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Sweet Relief: Acupuncture and Herbs for hot flashes and other perimenopausal symptoms

Perimenopause is defined as the length of time between the reproductive years and menopause. Pretty vague, huh? The symptoms, however, are quite well-defined. Hot flashes, night sweats, forgetfulness, anxiety and/or depression, weight gain and even migraines can all happen during this period of time. Periods often become irregular and very heavy. Perimenopause can last anywhere from 3.5 to 14 years, so if a woman’s symptoms are pronounced, it can greatly interfere with normal daily activities. If you are one of the unlucky few whose symptoms last upwards of 14 years, finding a treatment that can provide natural relief from perimenopausal symptoms is crucial. Recent research shows that the earlier these symptoms begin, the longer they tend to last (source).

A common misconception about perimenopause is that estrogen levels are too low, and this is what causes things such as hot flashes, weight gain and irregular periods. In reality, estrogen is, on average, much higher than before due to intermittent (but frequent) high readings followed by a dramatic, rapid drop in estrogen. These drops are when symptoms are at their worst (source). So, traditional treatments such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are working to smooth out these peaks and valleys in your estrogen levels, thereby diminishing symptoms. Other common treatments include drugs such as SSRI and SNRI antidepressants, a blood pressure medication called Clonidine and a seizure medication called Gabapentin. Isoflavone extracts (soy and red clover), Vitamin B-complex or Vitamin E are commonly used “natural” remedies.

Traditional Chinese Medicine can help with smoothing the hormonal transitions of perimenopause through both herbs and acupuncture. We view hot flashes as something called “Yin Deficiency Fire”- this means the fluids of your body which normally are responsible for regulating body temperature have become depleted. To some extent, this is a normal process of aging. However the extreme, debilitating symptoms women experience are an indication of underlying imbalance, which when addressed holistically can be greatly decreased.

In treatment of perimenopausal symptoms, both acupuncture and herbs nourish the above mentioned fluids, calm the mind, smooth the flow of energy and improve digestion. All of these effects can help with hot flashes, anxiety and/or depression, weight gain and insomnia. In my experience, after just a few sessions women notice a difference. The treatments tend to have a cumulative effect, with the symptom relief gradually increasing until a more balanced, steady state is reached. Therefore at the beginning of a course of treatment I recommend once weekly sessions, and as things improve, treatments can gradually decrease in frequency, down to even once a month.

If you have questions about how acupuncture and herbs can help with hot flashes and other perimenopausal symptoms, please contact me and I’ll be happy to speak with you!