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Go with the Flow! Balance Your Hormones with Herbs and Acupuncture

by Maureen M. Conant, L.Ac.

When your hormones are balanced and happy, it is visible on your face, which appears more relaxed and content. However, painful, heavy or irregular periods, PMS, fertility challenges, mood swings, and menopausal hot flashes are just some of the problems that can occur when hormones go haywire. These imbalances can be corrected with a series of acupuncture treatments and/or a personalized herbal formula, and by following some lifestyle guidelines according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

For those unfamiliar with how acupuncture works, in general, acupuncture points are locations at the surface of the body, which send messages along channels (called ‘meridians’) that not only run along the skin, but also travel internally to provide nourishment to the muscles, joints, tendons, bones and internal organs. If there is a disruption in the flow of blood and energy along any of these channels, an imbalance occurs, leading to symptoms of illness. Stimulating the points with fine acupuncture needles helps to redirect the flow of blood and energy throughout the body to restore balance and health. In particular to the female hormonal system, acupuncture meridians connect the uterus with the kidneys, the heart and the brain which helps to explain the influence of mental thoughts and emotions on hormonal function and vice versa.

So, what does acupuncture do to your hormones in scientific terms? Current research shows that acupuncture treatment influences the production and circulation of hormones in the body. It also has an effect on endorphins (the ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain), which are heavily linked to hormones and thus mood changes at different times in our cycle or different phases of our lives, such as pregnancy and menopause. In TCM terms, acupuncture regulates the flow of energy and substances in the body.

Herbal medicine is an equally important component of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is very effective in helping to resolve some hormonal and gynecological complaints. A personalized formula based on your diagnosis will have an elegant combination of anywhere between 2 and 12 herbs. Your formula can be taken as a beverage or in a convenient pill form, depending on your preference and lifestyle. Acupuncture and herbal treatment can be used separately, each being effective in their own way. However, by combining the two often the greatest results are achieved.

Eastern and Western concepts of anatomy and physiology differ. For an example of how a western condition is viewed in Chinese medical terms, let’s look at menopause. Menopausal symptoms arise when there is a lesser amount of yin in relation to yang, its counterpart. The amount of yin we have regulates our body’s cooling mechanism. Yin is similar to the coolant in an air conditioner. Without enough of it, we overheat and experience symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, irritability and insomnia. Yang is similar to our body’s internal furnace. A lack of it can result in water retention, weight gain, fatigue, depression or decreased libido. As we age, yin and yang both tend to decline. The ideal balance is like having an efficient control switch that keeps the body’s internal thermostat regulated.

You may ask, what causes a hormonal imbalance? A number of factors can disrupt the delicate balance of the female hormonal system. Some of these factors include: emotional stress, improper diet, inadequate rest, excessive physical or mental work, surgery, or exposure to the elements (cold, heat, dampness). All of these are taken into consideration when determining a correct diagnosis and treatment plan.

The following list is some general self-care advice that I like to give my patients when they come in to address a gynecological issue:

  • Decrease or eliminate the following: sugar, alcohol, coffee, tea, chocolate, and salt. I know, all the ‘fun’ things, but everyone is different and some folks can do okay with small amounts. For others, giving up these things entirely is worth not having the symptoms that trouble them. For most of us, moderation is the key.
     
  • Avoid meats and dairy products with added growth hormones, antibiotics and chemicals, which often disrupt the body’s hormonal balance.
     
  • Some supplements that may be helpful: vitamin B6, Calcium, Magnesium, EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids found in fish, flax, evening primrose oils). Low levels of EFAs are associated with hormone imbalances. EFA’s play an active role in the regulation of hormone production. Plus, they keep our skin soft and glowing! (Talk to your naturopathic doctor or nutritional expert) Pick up your supplements in the health and beauty section of Madison Market.
     
  • Avoid extremely cold foods or iced beverages during menses.
     
  • Avoid exposure to cold during your menses. The uterus is particularly vulnerable to invasion of cold which can cause imbalances or problems with painful cramps, or fertility.
     
  • Avoid using tampons if you have painful periods. This can disrupt the normal flow of menstrual discharge.
     
  • Exercise is important, however avoid vigorous exercise during the first few days of your period. Stick with gentle walking and stretching. More intense exercise can be helpful in the pre-menstrual phase to help soothe the emotions.
     
  • Long term use of oral contraceptives can disrupt the hormonal cycle, especially once you go off of them. Consider a different form of birth control.
     
  • Plan life accordingly. Menses is a time for rest, it’s okay to take it easy for a few days. If you can, don’t plan too many activities and give yourself time for adequate rest and rejuvenation during your menses.

Part of my job as a practitioner is not only treating my patients with acupuncture and prescribing herbs, but also acting as a health care facilitator, sending them home with a general understanding of their particular pattern of imbalance and how to make changes in their lifestyle that will help to bring them back into balance. All the acupuncture in the world is not going to lead to long lasting results if the patient continues to do the things that contributed to the imbalance in the first place! It’s just as important, if not more so, to educate the patient in addition to using the tools of acupuncture and herbs to help coax their system back into balance.

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