Stages in a Woman's Life According to Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

One of the reasons that I fell in love with Chinese Medicine was the beautiful way that it sees the body, health - and when expanded outwards - everything in existence. It is simply a way of looking at things that, to me, makes perfect sense and resonates deeply and profoundly.

Women's medicine is the way that I came to Chinese Medicine - I found it when Western medicine was not able to help me. Just one session with my wonderful acupuncturist and I was left with an overwhelming feeling that this system was what medicine was supposed to be. At its foundation was true healing, empowered by the individual and facilitated by the practitioner.

The Concept of Jing

Jing is a concept that is unique to Chinese Medicine and is sometimes difficult to explain. Jing is considered to be one of the three treasures in Chinese Medicine. Jing, Qi, and Shen comprise the three treasures. Jing is defined as the source of our life, health, and longevity. Qi is like our life force - and the force that animates all living things. Shen is the spirit and is closely associated with the heart and "the mind" in Chinese Medicine. All three treasures must be balanced for us to be functioning at an optimum state of health and wellbeing.

The Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine is one of the oldest medical textbooks on earth and was written around 240 BCE. It is in this text that the cycles of women and men are discussed. Women grow and mature in seven-year cycles and men in eight-year cycles.

Cycles for Women in Chinese Medicine

Women - 7 Year Cycles

7 years old

A woman’s kidney energy becomes abundant, teeth change and hair grows strong.

Kidney is a special term in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It not only has the function of controlling the urinary system, but also has a very important role – control the developing, growing, and reproduction. In terms of reproduction, you can think Kidney as a “Small Kidney”- the ovaries or testis.

At the age of 7, a woman’s reproductive system starts to develop.

14 years old

Her menstruation appears as the Ren meridian (the sea of Yin) flows and the Qi and blood in the Chong meridian (the sea of blood) becomes abundant, she can have children.

At the age of 14, her menstruation appears and she is able to have a child. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the age of menarche is one important factor to help make a diagnosis. If menarche is later than 14 years old, it often indicates lower fertility energy.

21 years old

Her kidney energy is balanced, her adult teeth become completely developed and her body grows to full height.

A woman’s energy, especially fertility energy is full at the age of 21.

28 years old

Vital energy and blood are abundant, her bones and muscles are strong, her hair grows to full length and her body is in optimal condition.

At the age of 28, a women’s fertile energy reaches its peak. This is considered the best age for her to have children.

35 years old

Her peak condition declines gradually. Her energy in the yang ming meridian declines. Her face starts to wither and her hair starts to fall out.

From 35 year old, she starts to have wrinkles on her face, and her overall energy and fertility start to decline. She is still however, able to have children.

42 year old

The three Yang channels - Tai Yang, Yang Mind, Shao Yang - energy begins to decline. Her face wanes and her hair begins to turn white.

From the age of 42, her physical energy and fertility energy declines and it becomes more difficult to conceive.

49 years old

The Ren meridian (Conception Vessel) and Chong meridian vital energy declines, her menstruation dries up, her physique turns old and feeble and she is no longer able to conceive.

From the 7-year-life cycle, we can see that, according to Chinese Medicine, a good age for a woman to have children is from 21 to 35, and the best age is around 28 years old when her energies are at their "peak".

These cycles are still relevant in diagnosing and treating women's health issues in the context of Chinese Medicine. These stages are of course just a guideline, but they are immensely helpful in understanding - in a general way - how men and women move through their lives and what strengths, needs and imbalances they may face in different stages. Chinese Medicine is incredibly complex and has a vast body of knowledge that has been collected over thousands of years, and this is why it is still able to treat the health problems that people in our modern world face.

 

Beautiful featured image photo by Thomas Hafeneth on Unsplash



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Menopause - A Chinese Medicine Perspective

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Menopause is a time when a woman’s life transitions from one stage into another. Ideally, this is done gracefully, and without any problems or health concerns.

In reality, I see women entering menopause with dread and fear. They have been taught that menopause is a disease and that it will be a time for unpleasant symptoms and hormone therapy. Much of our culture supports this, and it is no wonder women feel this way. So why is it that women in the West react this way to a natural life process while their contemporaries in the East do not? In an interesting bit of trivia, the Western thinking on the subject it seems, was fuelled by a physician and a book he wrote on the subject in the 1960’s...

“The current medical wisdom is the product of an industrially manufactured consciousness. In 1966 Searle, Upjohn, and Wyeth-Ayerst pathologized the perception of menopause, transforming it from a transitional life stage into a chronic disease process by hiring a Brooklyn physician named Robert A. Wilson to write a book called Feminine Forever, proclaiming that estrogen would protect a woman's youth and save her from "living decay." The book injected fear by insisting that without estrogen replacement therapy (ERT), bones would dissolve, hearts clog, vaginas shrivel, breasts sag, skin crinkle, and minds deteriorate.”

By Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efram Korngold, L.Ac., OMD from their article Recognition and Prevention of Herb-Drug Interaction for Menopause

In China, women do not fear this natural stage of life. It is not part of their culture, or their experience. Menopause is not something that should cause anxiety, as it is seen as a completely natural process and not an illness that needs medicating. It is a time that a woman moves out of the reproductive part of her life and enters deeply inwards, bringing the focus to herself, often after many years of focussing on others. It is a time that is welcomed and honoured.

We are a culture that reveres youth and beauty. The transition into menopause is seen as a permanent loss of both. In China, one’s elders have great importance in both the family and social structure. As we move through life, we are seen to be accumulating something very valuable - WISDOM.

As we age, both our yin and yang energy are seen to be in a gradual state of decline. This is a natural part of life, and we are certainly able to supplement them by eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising and taking care of our bodies, minds and spirits.

Jing - The Essence of Your Being

To understand menopause, we must first understand what is called Jing, or essence - which is stored in and regulated by the Kidneys. Jing can be loosely compared to our genes or DNA. Jing is like our life force, and we are all born with a finite amount. This is supplemented throughout our lives by the food we eat and nutrition derived from the external environment, so the better we eat and take care of ourselves, the less we are drawing on our Jing or essence. A good way to illustrate how Jing works, is to think about it as a savings account. The better your health in your adult life, the less you will have to draw from your Jing account, and the more you will have when you get older (which is when you really need it).

How difficult menopause will be for a woman is largely dependent on the physical, spiritual and emotional health she has maintained throughout her adult life. At the first signs of menopause, or perimenopause, a woman will often seek out her doctor or gynaecologist and the recommendation is often Hormone Replacement Therapy, or HRT. While this is an option for some women, there are certainly alternatives, and Chinese medicine has been treating gynaecological issues for more than 2000 years. In Chinese medicine, menopause is not seen as a disease, but merely a stage of life where the needs of the body change. If a woman has led a relatively balanced life, then she will go through menopause without incident, and yes this does happen! This is largely the experience in China. If a woman has had a lot of stress, emotional upheaval, poor nutrition and insufficient exercise, the effects will be felt when she enters menopause. When we are young our bodies are able to handle a lot more abuse and bounce back - living an unhealthy lifestyle would be constantly drawing on the Jing in our savings account, and it is when we are older, when we continue the behaviours of the past, that we notice that our bodies don’t respond as quickly or as well to our demands. In a bank account that was overflowing in our youth, we are now functioning at a deficit.

The Jing, or essence is stored in the Kidney and is the source of all our body’s vital energies. When the Jing becomes deficient we lose our capacity to remember, have vision and hearing problems, our libido is compromised, stamina decreases, bones become thin and brittle, our minds become dull, teeth and gums deteriorate, we experience vaginal dryness, have sore lower back, hips and knees and emotionally we become apathetic and prone to despair. These are symptoms of a deficiency of Jing in Chinese medicine, but, as you can see, they are also in our experience, signs of aging.

A deficiency of Jing, as it is at the core of our health, has huge consequences as everything else draws from it, leading to deficiencies of yin and yang, qi and blood. Deficiency of qi presents as symptoms of fatigue, feeling unmotivated, unable to think and concentrate, an overwhelming desire to sleep and feeling sad and melancholy. A deficiency of blood manifests as dizziness, memory problems, numbness and vision problems. Insufficient blood is unable to nourish the body’s tissues, causing it to stiffen up, losing its suppleness and flexibility, not only physically, but there is a lack of emotional flexibility as well. Yang deficiency is literally a lack of the warming energies of the body manifesting as chills, cold limbs, loose stools, and spontaneous sweating. Hot flashes are a symptom of yin deficiency, as yin is not able to anchor yang fire, causing it to rise up uncontrollably. Yin deficiency also causes anxiety, and night sweats which are so often associated with menopause.

Diet & Nutrition

Menopausal women often notice a change in the way they process food, therefore, dietary changes can be hugely helpful for dealing with symptoms. Women going through menopause often become lactose intolerant, so eliminating dairy products will help eliminate bloating and gas. Supporting the beneficial bacteria in the body like probiotics will help to normalize the functions of the digestive system.

Another dietary consideration is that of carbohydrates and insulin. Carbohydrates (bread/grains/cereal/pasta/potatoes) are broken down into sugar or glucose which causes the body to release insulin. The role of insulin in the body is to break down glucose. Increased consumption of carbohydrates leads to increased insulin levels which interfere with the cells ability to respond to hormone stimulation. Women with symptoms of liver qi and blood stagnation (sx: anger, irritability, frustration, depression, feeling emotionally ‘stuck’, lump in the throat, anxious and easily stressed, severe pain that is fixed, stabbing severe, fixed masses, dark complexion, bleeding with clots, purple lips and nails), are likely estrogen dominant and would most benefit from a limited carbohydrate intake, preferably one meal a day.

Dietary Recommendations for Menopause

Smoking - smoking is extremely drying to yin fluids which are needed to combat common menopausal symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes, so either quit or cut down and try to stay away from secondhand smoke.

Avoid foods like sugar, dairy, alcohol, spicy foods, caffeine and red meat as they aggravate symptoms like hot flashes and decrease emotional stability causing mood swings.

Beneficial Foods

Include foods rich in phytoestrogens like soy (from non processed or GMO soybeans) including tofu, tempeh and miso pastes, flaxseed, sesame seeds, hummus, dried apricots and dates, alfalfa and mung bean sprouts and pistachios. Soy is not a popular food choice in North America, but it is a staple of the Chinese diet and the highest source of phytoestrogens known.

estrogenfoods

Also including foods that are a source of progesterone is important in menopause. Those foods include yams (not to be confused with sweet potatoes), turkey, walnuts and fortified cereals. Eggs, dairy products and chicken are good sources of progesterone, but it can be difficult to find sources that have not been given antibiotics or hormones which you want to avoid.

Other Things You Can Do To Ease Menopause Symptoms

You may be wondering if you have lived a less than healthy lifestyle up until now, if your menopausal symptoms can still be treated - and the answer is definitely yes. Women with menopausal symptoms, sometimes very severe or debilitating ones, are often seen in clinical practice. Even though the basis of Chinese medicine is on prevention, it still offers us an incredible array of tools that can be used to help reduce the symptoms of menopause.

Get some acupuncture. A practitioner of Chinese medicine with their robust skills of interrogation and diagnosis will ferret out the source of the imbalance and has many tools at her disposal with which to correct it. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been used for thousands of years to treat gynaecological disorders and work very well to combat menopausal symptoms. As I often tell people, there is no miracle formula or acupuncture point for night sweats or hot flashes. Chinese medicine is a holistic system, and the reason that you are having the symptoms is because the body is simply out of balance. It is the job of the acupuncturist to discover the root of the imbalance and correct it, while educating their patient on things like nutrition, lifestyle, exercise and meditation so that the body will remain in balance and the symptoms will never reappear.

Menopause should never be a time for worry and fear, it should be a time for inner reflection, and many women find it is an incredibly powerful and edifying part of their lives. All stages of life are important, so if you are experiencing problems, just know that you are not alone and that Chinese medicine can offer relief.