by Clark and Ann Zimmerman, L.Ac.
Many people are not aware that acupuncture and Oriental medicine have enjoyed a rich and extensive history in treating the gamut of female health concerns, from PMS to dysmenorrhea to postpartum issues. Menopause is another dimension of female health that can be extremely difficult for women, as hot flashes and night sweats can cause unbearable discomfort. Fortunately, acupuncture and herbs are excellent options for menopausal women, as they offer safe, noninvasive, and effective treatment for these often debilitating symptoms. Menopause is a time where many women become yin deficient, meaning that the cooling, moistening, and calming aspects of their physiology are weakening. As a result, they often get hot, irritated, anxious, and can’t sleep as well. The main treatment principle for menopausal women involves nourishing yin with acupuncture and herbs.
Acupuncture is considered to be a cooling therapy. The stainless steel needles that are used during treatment are said to disperse Qi. This means that they are unblocking energy that has become blocked or stuck. When energy gets blocked for too long, it generates heat which will burn yin and lead to yin deficiency. We have heard many women say that they felt cooler right after the needles were put in. The needles are actually deflating certain areas that have become overheated and compressed. Certain points are also used that have a direct effect on nourishing yin, thereby rejuvenating the cooling aspects of one’s physiology.
Chinese herbs work synergistically with acupuncture to create a state of continuity in clearing heat and nourishing yin between treatments. We would highly recommend committing to this approach before using hormone therapy, as these natural options are free of side effects. Hormone therapy is quite controversial in terms of its long-term effects. While it has worked wonders for many women in the short-term, when we hear references to increased incidence of ovarian cancer, fibrocystic breasts, and emotional fluctuations, we cannot give it a raving endorsement. Below is a list of several Chinese herbal formulas that are used to treat hot flashes and night sweats:
Zhi bai di huang wan/temper fire: This is probably the most popular Chinese herbal formula for hot flashes. It is considered a kidney yin tonic that clears fire from the kidneys. Other symptoms would be low back pain, scanty dark urine, and low energy. It is safe, gentle, and can work miracles if it matches well with the patient’s constitution.
Jia wei xiao yao wan/free and easy wanderer plus: This formula addresses hot flashes that are due to a liver depressive heat pattern which would include symptoms such as irritability, high stress, red eyes, headaches, and indigestion.
Da bu yin wan: This formula is for a pattern called ‘steaming bone syndrome’ in which the hot flashes feel as if they are penetrating into the depths of one’s bones. It is a kidney yin tonic that utilizes herbs that penetrate deep into the body to clear heat.
Tian wan bu xin dan/celestial emperor’s teapill: This formula is for a combination of heart and kidney yin deficiency, which will manifest with symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, irritability, thirst, and malar flush.
Er xian tang: This formula is for a mixed pattern of kidney yin and yang deficiency. Symptoms include a history of feeling cold with recent onset of hot flashes, low libido, fatigue, and low back pain.
Hot flashes and night sweats tend to respond very well to treatment with acupuncture and herbs. It is important to keep in mind that these symptoms often have an underlying emotional component that needs to be addressed before they will disappear. It is natural to feel heightened emotions as you go about healing this condition with acupuncture and herbs. We highly recommend seeking out the help of a qualified healthcare professional if you are interested in using herbs for hot flashes and night sweats. Many patients have said things like, ‘I heard that black cohosh is good for hot flashes, but it never worked for me.’ It is important to keep in mind that herbs will only work if they address your specific constitutional needs. These needs are assessed by examining the tongue, palpating the pulse, and matching these findings with one’s symptoms. In this way, a much more specific and accurate diagnosis and treatment is formulated that will more likely optimize the benefits for the patient.