A lot of medicine revolves around the care of women during menopausal and peri-menopausal years. This time brings a lot of suffering to a lot of women. Complaints I often hear are fatigue, hot flashes, insomnia, brain fog or difficult concentration, low sex drive, depression, and, occasionally, breast cancer. Medicine has struggled to successfully help women during these years.
Much attention goes to the hormones that are associated with menopause–estrogen and progesterone. Production of these hormones begins to drop in a woman’s 30s. By the time she reaches peri-menopause in her mid-40s, there is quite a drop from the hormonal levels of her teens and 20s. At a certain point, estrogen production falls so low that a woman is unable to build up a uterine lining, and menstrual bleeding stops altogether.
These hormones are indeed important, but there is more going on here than meets the eye. Focus only on hormones and we miss the big picture. Let’s walk it through:
An important matter is that menstrual bleeding is a detoxification of the blood. This has become increasingly apparent to me in my treatment and clinical studies of women. The Digimeridian, which measures acupuncture meridians, usually reflects when a younger woman is about to have a heavy period, because it registers toxicity around the heart and blood. The menstrual bleeding comes and flushes this out, hopefully completely.
The extent to which uterine bleeding can detoxify was impressed upon me by a story Dr. Yongli Ni told to me a couple years ago. It was a case of a pregnant woman who developed vaginal bleeding early on in her first trimester. She was told that if it did not stop, it would likely mean a miscarriage. Yet, the bleeding continued. Fearful of losing her baby, and alarmed because her gynecologists did not know what to do, she consulted Dr. Ni. After examining the case, Dr. Ni told the woman everything was OK, and that the bleeding was necessary for her to keep her baby.
Why? The story goes like this. This was a Russian woman who grew up near Chernobyl, and suffered exposure to radiation. In Chinese medicine understanding, radiation exposure is a “fire toxicity.” This woman had this fire toxicity in her uterus and reproductive system. In order to have a healthy baby, her body had to flush out the fire toxicity of the radiation. It did this through bleeding. She was treated with acupuncture and reassurance and had a healthy baby.
Clearly, detoxification through menstrual bleeding represents an advantage for women over men. Up until they reach menopause, women have an extra route to shed toxicity. As they cross into menopause, things switch and women catch up with men in their risk of developing debilitating disease–particularly heart disease. Not surprisingly, the heart, which is closely linked with blood, is most affected by extra toxicity loaded in the blood.
This makes an argument for the Wiley Protocol. The Wiley Protocol is a bio-identical hormone replacement protocol for menopausal women that mimics the cycle of a younger woman, producing a menstrual bleed. Susie Wiley, who created the protocol, believes that women are protected when they cycle and bleed. This argument has some credence. Nevertheless, things are not quite as simple as the Wiley Protocol suggests. More on that when I discuss cutting edge treatment in a future newsletter.
So, why do some women do fine going through menopause and others do badly? In other words, there is more than just hormones involved. If it were simply about hormones, then every woman would have difficult symptoms, and this is not the case. In my studies, women that are heavily toxic before the advent of menopause run a major risk of trouble. Toxicity creates inflammation. Inflammation in turn creates disease symptoms. Our ability to unload toxicity is key. We take on toxicity from our emotions, our food, our metabolism and our environment.
What does the drop in hormones at mid-life have to do with this? Hormone production drops gradually because the energy of the kidneys drop. The energy of the kidneys, in Chinese medicine, is where vitality and hormone production resides. In other words, if you keep the kidney energy strong, there would be no reason for hormone production to fall off at all.
This drop in energy also reflects a decreasing ability to detoxify. Replacing hormones appears to be the equivalent of giving a kidney tonic, i.e. to some extent they build the energy of the kidneys. Bio-identical hormones are no cure-all. I currently debate how much merit there is in saying “This woman has lost her hormones and therefore needs them replenished to help her symptoms.” It is useful, but it is oversold. The problem is better set up as “The kidney energy is weakened, and this has produced toxicity in the body and caused symptoms.” This sets up an entirely different approach to treatment. This approach yields better treatment results overall. What role bio-identical hormones should play is an ongoing question that may require a different answer for every woman.