Interestingly, distressful menopausal symptoms, although uncommon in China, are frequent amongst women in the United States. Either because of diet or lifestyle, because they do not report it or because they use Chinese herbs, Chinese women do not suffer as women here from hot flashes, sweats, vaginal dryness and a variety of other problems that frequent menopause.
Even here though, some women suffer not at all, others suffer only slightly, while there are many for whom menopause means sweaty soaked sheets at night and “oh my goodness, hot flashes shopping at Wal-Mart.” (A complaint of one of my patients.)
• Chinese herbs are tailored to each woman’s particular set of menopause complaints, but two sets of issues stands out and are addressed by Chinese herbs: dryness and heat.
• Chinese herbalists almost always use herbs in herbal formulas, a collection of herbs — not single herbs that could not cover the symptoms and its underlying cause together.
• What everyone wants to know then is: what are the herbs?
There are two classes of herbs that are part of a Chinese herb formula:
1. Blood tonics (for dryness): a class of Chinese herbs that moistens the body in general. For menopause, the blood tonics used are especially for the reproductive organs. Yet, even these specific herbs are generally moistening. And if general body dryness is an issue for someone, herbs may be added to a formula to increase that effect. If vaginal dryness is particularly acute, more blood tonic herbs for that area of the body can be added. Chinese Herbs follow the individual. One formula does not fit all, but each set of herbs can be tailored appropriately.
These herbs are generally hormone regulators. They do not directly replace hormones lost in menopause — a practice in Western medicine that has turned out to be dangerous for health. They do seem to regulate hormones appropriately to time of life. If there is too little, these herbs will urge the body itself to produce a bit more. They will not return the body to pre-menopause levels, only to levels that are comfortable without creating other problems.
The blood tonic herbs treat the underlying cause of the symptoms of distressful menopause.
2. Cooling herbs (for hot flashes): a class of Chinese Herbs that relieves the symptoms of hot flashes and inflammations. Inflammatory response has it place in our bodies, in our response to injury, trauma or infection. These are a set of Chinese herbs, while cooling and soothing to the body do not interfere with proper body function.
These Chinese herbs, along with blood tonic herbs, combined in a herb formula, relieve the symptoms of an over-abundance of heat and hot flashes.
But whatever the set of distressing set of symptoms that accompany menopause, whether hair loss or the possibility of bone loss, decrease of sex drive, depression, Chinese herb formulas can be adjusted to meet the symptoms and the needs of the particular woman. There is not one size that fits all, even if there are typical herbs for typical complaints.
My experience as an herbalist has taught me that the amount of time that different women require taking Chinese herbs to alleviate symptoms varies. For some, it is virtually overnight, although this is unusual. Typically, a couple of months worth of herbs and the grosser symptoms if not all are gone. There are other women for whom extended use of Chinese herbs and adding acupuncture is required.
The general rule is that women with taller skinnier body types suffer more and take longer to treat. Life stress levels and how a particular person deals with them also seem important to how long menopause is uncomfortable and how long it needs to be treated. But these are just general rules, and again, individual women vary and can vary considerably.
Some of the long term effects of menopause and aging require life long use of Chinese herbs if the woman desires. Chinese herbs are relatively safe and their long term use is not nearly as problematic as long term use of drugs. There is a tonic tradition in Chinese herbs that has no equivalent in Western medicine. The closest that Western medicine comes to tonics is vitamin therapies. So, in China, and increasingly in the West, Chinese herbs are taken for extended periods of time not only without problem, but Chinese herbs can increase health and well being not just maintain it or return it to a neutral normal state.