Treating menopause requires individualized plan

Menopause is a hot topic, and for good reason.

It tremendously affects the woman experiencing menopause as well as her loved ones. Not only does it cause myriad physical and emotional symptoms that can make life challenging, it represents a significant shift in what a woman finds meaningful in her life.

Guess what? No one woman’s menopause is the same as the next. That is because no two women are alike.

When seeking help from a health care professional for relief of symptoms, it is important that the practitioner take the time to understand the patient and look at all the contributing factors.

I could have 10 women present for the exact same symptoms of menopause, and they each would get their own individualized treatment plan that differs from all of the others. 

That is because symptoms are only part of the story. What else is going on with the woman’s health picture that may affect the treatment plan? It is very likely that the treatment plan should involve a layered approach to effectively achieve balance in the patient’s body.

As a clinician, I like to gather a symptom picture as well as take a complete review of systems that includes the well-being of every organ system, the emotional state of the patient, the environment in which the patient lives and lifestyle choices. I also use objective measures such as analyzing a patient’s tongue and pulse to find other clues of what may be going on internally, as well as consider Western medical findings. From there, I make what is called a “pattern discrimination” diagnosis and make a treatment plan from there.

Effective treatment plans for menopausal patients often involve these elements:

■ Helping patients know which foods can help balance their system to alleviate side effects and which foods may exacerbate symptoms. Various foods can be medicine for one person and toxic to another. 

■ Developing a unique combination of herbs specific to the patient. Be it herbs, pharmaceutical medications or nutrition, substances should be prescribed based on each person’s situation.

For example, not everyone with depression should receive an antidepressant, not everyone with hot flashes should receive hormone replacement therapy, and not everyone with insomnia should use lavender, melatonin or Ambien. 

■ Making lifestyle recommendations. Not everyone should exercise daily, drink 64 ounces of water a day and work until retirement. Each of us has different rest, work, play, food intake and water intake requirements.

■ Determine which forms of treatment may best help the patient. This may include herbs, acupuncture, homeopathy, counseling and, for some patients, a referral to a medical doctor to consider pharmaceutical medications. 

It is important that treatment plans are designed for each patient, but there are some common undercurrents and symptoms of menopause and corresponding recommendations that can lessen the side effects:

HEAT — It is common to have excess heat in the body which may lead to hot flushes, insomnia, anxiety, dry skin, tender vaginal tissue and more.

I recommend that the patient avoid “hot-natured” substances that can exacerbate body heat. For that reason, I recommend avoiding alcohol (all alcohol, though wine tends to be the worse one for exacerbating symptoms) and coffee (decaffeinated or caffeinated because the nature of the coffee bean is “hot”). It is also important to honor rest and eating regularly, which can counterbalance heat by nourishing the system, making it less likely to catch fire.

DAMPNESS — A patient with “dampness” may experience foggy thinking, depression, weight gain, candida overgrowth, joint pain and more. Foods that may likely contribute to dampness include sugar, dairy, soy, wheat and alcohol.

MID-LIFE CRISIS — We all know this one does not apply to women only.

In fact, men have their own version of menopause, called andropause.

Around the age of 49, it is common to feel confused, uncertain about the future and reflective of the first half of your life. Those are all natural feelings as we prepare for what is a natural shift in our purpose in life.

For many of us, we are shifting from taking care of our families to serving a broader purpose to society. That shift looks and feels different for each of us. Life coaching and counseling can help organize thoughts and bring into focus our sense of purpose.

When experiencing menopause, or anything that makes us feel less than our best, it is most tempting to resort to activities and habits which only make things worse. It is common to run to the cookie jar to temporarily satisfy a sugar craving, pour a glass of wine to artificially relieve emotional distress, have a few cups of coffee to artificially get going in the morning and stay stuck in emotional patterns that are not serving us.

And thus, the cycle of misery continues, only growing worse over time. Once you are aware that these habits are likely making you feel worse, know that you have the power to make different choices. You can utilize your symptoms as your own personal health GPS system. 

Dr. April L. Schulte-Barclay is a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine and a licensed acupuncturist. She has been practicing in Grand Junction since 2004 and is an expert and leader in integrative and collaborative medicine.

Learn more at hhacumed.com, or call Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions at 256-8449.


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