Empowered Healing: Navigating Menopause with Acupuncture

by Brian Grosam, PhD, LAc, ABORM

Discovering a New Path

I became a menopause expert almost by accident. In the summer of 2007, while working on my PhD in acupuncture in Jinan, China, I was learning alongside my clinical professor, Dr. Qihua Shan, at a busy Chinese medicine hospital. As I entered my second year, it was time to choose my research path. Though I was initially set on specializing in neurological acupuncture, the universe had other plans.

After proposing several topics, none of which Dr. Shan approved, she suggested menopause as a research focus. Menopause, she noted, was a growing concern globally, and her husband, Dr. Fudong Wu, had recently conducted research on acupuncture’s benefits for menopausal symptoms. She believed this would be a worthwhile topic, as it combined neurology and endocrinology. Thus, my journey began.

The Beginning of a Lifelong Journey

In 2009, I completed my PhD research on acupuncture’s effects on menopausal symptoms. While my results showed that acupuncture was moderately effective, it only worked for some patients. This discrepancy drove my curiosity and desire to understand why some women improved while others did not. For the next 15 years, I immersed myself in classical Chinese medical texts, studied with leading experts, and conducted my own clinical research, all to help more women find relief from menopausal symptoms.

The Art and Science of Treating Menopause

Treating menopause is akin to solving a unique puzzle every day. Each patient brings a distinct body and story, making it fascinating to discover which acupuncture techniques and herbal formulas are most effective. The key lies in diagnosing and selecting the best treatment strategy to balance the neuro-hormonal system as it adapts to fluctuating estrogen levels.

During menopause, the body experiences a decline in naturally produced estrogen, which upsets the hormonal and neurological balance maintained by the hypothalamus. This brain region, responsible for regulating body temperature, sleep, emotions, and energy, must learn to function independently of estrogen—hence the term ‘menopausal transition.’

Addressing Patient Concerns

Many first-time menopause patients arrive at the clinic feeling anxious, uncertain about what to expect. They worry about severe, uncontrollable symptoms with no relief in sight. The severity and duration of symptoms vary based on a patient’s constitution, genetics, lifestyle, diet, surgeries, and medications. On average, menopause lasts about 3-7 years, with problematic symptoms persisting for around 1-3 years.

The Power of Acupuncture

Starting treatments before menopause begins is the most effective strategy, ensuring a smoother transition. Early intervention helps maintain control and prevent symptoms from escalating. Regular acupuncture can reduce the severity of hot flashes and other symptoms, potentially shortening the overall transition period.

Comprehensive Care Strategies

Menopausal symptoms range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms typically resolve within 3-6 treatments, moderate symptoms within 6-12 treatments, and severe symptoms require more prolonged care (12+ treatments). However, every patient is unique, and response times can vary. My clinical experience shows that acupuncture and herbal medicine can alleviate 60-90% of hot flashes and menopausal symptoms. Alleviation means the symptoms become manageable and do not significantly impact the patient’s quality of life. Maintenance treatments, whether monthly, quarterly, or annually, may be necessary until the transition concludes.

Holistic Approaches to Menopause

This period is ideal for discussing what’s happening in the body and how acupuncture can help. Educating and empowering patients is crucial, emphasizing the benefits of daily activity, rest, a healthy diet, stress management, emotional stability, and overall happiness for a healthier body-mind-spirit.

Lifestyle choices directly impact overall health. Chinese medicine views lifestyle adjustments as another form of treatment. Exercise and routine activity benefit the lungs; relaxation, stress reduction, and meditation support the liver; a healthy diet and proper hydration aid the spleen; balanced work-rest habits benefit the kidneys; and finding joy and purpose nurtures the heart. These practices are vital for maintaining good health. By focusing on these areas, many women can effectively alleviate their menopausal symptoms and navigate this transition with greater ease.

Supporting the Second Stage of Life

Menopause marks the beginning of the second stage of a woman’s life. A rebirth! Acupuncture is a powerful tool in this transition, helping alleviate various symptoms from hot flashes and night sweats to mood changes, insomnia, brain fog, anxiety and fatigue. Additionally, it supports cognitive function, cardiovascular health, weight management, and addresses changes in the reproductive tract. It’s an honor to assist women through this transformative phase, improving their quality of life.