" energy, or active, masculine energy. That increase is an important part of the change that's happening.

So menopause can be a time of life when many women move from being passive to setting boundaries and becoming more goal oriented. Many women learn to speak their minds more easily. Women change. Their personalities change, their outlook on life changes. This is part of the process. This can be a rich time, and deep inward direction can come out of it.

In the Chinese view, Precious Essence is prenatal energy, stored in the kidney, that conveys the gifts of fertility, libido, regeneration of the body, and tissue elasticity and strength. The term Precious Essence stems from the idea that this energy is worth guarding, because its function is to maintain youth, and there is only so much of it.

Precious Essence is of two kinds: Pre-Heaven, representing inherited characteristics, and Post-Heaven, representing energy accumulated or lost through the way we live our lives. Pre-Heaven essence is not easily renewed, but it may be replenished through breathing and meditation exercises. Post-Heaven Essence can easily be renewed through lifestyle changes — exercise, balanced activities, and the intake of proper food, air, and water.

According to the Chinese, those who wisely protect their Precious Essence may live long without wrinkles and maintain a youthful appearance. From a lifetime of balance, it is even possible to achieve an excess of Precious Essence.

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Menopausal symptoms and Chinese women

During the survey, the Chinese women were asked about their menopausal symptoms. Not surprisingly, Chinese women tended to report the same symptoms as their North American or Western sisters. Insomnia was reported by 60% of the women, followed by hot flashes (51%), joint and muscle aches (18%), and exhaustion (16%). It appears no matter where women live in the world, they share many of the same menopausal symptoms.

Still, overall Chinese women experience menopause symptoms with higher ease than their Western colleagues. While we don't know the precise reason for this, there are some scientific suggestions offering the support for the factual data:

    * American women tend to have higher estrogen levels than Chinese women.
    * Many researchers suspect that difficulties with menopause are caused by the degree that estrogen levels fall. In other words, if estrogen levels are not so high to begin with, their fall is far shorter, leading to fewer symptoms. Meat, chicken, and dairy products contain foreign estrogens that are fed to animals to increase weight and production, but they also lead to higher estrogen levels.
    * Diets rich in vegetables, particularly whole grains and legumes, provide magnesium and vitamin B6, both of which appear to reduce symptoms of PMS, and possibly, of menopause.
    * Many plant foods, such as soy products, contain phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) such as genistein, which bind to estrogen receptors in the breast or endometrium, "locking out" the "bad" estrogens associated with cancer. In addition, these phytoestrogens provide a natural and gentle source of estrogen as women's levels drop during menopause. Researchers hypothesize that the high intake of soy products in Asia - tofu, soybean juice, miso - may be partly responsible for easing the Asian women's way through this mid-life passage.

Paraesthesia or odd skin sensations

One interesting symptom reported by a whopping 45% of the women was paraesthesia which refers to a skin sensation like pricking, burning, itching, or tingling that seems to have no real cause. This symptom is not usually high on the list of complaints for North American menopausal women but it is likely that many readers have experienced a feeling that their skin is ‘crawling’ or that skin is more sensitive than in the past. Some menopausal women find that their skin reacts to long favorite products including perfumes, skin lotions, and laundry detergents leading women to believe that they have developed allergies.

Chinese women and Japanese women

This study of Chinese women reveals that former beliefs of a homogeneous Asian culture are completely false. Compared to Japanese women, Chinese women report symptoms more familiar to North American, European and Australian women. Japanese women complain less about hot flashes and night sweats than do Chinese women. Researchers point to the large intake of soy typical in most Japanese diets; soy intake in China is relatively lower and more along the lines of a Western diet. With further research, scientists will be able to compare menopausal symptoms and between the similarities and differences, learn more about treatments.

Diet recommendations

To ease menopause symptoms, women should eat lots of whole grains — rice, spelt, oats, and so on, but not bread or flour products — and lots of leafy green vegetables and seaweed. Add plenty of cooked vegetables to the diet and choose foods that are high in vitamin and mineral content.

Fruit and fruit juices should be eaten only in moderation, prepared according to season: raw in the summer and cooked during the cooler months.

Also, traditional Chinese Medicine recommends eating fruits and vegetables that are grown locally and are in season. Eating the local foods of each season is part of living in harmony with nature.

Meat and fish should be eaten in small quantities, although the total amount of protein we need varies. Someone who is very active — for example, a gardener who is moving plants and rocks all day — will need more protein than an office worker. Dairy products also can be eaten, but again, in small quantities.

Chinese herbal medicine

Most women in China are evaluated by a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner well before they reach menopause. In Chinese medicine theory, women with certain deficiencies or imbalances of the body are at risk to develop severe menopausal symptoms in the future. If a practitioner saw a younger woman who showed signs of Kidney Yin Deficiency, for example, he would project that she would be likely to have a difficult time at menopause unless the deficiency was corrected. Many of the most valuable Chinese herbal formulas are designed to be tonics for Chi, Blood, Yang, or Yin, and can be used on a regular basis with no adverse side effects. A woman who displayed symptoms of Yin Deficiency, such as insomnia or heart palpitations, would be recommended to take a Yin tonic formula. The practitioner can tell by the signs of which internal organ is most affected by the deficiency, and will recommend a tonic which is formulated specifically for that organ. A time-tested formula for Kidney Yin Deficiency, often given to menopausal and pre-menopausal women is Kidney Yin Tonic (Rheumania Six Formula).


Physical exercises such as Chi Kung (or Qi Gong) or Yoga are extremely helpful for menopause. They are energy-moving, and can strengthen the body. These are disciplines that can regulate the body and bring about rejuvenation. The deeply meditative exercises that have this effect are not normally taught, so you may have to search for a teacher who can help with this.

Tolerance and forgiveness extended toward the self and others restores the Essence, as does the practice of devotion and honor. This is the path of the Tao, of walking energetically between Heaven and Earth. Practices that lead to the Way restore the body's vital energies.

Chi Kung and Yoga are best learned from a qualified teacher. Both methods of exercise nourish the chi through breathing exercises, and they strengthen the body through the movement of energy. These are exercises that stimulate the endocrine system and lungs. Yoga and Chi Kung improve longevity while increasing the sense of harmony within one's self in relation to the world.

It takes years to truly cultivate the significance of these practices, but even beginners will develop a sensation of wellbeing and peace of mind.

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Acupuncture balances energies, adding energy where it is needed, dissipating energy when it is too concentrated, moving energy that is stagnant. And it works directly on whatever organ you target. So acupuncture can work directly on the kidney and liver problems that are associated with menopausal symptoms.

As we said, it is the kidney that stores Precious Essence, and the kidney is the only organ that is both yin and yang. It rules the teeth, bones, hair, ears, reproductive functions, and growth or development of the body. An imbalance of kidney energy might be determined outwardly from thin, dry hair, poor teeth, and a recent development of worry and paranoia.

Because acupuncture can help to balance energy, it is significantly helpful for symptoms of menopause. Acupuncture helps tremendously with hot flashes and can control or eliminate them.

Sources and Additional Information:

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