Hormone Replacement Therapy: The Oriental Medicine Alternative
By Catherine Niemiec, JD, L.Ac
The recent news about the National Institute of Health stopping part of its study on HRT did not come as much of a surprise to many alternative health care practitioners. For more than a decade, there has been a substantial voice in the alternative health care field that saw danger in using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) as an age defying wonder drug. Menopause is a natural event in a woman’s life. Symptoms simply mean that there are some adjustments necessary to re-establish balance. A balanced, holistic paradigm is the basis of Oriental Medical theory and practice. While menopausal symptoms will eventually pass, Oriental medicine can help a woman cope with the symptoms during the pre- to post-menopausal years.
Oriental Medicine (with its own terminology) sees the change as part of a natural cycle when the body begins to conserve its energy (Qi) and resources for longevity, which has been studied in Oriental Medicine for literally thousands of years. The body becomes deficient in vital essences (Qi, yin, yang, and Blood) in certain systems in the body and the flow of Qi stagnates. Often, the Qi or yang will rise, causing hot flashes, headaches and irritability. These deficiencies trigger the change to conservation in order to achieve balance. Thus, natural menopause is important for helping the body to conserve its energy since the estrogen is no longer needed for the tasks of bearing children and monthly cycles. HRT actually can put an undue burden on the body’s natural Qi or vital energy by attempting to extend the maiden cycle. This can force the body out of balance and increase the risk of disease.
Most women use HRT to help ease some of the uncomfortable feelings of menopause or to stave off osteoporosis. Hot flashes, mood swings, bloating and insomnia are among the most common complaints. Chinese herbs and acupuncture have been eliminating menopausal symptoms and preventing osteoporosis for centuries without the dangerous side effects of HRT (increased risk of cancer, gall bladder disease, and thromboembolitic disease).** Recent studies validate that acupuncture is also an effective treatment for regulating hot flashes and related symptoms.*** An NIH-funded study in Tucson proved that acupuncture was effective in reducing depression.**** The World Health Organization (WHO) also acknowledges acupuncture as an effective method for treating menopausal symptoms.
Women can safely take Oriental herbal formulas and receive acupuncture as they gradually discontinue use of hormone therapy. Under the supervision of a trained Chinese herbalist and licensed acupuncturist, each patient’s different frequency, type and duration of symptoms are acknowledged to determine individualized treatments and formulas. This accounts for the high success rates that Oriental medicine has in treating some of the most stubborn menopausal symptoms, and its ability to revitalize and strengthen the bones, blood, energy, and health. Oriental herbal formulas and acupuncture “face-lifts” can also help one retain some of the youthful qualities that HRT promised. However, it takes more than herbal pills or teas and acupuncture to easily navigate through menopause to longevity. A lifestyle change with exercise is needed to help keep one’s energy moving so balance is maintained for good health. Gentle exercise, like Yoga, Tai Qi and Qi Gong, is all that is necessary for women over 50 in any physical condition. In addition, one can prevent bone loss through the use of light weights. Weight-training creates a gravity-sensitive body and gives one a feeling of strength and protection. By combining herbal support, acupuncture, exercise, Oriental nutrition, and Oriental massage therapy, the menopausal years can be more gratifying, and less unnerving.
American women will live longer than ever. By living in balance within nature’s cycles and using the tools and wisdom of Oriental Medicine, one can live healthier and with greater reward. According to the Oriental ancestors, Balance is the secret of life!
Catherine Niemiec, JD, L.Ac. is the President and Founder of the Phoenix Institute of Herbal Medicine & Acupuncture (PIHMA), College & Clinic, the Valley’s only accredited college of Asian Medicine.