Women’s Health

How to Treat Hyperthyroidism With Acupuncture and TCM

By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D., & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Thyroid problem or menopause?
Thyroid problems or menopause?

Changes in mood, appetite, hair, and skin?  Wondering whether these could be signs of menopause; or could it be a thyroid problem? The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are often similar to what we think of as typical signs of menopause. Acupuncture treatment has been shown to be effective at helping to manage many types of endocrine system conditions, including hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Hyperthyroidism, sometimes called “overactive thyroid,” refers to a set of various disorders in which the thyroid gland produces excess hormones. This leads to thyrotoxicosis, a condition in which there is too much thyroid hormone in the body. Sometimes this is indicated by a visible swelling of the thyroid gland in the front of the neck, known as a “goiter.”

Thyroid disorders are much more common in women than in men, and they often develop in young adulthood, between the ages of 20 and 40. However, people of any age can show signs of hyperthyroidism. In older adults, the symptoms of an overactive thyroid can be subtle, and easily confused with those of other hormonal imbalance conditions such as perimenopause symptoms and diabetes. It can often be difficult and take years for patients to be diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, and then to find the right treatment to solve their problem. Hyperthyroidism can have different root causes, and treating it effectively requires finding the correct source of the problem.

It is important to address thyroid problems because hyperthyroidism increases the risk for heart disease and osteoporosis. There is some evidence that people with Graves’ disease are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancers. Acupuncture has been shown to be a safe and effective alternative or adjunct treatment for all kinds of thyroid disorders. The TCM approach can help correct the symptoms of excess thyroid hormone by restoring balance at the source of the problem.

Top 5 Causes of Hyperthyroidism

Several different factors can lead to enlargement or inflammation of the thyroid and the overproduction and output of thyroid hormones. Some causes of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Hyperthyroidism can develop due to nodules or a multinodular goiter on the thyroid gland, which causes it to secrete extra hormones. 
  • Thyroiditis, swelling of the thyroid gland, can linger after a viral infection. Some thyroid problems are caused by autoimmune disorders. 
  • Graves’ disease causes antibodies to mistakenly attack the tissue of the thyroid, causing inflammation and overproduction of thyroid hormones. 
  • The thyroid gland uses the mineral iodine to make thyroid hormones, so sometimes hyperthyroidism is linked with too much iodine in the diet, often due to the use of certain supplements. 
  • Sometimes people are prescribed hormone replacement medications, and taking too much of them leads to hyperthyroidism.

Hashimoto disease also attacks the thyroid gland, but in that case, it causes the thyroid to stop producing enough hormones, leading to hypothyroidism. 

Top 10 Signs of an Overactive Thyroid

check front of neck for enlarged thyroid goiter
Check your neck for signs of an enlarged thyroid

The thyroid gland is located on the lower front of the neck, beneath the larynx, or voice box. Check for signs of swelling that might indicate an enlarged thyroid (goitres) by watching in a mirror as you tilt your head back slightly and swallow a mouthful of water. If you notice any bulging, have it checked by a doctor.

Other signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  1. Nervousness or anxiety, a “hyperactive” restless feeling
  2. Fast or irregular heart rate
  3. Irritability
  4. Unexplained weight loss, constant thirst and hunger
  5. Having to urinate frequently and/or loose bowels
  6. Difficulty sleeping
  7. Itchiness or “twitching” 
  8. Sensitivity to temperatures, excessive sweating, red hands
  9. Swelling in the neck
  10. Loss of libido

As you can see, many of these are often associated with menopausal symptoms: feeling hot and sweaty (hot flashes), low libido (vaginal atrophy or dryness), irritability/sensitivity, sleep problems, etc. 

When hyperthyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disorder, there is often noticeable bulging or protrusion of the eyes. This is called Graves’ ophthalmopathy, Graves’ eye disease, or Thyroid Eye Disease (TED). This happens because some of the tissues around the eye are chemically similar to those of the thyroid gland, and the immune system is attacking those cells, resulting in inflammation around the eye. This can cause blurry vision, dryness because the lids can’t close fully over the eyeball, and headaches because of pressure behind the eyes. Changes in hair texture or loss of hair are another sign of Graves’ disease.

Hormone Testing for Thyroid Problems

The endocrine system is very complex and relies upon the harmonious functioning of several different endocrine glands producing hormones that work in concert to maintain stability of a person’s whole life process: waking, sleeping, self-regulating temperature, eating and digesting, and many other more subtle processes. The proper working of the thyroid gland is in close relationship with the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, both located in the brain.

The thyroid gland produces various hormones which have to do with growth, metabolism, and reproduction, including thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The pituitary gland produces TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which triggers production of the thyroid hormones T4, T3, and others. Thus the pituitary gland is responsible for gauging how much thyroid hormone is flowing through the body in the bloodstream, and making adjustments as necessary. 

When a thyroid problem is suspected, the first kind of testing done is usually a TSH blood test. A TSH test showing a high TSH level would suggest that thyroid hormone levels are low, and that the pituitary gland is making more TSH to try to stimulate production, while a low TSH would indicate that the thyroid may be producing too much hormone, and the pituitary gland is trying to slow down production. Either kind of abnormal TSH level might lead to more specific testing to determine levels of T4, “free T4 (FT4),” or T3.

Medical treatment for hyperactive thyroid depends on what is causing the problem. If the thyroid is producing too much hormone “autonomously,” that is, if there are normal TSH levels and the pituitary gland seems to be functioning, then radioactive iodine is usually employed to bring down the thyroid hormone levels. When the problem is an autoimmune problem, as in Graves’ disease, a course of “anti-thyroid” medication, such as thiamazole, may bring the hormone levels back to normal. An enlarged thyroid gland may indicate a surgical solution.

Can Acupuncture Help Thyroid Problems?

dry itchy eyes
Dry, itchy eyes and skin can be a symptom of a thyroid disorder

In TCM philosophy, most disease stems from imbalances in the key energies of the body and spirit. “Qi” a life force energy that flows along pathways through the body called “meridians,” must be kept strong and flowing freely; if Qi is weak, or the meridians are blocked, certain organs will not get the nourishment they need, and illness will result. Yin and Yang are two energies that work together in opposition to maintain balance, like a scale. If either Yin or Yang becomes dominant, the other one becomes weaker, and there will be problems of “deficiency” and/or “excess.”

In the case of an overactive thyroid, the constant striving of Yang energy creates a deficiency of Yin, and the overall Qi energy is also weakened. The hyperactive energy of hyperthyroidism is interpreted through TCM as being related to heat, and especially too much fiery energy from the liver. We view blockages as being related to stagnation of Qi, or blood, or phlegm. In this case, phlegm stagnation is impeding the flow to and from the thyroid gland.

  • Liver heat causes symptoms like: redness of the skin, itchiness, irritability, hunger and high metabolism, and a quickened pulse. 
  • Weakness of Qi and Yin causes: trouble breathing, trouble sleeping, sweating, and dryness of the eyes and mouth. 
  • Phlegm stagnation is considered the reason for the swelling of the thyroid gland itself.

TCM treatment for hyperthyroidism uses acupuncture and individualized herbal formulations to clear heat and phlegm, strengthen Qi and Yin, and cool down liver fire and overworked Yang.

One study showed improvement in hyperthyroid symptoms of over 88% of patients after having received a course of acupuncture, with some patients making full recoveries. A study that focused on the use of a specific Chinese herb formulation in addition to methimazole medication for patients with Graves’ disease concluded that TCM herbs were effective as an adjunct treatment for helping to bring FT3, FT4, and TSH levels back to normal.

Acupuncture Near Me for Hyperthyroidism

Disorders of the thyroid and the endocrine system in general, especially those that are related to autoimmune disorders, can be very challenging to manage. At Art of Wellness, we have over 30 years of experience dealing with all types of hormone imbalances. The TCM approach offers a highly personalized course of treatment for hyperthyroidism, which can be a valuable adjunct to conventional medicine. If you or someone you know suspects they may have an overactive thyroid, consider consulting with a qualified acupuncturist as part of your health care plan.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

How to Treat Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) With Acupuncture and TCM

By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

abdominal pain PCOS
PCOS causes irregular and painful periods.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition that affects 10-20% of women during their reproductive years. PCOS is also one of the most prevalent causes of infertility among women. The primary problems of PCOS are hormonal imbalances and dysfunction of the ovaries. Women with PCOS have irregular or missing periods, anovulatory menstrual cycles, and elevated androgen and/or testosterone levels. 

Medical interventions for PCOS often involve using birth control pills to stimulate regular menses, but this treatment does not address the issue at its source. Additionally, many women struggling with PCOS are actively trying to get pregnant, so contraceptive medications are not useful in these cases. TCM and acupuncture are able to help resolve many women’s health problems, including PCOS and the resulting infertility, restoring normal function to the female reproductive system without the side effects that medications can cause.

What Is PCOS?

PCOS is a syndrome, which means it is a collection of symptoms that occur together and help to define a disease even though its medical causes are not completely understood yet.

Most women with PCOS ovulate infrequently or not at all. Women with PCOS also might experience:

  • Irregular Periods
  • Heavy and/or painful periods
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity
  • Excess hair on body and face (hirsutism)
  • Thinning hair on head
  • Acne, oily skin

PCOS is considered a disorder of both the reproductive and endocrine systems. The majority of women with PCOS also exhibit hyperandrogenemia – an excess amount of androgen hormones. In many cases, this condition starts early, when a girl is going through puberty. The problems begin to manifest shortly after a girl gets her first period (menarche).

Androgens are commonly referred to as the “male” sex hormones, although they naturally occur in both men and women, just in differing amounts. The primary androgens are testosterone and androstenedione. In women, androgens are produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands, whereas in men they are produced in the testes, usually in larger quantities. Hyperandrogenemia can be helped by weight loss, because adipose tissue (fat) itself is hormonally active, meaning the fat cells themselves also produce excess androgens.

Insulin resistance is also widespread among women with PCOS; about 85% of women with PCOS are insulin resistant, causing them to be at risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Sometimes women are prescribed Metformin to lower insulin and blood sugar levels.

PCOS Diagnosis

PCOS often goes undiagnosed for years. In many cases, women do not find out they have it until they are trying to get pregnant and then seek help for infertility. For most women, PCOS causes irregular periods. In these cases, women may go months without having a period, and then have a very heavy, painful period. Often, PCOS begins when girls are teens, and this condition causes them to struggle with being overweight, prone to getting pimples, and having extreme period pain (dysmenorrhea) and heavy periods that can cause embarrassing accidents. Girls may not realize that their experience is not normal, and may not talk to anyone about it. When they do seek help, they are usually prescribed birth control pills. 

Birth control pills “regulate” the menstrual hormone cycle, causing a period to predictably start every 28 days. This use of contraceptives to “correct” menstrual problems and help clear acne during the teenage years leads to the masking of PCOS for many years–often until a woman is well into adulthood and ready to conceive. Then, when the birth control is stopped, the PCOS symptoms appear, which generally means that regular periods stop.

At this point, a firm diagnosis of PCOS is often reached after an internal ultrasound reveals the phenomenon which gives the syndrome its name: multiple small cysts forming around the edges of the ovaries. These fluid-filled bubbles, only a few millimeters in diameter, are partially formed eggs that have not been released. These cysts do not in and of themselves cause problems. Blood tests are done to find the high levels of androgens (testosterone) and also to measure the hormones involved in egg production and release. Women with PCOS often have higher levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), which triggers ovulation. The ratio of LH to FSH (follicle stimulation hormone) is higher in women with PCOS.

Conventional medicine provides the means to pinpoint the manifestations of PCOS in the body, hormonally and physically, but it does not offer much in the way of causal understanding or effective treatment. 

TCM Perspective of PCOS

Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the concepts of Qi, life force energy that travels through the body along meridians, and the balanced energies of Yin and Yang. Elemental pathogenic factors such as Wind/Cold, Dampness, Fire/Heat and Dryness come into play.  Disease is created by either external or internal factors and can be discovered through diagnostic techniques of observation, inquiry, and palpation. 

In a sense, TCM looks at all diseases as “syndromes.” In TCM, we do not look for one single cause of the symptom for which the patient is seeking relief. We look for other signs and symptoms that the patient may not have realized were related. We study the whole collection of indications and look for a pattern. An illness can be the result of any one of several different patterns.

When working with a patient who is experiencing reproductive and hormonal problems, a TCM provider will take into consideration the lab results of blood tests showing hormone levels, but will also be looking for clues as to what is happening throughout the organ systems of the body. In TCM,  PCOS is categorized as a “Zheng Jia” diagnosis. Zheng Jia means “masses” (tumors), and includes uterine fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and even reproductive cancers.

Internal factors are at the root of PCOS and other Zheng Jia disorders. Most clinical manifestations of PCOS arise from patterns of too much Dampness and Phlegm in the reproductive organs, which is what causes the fluid-filled cysts to form. This excess dampness is also what causes weight gain. Kidney deficiency contributes to the imbalances in hormone production. Blood deficiency causes absent or scanty periods, while blood stasis leads to painful periods.

Acupuncture and TCM for PCOS and Hormonal Imbalance in Women

Standard medical treatment for PCOS and infertility in women involves using medications to alter hormone levels: either OCP to regulate periods, Metformin to lower insulin, or Clomid or Letrozole to stimulate ovulation.

Acupuncture and TCM treatment for PCOS focuses on clearing excess dampness and phlegm from the uterus and other female reproductive organs, tonifying and nourishing the kidneys, invigorating the blood and clearing blood stasis. Electro-acupuncture has been shown to help facilitate natural ovulation.

A TCM provider will also focus on lifestyle and nutrition changes that will help alter the internal factors involved. Tracking basal body temperature can help both doctor and patient understand what is going on during the follicular and luteal phases of the menstrual cycle in each individual. Specially chosen combinations of herbs can be very helpful for making the subtle adjustments needed to normalize the hormones, increasing blood flow, and even balancing the emotions. 

PCOS and Endometriosis

Endometriosis is another common women’s health problem in which uterine lining tissue begins growing outside of the uterus. It is estimated that about 10% of reproductive-age women have endometriosis, although we cannot be sure because, like PCOS, endometriosis is also often undiagnosed. It is not uncommon for women to have both conditions. When women with endometriosis have a menstrual period, there can also be bleeding in other parts of the abdomen. This can cause severe pain and create a lot of scar tissue in the pelvic region. Sometimes surgery is recommended to remove this scar tissue. This can help alleviate pain and increase the chances of conception, but it does not address the root problem, so the bleeding often recurs. Like PCOS, endometriosis can be a cause of infertility, making the use of birth control pills to control the hormones far from ideal. 

According to TCM, endometriosis and PCOS are both Zheng Jia disorders; they are part and parcel of the same root problem. An acupuncturist can help correct both of these disorders, and the related infertility, all at the same time.

Integrative Medicine for PCOS and Infertility in Women

TCM has been using acupuncture and herbs to help women’s reproductive disorders and increase fertility for many centuries. In the past few decades, it has become increasingly common for patients to seek out acupuncture to help address infertility due to PCOS, both on its own and as an adjunct to Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). Studies have shown that acupuncture and herbal supplementation used in concert with infertility procedures such as Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) improve outcomes. Acupuncture treatment also helps to reduce the pain and anxiety many women experience while undergoing ART procedures.

Top 5 Self-Care Tips for PCOS

icy drink and cold foods
icy cold drinks and foods are not beneficial

One of the main internal factors causing the excess dampness and stasis of PCOS is too much cold in the body. Maintaining your warm energy is key. Habits like drinking ice cold beverages and eating ice cream, especially around the menstrual period, can really have a negative impact. It may seem old-fashioned, but a lot of the advice we associate with our grandmothers’ time still applies today. 

  1. Dress appropriately for potentially chilly weather. Always bring your jacket with you.
  2. Avoid exercising to the point of sweating and then allowing yourself to get chilled. Change into dry clothes right after your workout.
  3. Keep the abdomen covered and warm. 
  4. Don’t wear sandals or go barefoot when it is cold outside.
  5. Don’t go to bed with wet hair. 

Acupuncture Near Me for PCOS

At Art of Wellness, our doctors have over 30 years of experience in the successful management of women’s health issues, including PCOS and infertility. In China, Dr. Cai practiced and taught at Chengdu University’s TCM Hospital as a gynecologist. During a two-year period of specialty training, she had the opportunity to study and work with some of China’s foremost experts, pioneers in integrative medicine for reproductive health.

Since 1997, Drs. Cai and Tan have brought their unique experience to Santa Monica and Los Angeles. Their knowledge of both Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine allows them to recommend, when necessary, a mixture of medical modalities and to advise whatever course of treatment is most beneficial for each patient.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

How to Treat Menopause Symptoms with Acupuncture and TCM

By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Menopause can be a smooth transition
A smooth transition into menopause is possible.

Menopause is a natural, transformative process that is experienced by half of the population of the world. Like any life process that involves change, it can be accompanied by intense discomfort. Menopause symptoms affect women in middle age physically, emotionally, and mentally. TCM and acupuncture treatment are ideally suited to bring balance and allow women to navigate this time with greater ease and menopause symptom relief. Several studies have shown that the three most commonly prescribed forms of Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT) or Hormone Replacement all increase the risk of breast cancer, and the risks increase the longer these therapies are used. Acupuncture and TCM treat menopausal hot flashes effectively without any side effects.

Signs of Menopause Symptoms: Hot Flashes, Night Sweats and More

Menopause is technically defined as when a woman has not had a period for a full twelve months. The period of time during which a woman begins experiencing symptoms related to menopause is actually the pre-menopausal or “perimenopausal” state. This phase can unfold over the course of a few months or up to several years; the average amount of time is about four years. Most women begin experiencing perimenopause in their 40s, although some women begin feeling different and having irregular periods as early as their 30s, and other women don’t feel changes until their 50s. 

Perimenopausal symptoms and signs can include:

  1. Irregular menstrual periods
  2. Hot flashes, hot flushes, night sweats
  3. Difficulty sleeping
  4. Vaginal dryness
  5. Low libido
  6. Urinary incontinence
  7. Loss of bone density
  8. Higher “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol
  9. Anxiety, irritability, depression
  10. Headaches
  11. Weight gain

About 80% of women will experience hot flashes at some point during their perimenopausal phase. These sudden hot flushes are caused by lower estrogen levels, which can confuse the brain’s typical regulation of internal temperature. These episodes can feel really disconcerting and disruptive. 

Acupuncture for Menopause Treatment and Menopause Supplements

meditation
Finding balance to relieve anxiety and irritability.

Studies have shown that acupuncture treatments can reduce the frequency of hot flashes. As few as three treatments produced significant positive results, while a full course of treatment (at least eight sessions) provided relief for many women for up to six months. In addition to relieving hot flashes, acupuncture also improves quality of life in many other ways: reducing headaches and other body aches, alleviating anxiety and depression, and improving sleep. TCM also offers customized herbal formulae that support the body’s hormone balance and help with menopause symptom relief.  In many ways, the effects of perimenopause and menopause are not quantifiable, as some are more emotional in nature. This change occurs not just in the body, but in the mind. At this time, a woman is seeing herself differently, reevaluating her own sense of identity and purpose, and in some cases, shifting her focus and energies in life.

Acupuncture for PMS Symptoms and Menopause

Physically, a woman goes through many significant changes over the years, and different factors come into play. If a woman’s body is out of balance — due to trauma, stress, illness, injury, diet, environment, etc.–she may experience difficulties with her female organ function. Painful periods, irregular periods, cysts, fibroids and endometriosis are all common conditions — but they do not happen without some imbalances causing them. A lifetime of choices, experiences, pains and pleasures add up to create the health status we live with now, in this moment.

Women’s health issues can be addressed, at any stage of life, with acupuncture and herbs, as well as the right kind of food and lifestyle choices. If a woman finds and partners with a good healthcare practitioner, and practices a lifestyle that helps her achieve optimal health, she does not have to suffer through years of PMS, nor through years of menopausal symptoms, either. Unfortunately, many women do not know there is an alternative to using pain relief medicines, oral contraceptives and hormone replacement to manage symptoms. These drugs do not offer a real solution to the problems; they mask them. As women, we are often expected to simply accept these problems and learn to cope. But why settle for that, when we have the means to correct them?

What is a Natural Remedy for Hot Flashes? Acupuncture and Menopause Supplements

TCM looks at female care as “ovarian care.” Besides paying attention to our liver, heart, lungs, and kidneys, we also focus on menstrual and premenstrual care, pregnancy and postpartum care, and menopause care. These are unique to women. The ovaries are the major players when it comes to female hormones, cycles, and reproductive health. Girls, young women and older women can all benefit from regular treatment, herbal supplementation, and lifestyle improvements to encourage healthy and smooth functioning of these processes. If, as a younger woman, you are able to manage your hormones, then, when menopause comes, it hopefully will not be too much of a problem. If you are already experiencing menopause symptoms, it is not too late to get Yin and Yang balance restored, so that you can enjoy this phase of life and many healthy years to come! 

According to TCM, most menopausal disorders fall under kidney and/or liver Yin deficiency. This manifests in hot flashes, waking often at night around 3:00-4:00 a.m., dreamy light sleep, irritability, memory loss, dry eyes, mood swings, and irregular periods. A smaller percentage of symptoms fall under kidney Yang deficiency; low back soreness, incontinence, water retention, fatigue, indigestion, and weight gain. We use very specific acupuncture points to help with each of these different problems, and are able to treat each woman’s unique combination of issues. We also have our unique techniques (needling and massage) and herbal products to help skin stay firm and smooth.

8 Self-Care Best Practices for Menopause

goji berries
Eat goji berries and other superfoods

Acupuncture and herbal modalities have been taking care of these women’s health issues for thousands of years.  Besides seeking these professional services, there are many things you can do at home to facilitate a smooth transition:

  1. For Yin deficiency, stick with cooling and juicy foods like fresh veggies, fruit, yams, sweet rice, mung beans, lotus roots or seeds. Stay away from alcohol, coffee, and spicy foods which increase internal fire or heat. Snacking on Goji berries is recommended, drinking chrysanthemum tea, chamomile tea or Art of Wellness’s own Night Tea can help you rest and sleep better.
  2. For Yang deficiency, drink warm lemon water upon rising, eat more cooked and warm food, nuts, especially walnuts and pecans, stay away from dairy, icy foods and drinks and greasy, heavy meals. 20-30 minute hot foot spa before bedtime is recommended. Rub the low back along the midline of the spine and on both sides until very warm.
  3. For saggy or loose skin, facial rejuvenation acupuncture needling will help stimulate collagen production and improve facial circulation.
  4. Speed-walk 30-45 minutes per day.
  5. Rub hands to warm them, then rub the soles of each foot 100 times. Practice daily.
  6. Meditate 20 minutes daily, in the morning or ideally, at bedtime.
  7. Suggested Menopause Meditation: focus on the lower abdominal area (Dan Tian), until it feels warm. Then, move the warm sensation into your kidney area.
  8. Try this Lotus smoothie recipe. Good for anyone, but especially for women experiencing menopausal symptoms: ½ cup lotus seed, ½ lily bulbs, 1 tablespoon mung beans, 1 tablespoon sweet rice, 10 pieces of honey dates. Rinse all ingredients but dates. Add 6 cups of water, cook for 20 minutes. Blend. Garnish with a few goji berries. Make 4 servings. Serve warm for breakfast, or cold for an afternoon snack. Feel free to add fruit, such as banana, berries, apple, pear, etc.

If you or a woman you care about is experiencing menopause symptoms, look for acupuncture near me, and call Art of Wellness, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, CA. Our clinic is one of the top 19 pick among 825 similar clinics in the great Los Angeles area. Our doctors have over 30-years experiences of practicing TCM and acupuncture. Dr. Cai is a specialist in all women’s health issues.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

 

How to Treat Infertility in Women with Acupuncture and TCM

by Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Heart Hands on Belly
TCM for Infertility

About one in ten women who are ready to conceive find that they have trouble doing so naturally. Infertility in women is thus a very common condition, one that has a profound impact on women and their partners. Acupuncture and TCM is proven to be extremely beneficial to women who are trying to get pregnant, both as primary and complementary care. 

Dr. Cai at Art of Wellness has thirty years of experience, both in China and in the U.S., as a specialist in women’s healthcare and infertility in women. She has studied and worked with some of the most influential doctors in the field in both countries, and has helped hundreds of women achieve healthy pregnancies.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)  is a system of health care that goes back thousands of years. Women’s health care has been a key part of this system all of that time. Conditions such as irregular or painful menstrual periods, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and infertility have all been recognized, studied and effectively addressed by TCM for many centuries. Women who are having difficulty solving these problems with their medical doctor may find not only relief from pain, but a true solution that addresses their whole being–body, mind, and spirit.

Diagnosis of Infertility in Women in 8 Exact Steps

Any time a woman of childbearing age has a partner with healthy sperm, and they’ve been trying for two years without conceiving, we define this as infertility. But age makes a difference. If the woman is over 35, and it has been one year, we will diagnose infertility.

There can be many factors or causes involved in the infertility diagnosis, some chemical, some mechanical: 

Fertilization
Fertilization
  1. Hormonal imbalances can cause irregular cycles, which means shorter or longer than the usual number of days (28-30), sometimes with no sign of ovulation, sometimes with high FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). 
  2. Fallopian tubes may not be open due to scarring or previous PID (pelvic inflammatory disease). 
  3. Endometriosis or an STD (sexually transmitted disease) can also cause blockage. 
  4. Sometimes the uterus can be congenitally misshapen, or inside there may be fibroids, polyps, lining issues, twisting, chronic inflammation, etc. 
  5. Occasionally, antibodies can get into the cervix and block the sperm.
  6. In rare cases, the uterus may be tilted to the front or back, positioning the cervix so that it is either very high or very low or over to the side, making it difficult to receive sperm. These patients must rely on IUI (intrauterine insemination) to get the sperm where they need to go.
  7. Autoimmune issues can cause a woman’s immune system to produce antibodies that reject the sperm. 
  8. Blood incompatibility between the parents–for example, if the woman is RH (Rhesus factor) negative with a RH positive man–can happen sometimes after a first pregnancy or miscarriage. This is more common in older women.

Top 5 Different Causes of Infertility in Women

Infertility can feel isolating
Infertility can feel isolating

According to TCM, there are several differentiations of an infertility diagnosis. TCM practitioners differentiate between various causes and treatment plans for dysmenorrhea based on when the pain occurs (before the onset/during the period), the quality and location of the pain, associated symptoms like bloating, the appearance and volume of flow and accompanying emotions and sensations such as dizziness or fatigue. Some types are due to an excess, either of cold, or of stagnation of qi or blood. Others are due to a deficiency of qi or blood.  

  1. Kidney Deficiency – If a woman’s menarche occurred later than usual (typical is age 12-14), that might indicate some weakness of the reproductive system. To perform its normal functions, the uterus needs a rich and plentiful blood supply. Constriction of the capillaries that supply blood to the uterus occurs when there is too much cold in this area. Certain lifestyle behaviors can cause diminishment of ovarian health, sometimes leading to premature ovarian failure. Naturally over the age of 35, many women can begin to show signs of kidney deficiency.
  2. Blood deficiency – Poor digestion or a diet with insufficient nutrition can create a situation in which blood is not providing enough nourishment to support the ovaries and uterus.
  3. Liver qi stagnationLong periods of emotional stress and irritability can cause qi/blood flow to become stagnated, interrupting the flow of energy through the system.This can cause irregular periods or a lack of ovulation. Blockage in the flow of qi restricts the supply of necessary energy to developing eggs, fertilized egg or embryo.
  4. Dampness – Insufficient nutrition from diet, poor digestion, and/or being overweight can cause dampness and water retention to accumulate in the reproductive system. This condition can lead to pelvic inflammation, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), painful periods and blockage of qi.
  5. Blood stasis – Can be caused by physical trauma to the uterus due to surgery or injury. It can also stem from a Cold uterus condition (too much cold exposure or icy-cold drinks/raw food during periods). Lack of proper blood circulation relates to painful conditions such as the formation of clots, ovarian cysts, tumors or fibroids that create a physical blockage. Blood stasis can also lead to thin lining or even absence of periods.

Both kidney and blood deficiency can cause irregular periods, anovulation, short cycles, light flow, poor uterine lining, and the type of pain during periods that is helped by massage or heat.

Blood stasis and dampness can cause endometriosis, severe menstrual pain (not helped by heat or massage), ovarian cysts, strong hormone suppression, and lack of ovulation.

Top 5 Infertility Treatments with TCM

moxibustion
moxibustion

TCM treatments for the different kinds of infertility in women include: 

  1. Acupuncture: In TCM, the objective is always to use the stimulation of specific points to clear blockages in the systems in order to keep qi and blood moving fluidly, clearing the way for harmonious cooperation between the organs involved in the system. Weak areas are tonified, or strengthened, while areas bloated with excess are relieved of pressure. 
  2. Cupping: This is a method of acupressure that uses glass cups to create a vacuum effect in specific points. It is used to dispel stagnation and excess heat and stimulate circulation of blood and qi.
  3. Moxibustion: burning a stick made of mugwort near a specific acupuncture point is something patients can do at home to help a cold uterus condition.
  4. Herbal supplements: Herbs can really help to support the woman’s cycle and even re-activate ovaries until average menopause at age 45-55.
  5. Nutrition and Lifestyle Guidance: An acupuncturist will recommend an appropriate diet for nourishing the whole body as well as correcting any Yin/Yang imbalances. In addition, certain behaviors related to bathing, exercise and even clothing choices may be affecting a cold uterus condition and need attention and adjustment.

TCM Doctors Offer Solutions for Infertility in Women

Welcoming a new baby
Helping women have healthy babies

Advances in technology in recent years have been a boon to couples who are struggling, especially for women who have physical barriers to achieving conception and carrying a pregnancy, such as blocked tubes. IVF (in vitro fertilization) allows us to move past these roadblocks with surgery.

However, a woman still needs good hormone levels for better outcomes for conception, pregnancy and birth. For those with elevated FSH or low AMH (anti-müllerian hormone) who require IVF, adjunctive acupuncture and TCM will help to address these problems and increase the chances of success. One German study showed that success with IVF cycle was 15% higher than without acupuncture.

Each woman’s situation is unique and personal to her. Scientific study and medical research are only in recent decades beginning to acknowledge the connections between a person’s thoughts and emotions and her physical well-being, but women intuitively know that their less visible, harder-to-describe feelings are inextricably linked to their reproductive processes. Finding an acupuncturist who really listens and understands this might be the key to reaching a new level of quality of life, as well as realizing a dream of having a child.

For additional resources, visit our Fertility FAQs page. For more examples, visit our success stories of women who found solutions from Dr. Cai’s treatment. 

If your family suffers from infertility and  you are looking for infertility clinics, visit Art of Wellness at Santa Monica, Los Angeles, one of top 19 picks among 825 clinics in the great LA area.

Menopause

 Welcome Into Second Spring

By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

 

Mixed Feelings about Menopause?

When it comes to menopause, how is a woman supposed to feel?

Relieved? Finally! We no longer have to deal with periods, no more worrying about the possibility of pregnancy and the many complications of childbearing. But, there is also fear of the unknown. The ovaries are shutting down, our hormone levels are decreasing, which means everything feels different. And for some, there are unpleasant sensations–hot flashes and body aches–and uncomfortable changes–like looser skin and lower metabolism. But, there is hope in every new phase! We can choose to welcome menopause as the “Second Spring” of our lives. If we make positive choices to take care of our health, we can feel more vibrant, and wiser, than ever.

The Ages of Woman

Menopause is a transitional time, similar to adolescence. If we look back to those years when we first got our periods, we can see the roots of our womanhood. Our youth is when we are “in bloom.” Then, during our childbearing years, our bodies are in a constant state of readiness to bear “fruit,” and to feed others. We grow up, then we spend many years focusing our energies outward–helping others grow, too: our partners, our children, our careers. Now, in the Second Spring of life, we get to turn our attention back inward, to choose our own projects and to reserve our energy for those things we want to nurture.

Early in life, girls and women may often feel limited from all sorts of pursuits — physically, athletically, in education and career goals — because of our periods, our hormone shifts, and our ability to get pregnant. We face issues, because of the way our bodies work, that men never have to face. And, in most cultures, still, it is the woman who bears the primary responsibility for taking care of the family. The Second Spring offers an opportunity to make up for some of those times we felt held back, to live for ourselves without feeling so obligated to others. We have a chance to “rebloom,” to enjoy new freedoms and follow our dearly held dreams to fruition.

Go Back to the Root

Physically, a woman goes through many significant changes over the years, and different factors come into play. If a woman’s body is out of balance — due to trauma, stress, illness, injury, diet, environment, etc.–she may experience difficulties with her female organ function. Painful periods, irregular periods, cysts, fibroids and endometriosis are all common conditions — but they do not happen without some imbalances causing them. A lifetime of choices, experiences, pains and pleasures add up to create the health status we live with now, in this moment.

Women’s health issues can be treated, at any stage of life, with acupuncture and herbs, as well as the right kind of food and lifestyle choices. If a woman finds and partners with a good healthcare practitioner, and practices a lifestyle that helps her achieve optimal health, she does not have to suffer through years of PMS, nor through years of menopausal difficulties, either. Unfortunately, many women do not know there is an alternative to using pain relief medicines, oral contraceptives and hormone replacement to manage symptoms. These drugs do not offer a real solution to the problems; they mask them. As women, we are often expected to simply accept these problems and learn to “cope.” But why settle for that, when we have the means to correct them?

TCM Offers Comprehensive Womens’ Health Care

TCM looks at female care as “ovarian care.” Beside paying attention to our liver, heart, lungs, and kidneys, we also focus on menstrual and premenstrual care, pregnancy and postpartum care, and menopause care. These are unique to women. The ovaries are the major players when it comes to female hormones, cycles, and reproductive health. Girls, young women and older women can all benefit from regular treatment, herbal supplementation, and lifestyle improvements to encourage healthy and smooth functioning of these processes. If, as a younger woman, you are able to manage your hormones, then, when menopause comes, it hopefully will not be too much of a problem. If you are already experiencing menopause symptoms, it is not too late to get yin and yang balance restored, so that you can enjoy this phase of life and many healthy years to come!

According to TCM, most menopausal disorders fall under kidney and/or liver Yin deficiency. This manifests in hot flashes, waking often at night around 3:00-4:00 a.m., dreamy light sleep, irritability, memory loss, dry eyes, mood swings, and irregular periods. A smaller percentage of symptoms fall under kidney Yang deficiency; low back soreness, incontinence, water retention, fatigue, indigestion, and weight gain. We use very specific acupuncture points to help with each of these different problems, and are able to treat each woman’s unique combination of issues. We also have our unique techniques (needling and massage) and herbal products to help skin stay firm and smooth.

 

Self-Care for Menopause

Acupuncture and herbal modality have been taking care of these women’s health issues for thousands of years.  Besides seeking these professional services, there are many things you can do at home to facilitate a smooth transition:

  • For Yin deficiency, stick with cooling and juicy foods like fresh veggies, fruit, yams, sweet rice, mung beans, lotus roots or seeds. Stay away from alcohol, coffee, and spicy foods which increase internal fire or heat. Snacking on Goji berries is recommended, drinking chrysanthemum tea, chamomile tea or Art of Wellness’s own Night Tea can help you rest and sleep better.
  • For Yang deficiency, drink warm lemon water upon rising, eat more cooked and warm food, nuts, especially walnuts and pecans, stay away from dairy, icy foods and drinks and greasy, heavy meals. 20-30 minute hot foot spa before bedtime is recommended. Rub the low back along the midline of the spine and on both sides until very warm.
  • For saggy or loose skin, facial rejuvenation acupuncture needling will help stimulate collagen production and improve facial circulation.
  • Speed-walk 30-45 minutes per day.
  • Rub hands to warm them, then rub the soles of each foot 100 times. Practice daily.
  • Meditate 20 minutes daily, in the morning or ideally, at bedtime.
  • Suggested Menopause Meditation: focus on the lower abdominal area (Dan Tan), until it feels warm. Then, move the warm sensation into your kidney area.