Once every two weeks for the last four months, I’ve visited an acupuncturist to support myself through the changes in midlife. Licensed acupuncturist Mallory Berge specializes in treating peri- and post-menopausal women in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’d never had acupuncture before going to Mallory, so I didn’t know what to expect. My symptoms included occasional insomnia, headaches, and night sweats.
From the table
Much like a massage, I lie face down on a soft table while Mallory places hair-thin needles along the energy meridians of my body that correspond with my symptoms. She inserts needles in the tops of my feet, legs, along my spine and shoulders, hands, and scalp. I don’t love needles, but the placement is painless, only occasionally pinchy, and she adjusts them if necessary. This takes five to ten minutes, and for the next fifty minutes, I lie on the table alone while relaxing music plays overhead. A heat lamp is placed at my bare feet, and a light-weight blanket rests over my hips. Mallory returns once to make sure I’m comfortable, but each time I receive a treatment, I fall into a deep sleep. When it’s over, she removes the needles, which come out painlessly, and I resume my day feeling rested and more centered.
How it’s helped
After four months, I’m glad to report that my insomnia (including 4 AM waking) and headaches are rare, and the night sweats have completely vanished.
To learn more about the workings of acupuncture, I interviewed Mallory Berge. To follow is a Q&A, which explains in more detail how acupuncture supports women during the midlife transition. (I should note that acupuncture is a complimentary treatment, not a replacement for the primary care of your physician.)
From the acupuncturist
Q: Can you speak to how Chinese medicine views menopause?
A: While Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does not view perimenopause as a disease, it has throughout history addressed the various conditions and symptoms that accompany a woman’s transition into menopause. Our natural aging process is described in one of the oldest classical texts, the Nei Jing: Su Wen (Inner Classic: Simple Questions) and at seven times seven years or at age 49, the flow of menstruation starts to dwindle. This occurs because as we age, the body’s organ systems that play into our hormone cycles begin to decline. In TCM, we commonly look to the organ systems of the liver, spleen, and kidney when treating patterns associated with perimenopause, and our approach usually involves restoring balance to these systems to minimize symptoms and make the transition as smooth as possible.
Q: I wonder if you could break this down for us, beginning with the liver system. Which symptoms does this system address?
A: In TCM the liver is responsible for the smooth unfolding of the body’s cyclical processes, including hormonal cycles and menstruation. When the liver system is out of balance, you’ll have greater disturbances in hormone levels, often leading to increased emotional instability and depression/anxiety, headaches, bloating, and painful periods. Acupuncture is incredibly effective at harmonizing the liver system, improving overall mood, and leveling hormonal imbalances in the body.
Q: Many women experience adrenal fatigue in midlife, which sometimes coincides with the ovaries slowing their production of cortisol and other hormones. Though the liver system regulates hormones, I’m curious how the spleen system affects us?
A: The spleen is known as the Root of Post-Heaven Essence, meaning it extracts nutrients from the food we consume to power our body’s metabolic processes. When the digestive system is weak, we have to tap into our body’s deeper reserves that can’t be replenished (this also contributes to adrenal fatigue), so it’s important to strengthen the spleen not only in terms of digestion but to also boost metabolism and energy, mental focus, and prevent overall aging.
Q: In Green Calling’s survey of midlife women, nearly 60% of women with symptoms experience hot flashes, and 54% experience night sweats. I understand the kidney system regulates temperature. Could you talk about the kidney system?
The kidneys store the body’s jing, (vital essence responsible for our body’s constitutional strength) and yin, the substance that helps cool and nourish all structures in the body. The kidneys are also thought to govern all reproductive function and help maintain sex organs and their function in the body. As kidney yin and essence naturally decline with age, we typically see symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, drying of the skin and hair, and possibly vaginal dryness and atrophy. By strengthening the kidneys, we can naturally help slow the aging process and maintain overall sexual function in the body.
Q: Are there other menopausal symptoms that acupuncture can help?
A: Acupuncture helps with a host of other menopausal issues, including osteoporosis, fatigue and mental focus, changes to the skin such as acne and dryness, decreased libido, vaginal dryness, hair loss, and breast tenderness. Acupuncture is a proven, effective treatment to manage the transition to your post-menopausal years and prepare you for the “second spring,” or years of wisdom to come.
For more information, Mallory kindly provided us with these evidence-based books and articles:
1. Flaws, Bob, and Bob Flaws. A Compendium of Chinese Medical Menstrual Diseases. Blue Poppy Press, 2005.
2. Maciocia, Giovanni. Obstetrics and Gynecology in Chinese Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, 2011.
3. Menopause – acupuncture treatment for menopausal symptoms
4. Acupuncture as a Therapeutic Treatment for Anxiety
5. Effects of acupuncture on menopause-related symptoms and quality of life in women on natural menopause: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials – Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE)
6. Efficacy of a standardised acupuncture approach for women with bothersome menopausal symptoms: a pragmatic randomised study in primary care (the ACOM study) | BMJ Open
7. Acupuncture improves cognitive function: A systematic review – PMC
8. Biological Deciphering of the “Kidney Governing Bones” Theory in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Do you have health symptoms or beliefs about midlife that are sabotaging your happiness? Sign up for “30 Minutes to a Manageable (and Magical) Midlife,” an audio training and two guides created to deliver you from gloom to hope.