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Harmonizing Perimenopause with Chinese Medicine

Within the traditional Chinese framework of understanding the body, we all embody aspects of both Yin and Yang. These mutually opposing and creating Yin and Yang aspects are ideally balanced, leading to harmonious interaction of bodily processes and optimal health. While Yin and Yang both represent a wide variety of opposites, for this article we will focus on Yin as being cool and fluid and relating to estrogens, while Yang will be warm and dry and relating to progesterones. We also consider Blood - the fluid manifestation of Qi - which relates to several types of hormones

As we age, our Yin and Blood tend to decline. When cold Yin fluids wane faster than hot Yang energy, then our bodies will become relatively hotter. Imagine that your system is a pot of water over low heat to which you were constantly adding ice cubes to maintain a constant temperature. If you were to stop adding ice, or even started taking the ice out, the water would start heating up. In our body, this decline in Yang can manifest as hot flashes and night sweats. In addition, blood nourishes our hair, brain, and reproductive organs. When we do not have enough blood to support all of our bodily functions, it may manifest as the graying of hair, poor memory and concentration, and menstrual irregularities.

In Chinese medicine, we see this decline as a natural process. While Western medicine seeks to replace what is missing, Eastern thought believes that the body should be nudged into harmony so that the imbalance does not manifest as clinical symptoms. We use a two-pronged strategy of harmonizing Yin and Yang while replenishing blood. There are several means of accomplishing these goals, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary counseling and more. Unlike Western therapies that have been tied to an increased risk in ovarian and breast cancer, Asian approaches can relieve many perimenopausal symptoms without dangerous side effects.

Some things you can do on your own include:

1. Foods that can nourish Yin and balance Yang:
abalone, apple, asparagus, black-eyed pea, black fungus, black sesame, cantaloupe, chestnut, chicken egg, chicken liver, clam, coconut milk, cuttlefish, date, duck, fig, grape, honey, kidney bean, kumquat, lemon, litchi, loquat, lotus, maltose, mandarin orange, mango, mussel, oyster, pea, pear, pineapple, pomegranate, pork, royal jelly, sea cucumber, star fruit, string bean, tofu, tomato, walnut, watermelon, white fungus, yam.

2. Foods to replenish blood
Seaweeds (nori, hijiki, wakame), dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale), beef, black strap molasses

3 Patent herbal formulas:
Some people tout black cohosh and dong quai as being good for perimenopausal symptoms. However, these herbs taken by themselves can have negative side effects in certain people.

Common patent herbal formulas include Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan and Geng Nian Le. The former is especially good for hot flashes and night sweats while the latter helps a broad range of perimenopausal symptoms. You should consult your herbalist to make sure they are right for you.

4. Acupressure
If you have access to an acupuncture point chart, then you can stimulate Fuliu (KD7), Yinxi (HT6), Ququan (LV8), Taixi (KD3), and Sanyinjiao (SP6). These are used to constrain Yin.

5. Mild exercise
Yoga, Taiji, walking, and other gentle exercises are good for maintaining health while not depleting Qi and Yin. Light free-weight training can help prevent osteoporosis.

6. Avoid:
Energetically hot foods: cayenne pepper, chinese chives, eel