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Menopause - A Chinese Approach

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 80 - September 2002

Getting Older

As a woman of, let's say, 'mature years', you look in the mirror and notice a few more wrinkles/character lines. Your hairdresser suggests that you might want to cover the 'odd' strand of grey. You start to forget where you left your newly acquired reading specs and, as if all this were not enough, you then begin to experience the joys of night sweats, hot flushes, palpitations and mood swings.

In terms of Western medical diagnosis, all these symptoms suggest that you are going through the menopause, but according to Chinese medicine these problems indicate a decrease in the reproductive energy stored in the kidneys known as 'Jing'. When the Jing, which basically means 'essence', diminishes, then signs and symptoms of ageing manifest what Western medicine has labelled 'menopause'.

There are two types of essence - the type stored in the kidneys which is inherited from our parents, and another which is produced by the spleen from food, air and water. These two types of essence are very much interdependent and help to promote each other. However, the Jing that is inherited is finite and gradually diminishes over a lifetime and it is this that particularly causes us to age and manifest menopausal symptoms.

Jing is considered to be a very precious substance that we need to protect and value by ensuring that we do not erode it through excesses - neither overworking nor over-partying! Although Jing is stored in the kidneys, it has a very powerful influence over other tissue in the human body, particularly influencing the bones and nervous system. This precious essence naturally declines as we age and causes changes in the tissues that it normally nourishes. Bones can become frail and the central nervous system can manifest symptoms of dizziness and vertigo along with a decline in memory and concentration.

The Chinese Five Element Model shows us that there is a cycle of energy that further explains how a decrease in kidney Jing can give rise to menopausal symptoms. In terms of Chinese medicine we know that the life force, known as 'chi', moves to transform itself so that each element of fire, earth, metal, water and wood changes into the next. Thus earth transforms into metal, which becomes water; water gives birth to wood, which in turn changes into fire, which then transforms to earth. Each of the elements manifests in the human body as an organ - thus fire is represented by the heart and small intestines, earth by the stomach and spleen, metal by the lungs and colon, water through the bladder and kidneys, and wood by the liver and gall bladder. There is a cycle of the elements, which is known as the 'control' cycle, and here fire is controlled by water, water by earth, earth by wood, wood by metal, and metal by fire. Thus when the water element is out of balance and there is a decrease in the kidney energy, it fails to control the fire element as represented by the heart and so menopausal symptoms ensue such as palpitations, night sweats and flushes.

Fortunately, even though the inherited Jing may be running down as we age and water begins to fail to control fire, we can help ourselves by preserving our kidney essence and by building up our acquired essence through techniques that are rooted in Chinese medicine. These include lifestyle changes, stimulating acupressure points, diet and herbs.

Lifestyle Changes

By now you will see that overwork under stressful conditions weakens kidney Jing. A harried and busy life in the twenty-first century is thus full of factors to erode this vital energy. In order to preserve kidney essence, which will diminish with old age, we need to ensure that we lead lives that are as stress free as possible. Above all, let go of pushing yourself. Conserve energy and pace all of your activities, alternating periods of work with rest. Cultivate relaxation by trying yoga or the Chinese form of exercise known as Chi Gung, which involves gentle stretches combined with breathing and is good protection against osteoporosis. Don't waste energy being too 'house proud'. Ignore a bit of dust; simplify your home and make it a stress-free zone.

Acupressure Points

In terms of Chinese medicine there is a relationship between the organs and other parts of the body that is made possible by a network of channels or 'meridians'. Points are located on these channels that allow us to influence the flow of chi in the organs. For instance, we can affect the kidney Jing by massaging the acupressure point on the kidney channel known as 'Greater Mountain Stream'. This is to be found just behind the inner ankle bone. Press firmly and rub in a clockwise direction for at least three minutes each side.

To further affect the kidneys and also the liver and spleen, massage the point known as 'Three Yin Crossing', which can be found by placing the little finger behind the inner ankle bone - where the index finger lies against the leg bone (tibia) is the point. Again, rub gently in a clockwise direction for three minutes each side. Finally, to support the fire element and soothe the heart energy, gently rub the point known as 'Spirit Gate' on the inside of the wrist at the crease directly below the little finger for three minutes anticlockwise on each side.

Herbs and Diet

Traditionally, herbal tonics are used in Chinese medicine to strengthen the kidneys. Always see a herbal practitioner for advice rather than self-prescribing. A typical prescribed remedy would be 'Zuo Gui Yin' - replenishing yin decoction. If hot flushes are severe, try one tablet of Dong Quai daily and 15 drops of Agnus Castus twice daily before meals. Particularly at night drink camomile tea to relax you and improve your quality of sleep.

Always remember to drink plenty of water (at least 1.5 litres per day) to flush out toxins and help support the kidneys. Avoid sugary foods, as these tend to weaken the kidney energy and may cause water retention. Stay away from salt, coffee and alcohol as these too will cause fluid retention and induce calcium loss. Avoid animal fats and use cold-pressed oils such as olive oil. Eat plenty of protein, particularly chicken and fish, and include three portions of vegetables a day. If you feel hyperactive, hot and bothered, eat celery, asparagus, apples and bananas. If you tend towards feeling cold and tired then eat mainly cooked foods such as warming broths and avoid raw food. Include in your diet lots of soy products such as tofu to increase plant oestrogens in your diet. Research shows that Japanese women who consume high levels of soya do not suffer from menopausal symptoms. Supplements that are known to be helpful at the time of menopause are fish oils and evening primrose oil along with magnesium to increase the amount of calcium absorbed in your daily diet. Boron is also helpful in the prevention of osteoporosis. Include daily a good multivitamin along with vitamin B complex.

Exploring Opportunities

Finally, remember that you are entering into a time of life that is all about pulling into the slow lane. You may be feeling low as you alter course and seem to lose the roles that have given your life structure and meaning. Depression at the time of menopause is common and may arise from changing perceptions with regard to yourself and your role within your family and society. Remember that all change can be seen either as a disaster or as a time to make adjustments to new situations and to start exploring the opportunities life is presenting. Use this time to do the things that make you feel happy and at peace with yourself -things that you perhaps did not have time for when you were busy juggling career and family. Take up classes in something new that is relaxing, fun and enjoyable. Whether its learning Mongolian chants or how to paint with watercolours - give yourself the time to do what you have always wanted to do but have never had time for.

Modern society tends not to value old age so it's up to us middle-aged women to acknowledge the values of more ancient societies where the wisdom of the elders of the tribe was respected. Enjoy the fact that you are of an age where you have cultivated a deeper understanding of life and be glad that you can pass this wisdom on to those who are younger!


Maciocia G. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Churchill Livingstone. 1989.
Ody P. Practical Chinese Medicine. Godsfield Press. 2000.


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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living; Practical and Holistic Strategies for Coping with Post Polio Syndrome is available from 


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