Welcome to Chinese Medicine Bristol's official blog! Here, Acupuncture and TCM pracitioner Sandra Arbelaez will share information about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, how they work, and the latest research and developments related to TCM. You will also find knowledge and ideas on how to enjoy a full, healthy life that she has picked up over the course of 15 years of exploring the world of natural health

Monday, 5 March 2012

Second spring: The menopause in Chinese Medicine

Since it's International Women's day this week, I'd like to focus this post on something all of us ladies will all have to go through: the menopause. Hopefully, I will be able to infuse some positive thoughts about this subject.

In the West, women unconsciously learn that there is something inherently wrong with us. Hormones are supposed to turn us into nasty beings at least once a month during our reproductive years, and with even more venom at puberty and during the menopause. We are accused of being “hormonal” every time we get to show our anger and frustration.
In Chinese Medicine, the workings of the female body are believed to be much more intricate than those of the male body. This is partly because of the complex waxing and waning of hormones throughout the cycle; and the major changes that happen in the female body at different stages of life. This is even before we begin to talk about changes during and after pregnancy! Nevertheless, the concept of female hormones as sources of “evil”, and creators of illness and syndromes does not exist. In fact, the years approaching and during the menopause, probably the most difficult part of most Western women’s lives, are known in Chinese medicine as “the second spring”. During this time, there is a natural decline in certain energies of the body that may cause symptoms but which doesn't necessarily produce much discomfort to most Eastern women. It is about a new start, after we have accomplished our physical and most of our emotional growing and we are ready to invest in our spiritual growth. This is not to mean that our bodies can be forgotten, this is a time where physical enjoyment can also be pursued. With the stresses involved around the possibility of pregnancies out of the way, women can experience a true “sexual liberation”. So how can it be that we get such a bad deal when menopause is concerned?
The answer to this is complex:
Ageing: not for the faint-hearted
First of all, our pre-conceptions about aging, hormones and the menopause itself make us have negative expectations, to which we subconsciously may succumb when the time comes. In traditional societies, the elderly are respected and seen as the pillars of the community and the carriers of wisdom and truth. In the West instead, the idea of aging causes fear and rejection as, in our eyes, youth is of more value and is therefore more desirable. This idea has resulted in an expectation of youthfulness even into our mature years. This puts immense pressure on women much more than on men. Men after all don’t seem to have a "clock ticking away" as we do. We do not feel as allowed as men to proudly wear signs of aging such as wrinkles and greying hair. This is one of the reasons why the menopause has a connotation of decline, of the end of youth and attractiveness. This cultural conception often results in depression, anxiety, lack of confidence and a host of other problems.
Other, more tangible factors that have an impact on us at the time of menopause are stress, long-term contraceptive pill intake, other health issues, and of course our diet and lifestyle. Most of us have experienced how easily affected our periods are at times of stress, illness or exhaustion. Little wonder then that the pressures of modern life and the stresses of busy work and family lives will have an impact on the big hormonal shift that is the menopause. This does not mean that we cannot correct our ways and enjoy the benefits of a healthier life-style at any point of our life.
Chinese Medicine understands that during the menopausal years, the energies involved in creating the menstrual cycle are in decline. Thus, the reproductive energy of the Kidneys, where the energies of Yin (the cool, moist, nourishing aspect) and the Yang (the warm, dry, active aspect) originate, is naturally diminished. The usual lack of balance between activity and rest – we work too hard, play too hard and spend hardly any time recovering our strength until we are so exhausted we can’t even sleep- particularly harms the Yin energy creating an effect of excessive heat and over-activity of the Yang aspect even if it has also been damaged. This is the basic root of symptoms that are typically seen during the menopause: symptoms of heat (yang) especially in the afternoon and night, the times when the yin is supposed to be strongest, night sweats, excessive emotions, dryness, etc. Individual factors like long-standing stress or other health issues will affect the symptom picture differently depending on the case, but an experienced Chinese Medicine practitioner should be able to get an accurate diagnosis and offer the appropriate treatment.
A second Spring: what we should aim for!
Acupuncture provides space for Yin recovery as it induces a restful state where Yin can replenish. Points can be selected to tonify the organs that are suffering from exhaustion while the excessive heat is cleared. There are also specific points that can calm the emotions (the Heart in Chinese Medicine), induce restful sleep and alleviate excessive sweating. Several Chinese herbal formulae can be used during the menopause. They can produce noticeable effects, sometimes amazingly quickly. Many of my patients have found relief with only herbs after having only one or two courses of acupuncture.
So there is help at hand for our menopausal symptoms. However, we should re-consider our whole definition of the menopause and perhaps make an effort to let go of our fear of aging. I know it is scary and we want to carry on looking and feeling young and beautiful. We can still be beautiful, but it is a whole different beautiful from the youthful fresh beauty that not even plastic surgery can bring back. With a little work, we could finally see beauty in our grey hairs and in our lines and then something exciting might happen: we may find ourselves living our second spring..


  1. Your articles are all so well written! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for your kind words Judy! I'm glad you have enjoyed what I write, I hope you find it useful as well. All the best