Women’s health is one area where acupuncture can be highly effective and practical. Although the hormone fluctuations women experience from puberty through menopause should be balanced, cyclical and not disruptive to daily functioning, many women go through quite a different experience.
While I spend much of my time working with women to regulate menstrual cycles for increased fertility, I also see quite a few women who would simply like to gracefully discontinue menstruation. Specifically, they want to sleep through the night or go through the workday without turning up the air conditioning and changing out of a sweat-soaked shirt.
Chinese Medicine can offer some insight into the phenomenon of hot flashes, and possibly also some at-home suggestions for relief (the biggest is, of course, to see your acupuncturist!). While there are several different types of hot flashes and this does not explain them all, read on for insight into one common type of hot flash.
You may have heard of Yin and Yang, two major categories of energy in Chinese Medicine. Actually, these are comparative categories, Yin being more substantive, slow, cool, nutritive, and Yang being more activity or movement than substance, faster, hotter. For instance, a pool of water is more yin and fire is more yang. With respect to people, a bone is more yin and the metabolic activity that keeps the body warm and alive is more yang.
When viewed from this perspective, a hot flash on a most fundamental level shows an imbalance between yin and yang. Part of aging is loss of the more substantive, yin energy- hence issues like osteoporosis, as well as drier, thinner skin. When yin and yang are in balance, we do gradually lose both yin and yang, but we remain generally healthy and active because the yin and yang still work together harmoniously. When yin is depleted faster than yang, however, and this can happen for a number of reasons, one effect can be hot flashes.
During a hot flash, the hot yang, which is usually anchored by yin in order to keep the body at an appropriate level of warmth and activity, literally rises up in a heat wave because there isn’t enough yin to hold it down. Many women experience their most severe hot flashes at night. Night is a relatively yin time, and during sleep the yang is said to “rest in” the yin, like a soft pillow or a sleeping bag. If yin is insufficient, yang cannot rest adequately and it rises up, causing you to wake up, feel hot and sweat in order to cool off.
One simple at-home (or work) tip for easing hot flashes is to drink or eat something relatively yin. Nutrition from the Chinese Medicine perspective considers all foods to be medicinal to one extent or another, because everything we consume affects us. Fortunately, some common foods can be used to help cool off when a hot flash threatens, or before sleep to help stave one off. Try cucumber, mint tea or watermelon. Tea can be allowed to cool before drinking, cucumbers can be eaten or you can soak cucumber slices in your water before drinking it, and watermelons can be eaten or juiced. Each of these foods is considered to have cooling energy, and each has its own additional energetic qualities that may also help certain women. Experiment with these, and let me know what works best for you!