Updated: Feb 24
Supporting You with Acupuncture
A quick menopause summary and how acupuncture can help us either as part of a combined approach with conventional medicine or on its own with diet, lifestyle and exercise.
What is the menopause?
It's when we stop having periods and can't get pregnant naturally. Our ovaries stop producing eggs so levels of the hormones they produce fall (oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone). It actually refers to a single day: when we haven’t had a period for 12 months. The average age of menopause in the UK is 51.
Peri-menopause to Menopause
For most of us, our ovaries gradually slow down. This transition period is the perimenopause.
Around the age of 45 (may be earlier or later) we may notice:
our periods get lighter or irregular
occasional hot flushes
fatigue with sleep disruption
loss of sex drive (libido)
joint and muscle aches
changes to our skin and hair
anxiety including racing heart
poor memory and concentration.
Fantastic! - it's no wonder we don't recognise ourselves. And often symptoms creep up on us as we're busy working and/or bringing up a family, so we might initially put them down to everyday stress.
We're all beautifully unique!
How we choose to manage our menopause will be influenced by our views on medication, alternative therapies, our diet, lifestyle, previous health history etc - one size does not fit all.
A lucky one third of us will have no symptoms. But on average we experience 7 years of symptoms which can be significant and distressing.
Ongoing physical symptoms can leave us exhausted and the emotional chaos of mood swings, anxiety and depression can affect our quality of life and put a strain on our personal relationships and work.
Help and Choices
In clinic I see acupuncture benefit women coping with the menopause either as a treatment alongside conventional medicine like HRT or alone with changes to diet, exercise and lifestyle. There's value in doing our research and being open minded to treatment and changes which may help us.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is commonly prescribed and is life changing for some of us. In most cases, I like to think of it as 'topping up' hormone levels rather than replacing them. There are different options and specialist menopause clinics (NHS and private) where we can get up-to-date advice to decide if it's right for us.
HRT isn't suitable for anyone with a history of breast, ovarian or womb cancer, liver disease, blood clots or untreated high blood pressure. Other options include a low-level antidepressant to stabilise mood, oestrogen creams to counteract vaginal dryness or various medications to stabilise heavy bleeding or help with hot flushes and night sweats.
Diet, lifestyle and exercise - If we're already 'running on empty' it's likely we'll find coping with symptoms much harder. It makes sense to aim for a well-balanced diet with a good variety of fruit and vegetables. We can also watch the hot flush triggers - spicy foods, coffee, smoking and alcohol - because less night sweats mean better sleep.
Sleep helps our mood stay more even and enables us to push through the day. We might support this by scaling back work hours or lessening the load at home if we can.
Regular exercise, especially outside, acts as a mini reset giving us more energy and boosting our mood. When motivation is low, even small, sustainable changes like upping our walking can make a positive difference. Weight bearing exercise also becomes important to help us reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Supplements - You'll find various suggestions - these have some positive evidence:
Hot flushes - Black Cohosh and Flaxseed
Mood booster/sleep improver - Ginseng
Bone density - Calcium (plus Vitamin D)
As the transition to menopause is so individual and can last years, tailored treatments like acupuncture can provide significant support.
Five Element Acupuncture treats at our core and as a whole so is excellent for multiple symptoms.
Various studies show acupuncture may provide relief from some common menopausal symptoms - for full details and references see Evidence Based Acupuncture.
Hot flushes/night sweats - Among the most common symptoms and one of the best-studied areas for acupuncture. Reviews in 2009 and 2015 found that the majority of studies reported 50% reductions in hot flushes, lasting for up to 6 months.
Depression and anxiety - A 2013 review concluded that although the quality of the evidence was mixed, acupuncture was “promising” as a therapy for menopausal women with depression. They added: “At this time, it is reasonable to use acupuncture as an adjunctive therapy for treating depression in postmenopausal women who have vasomotor symptoms.” (vasomotor symptoms = hot flushes and night sweats). A 2007 review focused on acupuncture for anxiety; it reported positive outcomes across all trials.
Sleep disturbance and insomnia - A 2015 review found 75% reported improvements in sleep complaints following acupuncture treatment.
General - In 2019 the BBC shared a study in BMJ Open which found that 5 weeks of acupuncture reduced hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances and emotional problems.
Worth noting - trials require all patients to have the same treatment, whereas in normal practice, we receive bespoke treatment according to our needs which tends to improve results. My own regular patients have seen benefits in improved mood, better sleep and less symptoms of heat like hot flushes.
All of us deserve help and support. If you're struggling, share how you're feeling with a friend or family member, GP or online support group and explore what's right for you.
Extra reading and resources
You'll find many books, websites and research online - these have been helpful to me and my patients:
'Menopause Matters' - award winning, independent - covers use of acupuncture
'The Menopause Charity' - great website, unbiased, clear and helpful
'Henpicked' - sassy website for women, with a menopause hub - lots of tips and advice, blog style
Davina McCall's book 'Menopausing' - a great self-help guide, well laid out, readable, practical
Dr Louise Newson - GP and menopause expert. Check out her website for free resources.
A huge shout out for my friend and HR expert Cathy Hastie's fab book - 'Menopause Working' - managing menopause symptoms in the workplace, rights, responsibilities and more.
Marilyn Glenville - 'New Natural Alternatives to HRT'. Writer of many books on women's health - great if you'd prefer/need to opt for natural approaches.
Get in touch
I'm passionate about the benefits of Five Element acupuncture.... to find out more about how it could help you, get in touch and I''ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.