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Article: The Journey of Hormonal Balance: PMS to Menopause & Beyond

Woman balancing on a swing over a waterfall

The Journey of Hormonal Balance: PMS to Menopause & Beyond

I remember wanting to write a book about hormones nineteen years ago, postpartum depression having dumped me on the threshold of motherhood with the thought, “What the fuck just happened to me?” I felt like a rag thrashed around by a bored Rottweiler. I am fine; the baby is fine. She is about to go to college. Nonetheless, the experience left an imprint on my psyche, leading me to discuss postpartum depression with every expectant mother in my clinic. “If this happens to you, please let me know, and I’ll help you. It happened to me.” I’d say, “I won’t judge.”

As I’m in mid-perimenopause or late perimenopause, this theme of hormones occupies my mind more and more, as friends and clients are begging for help with anxiety, sleepiness, night sweats, and no libido associated with a 40+ life.

Us & Our Hormones

I can’t help but think that we are such a strange brew of intermingling chemicals that can make us feel OK or just plain crappy. While moments like pregnancy and menopause are colossal hormonal events, we have monthly ones for 38 years of our lives. For the woman with no pregnancies, that’s about 500 menstruation cycles, 1,756 days, or 4.8 years of bleeding. It’s the time it would take to trek on foot from Capetown, South Africa to Magadan in Russia three separate times! (This is assuming you walked eight miles a day with no days off.) No wonder we are fucking tired!

Some women might sail through 500 some-odd cycles without a snare, but I have never met one. For most women, a collection of symptoms is the norm, like low abdomen pain, low back pain, diarrhea, constipation, breast tenderness, headaches, tight neck and shoulders, fatigue, a compulsion for carbs, and maybe a need to bitch someone out. For others, swings of anxiety and depression can be part of the picture, too.

What can we do?

In my almost 20 years in Chinese medicine,I can say that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are a big help in the menstrual cycle. Clients who struggle with PMS will be best served by having acupuncture treatments around ovulation. Then, the week afterward to head off symptoms and perhaps take herbal supplements that can be prescribed if appropriate.

Monster in the Closet: The Big M

Chinese medicine is very helpful in managing the symptoms of menopause, from weight gain to anxiety, hot flashes, night sweats, and low libido to vaginal dryness. It’s a bit of a roll call of don’ts, but with a happy heart, it’s great to move forward and, if possible, reframe.

Cultural Significance of Menopause

Sadly, we live in a culture that may not respect women and certainly does not revere older ones. That’s not to say we can’t revere ourselves. Are there other ways to think about women and women who are not reproductively viable? Yes & yes. Let’s talk about the Second Spring.

Second Spring

The Chinese refer to a woman's midlife transition as her Second Spring. Thanks to traditional Chinese medicine's simple, natural techniques, the second half of a woman's life is a flowering of feminine potential rather than a physical and mental decline. It represents the renewal of energy and opportunities as there is a shift from fertility and reproduction and caregiving to conserving and nourishing the self. It’s about time. Someone once said it’s the time to be a queen, which is good news because I was thinking the Cinderella thing should come to an end. 😉

Lifestyle Updates for Perimenopause and Menopause

The Second Spring is about a release from 1700 days of bleeding since menarche, which is the age at which a girl first gets a period. For women who suffered greatly, this is freedom! Here are 12 lifestyle ideas to help, too.

  • Give your body adequate rest. Burning the candle at both ends rapidly consumes blood and fluids.
  • Eat nutritious meals at regular intervals, incorporating real food and removing all processed foods.
  • Ensure that your meals are cooked and warm (broths, stews, and leafy greens are great!) to support digestion. This means fewer salads and raw and icy foods as they are cold and take more energy to digest. The body will need to work harder to produce more heat to counterbalance the cold, leading to less moisture circulating throughout the body.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, greasy foods, and hot, pungent spices such as chilies, peppers, and garlic. These can be very stimulating and dry up the body’s fluids.
  • Avoid refined carbs.
  • Incorporate gentle to moderate movement every day.
  • Give yourself time to nurture your emotions: Allow all feelings and emotions to be there, as they are all expressions of Qi
  • Notice your feelings and find outlets to express them. This might be through movement, breath work, meditations, hobbies, or community.
  • Look at ways to do less of what you don't want to do. Or explore what you truly love doing and add more of this to your day.
  • For some, this may not necessarily look like adding things in, but asking, 'What are you taking out and letting go of?'
  • Listen to your body as it is constantly communicating with you.
  • Herbs and acupuncture can help you get there, too! What I love about Chinese Medicine is that it works so well to help support this transition by naturally harmonizing the hormones and addressing the underlying issues from the ground up. In a consultation, we use Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, and lifestyle advice to help you:

If other things are working well for you, please share them on social; I know others are interested, too!

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Stephanie Hartselle, MD

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