Acupuncture + Chinese Medicine for Hormonal Balance
In today’s highly endocrine-disruptive society, we’ve seen a steady rise in female patients struggling with hormonal imbalance and dysfunction. In fact, it’s one of the most common complaints that we see here at Centered: Richmond. Here, we treat with acupuncture, herbs, and help patients make lifestyle changes to support healthy hormones. Environmental toxins, BPA (found in plastics), common household cleaners and chemicals used in pesticides and herbicides are all known as xenoestrogens (which act as endocrine disruptors) and mimic human hormones in the body. therefore disrupting healthy hormonal function. While hormonal issues are also rooted in genetics, xenoestrogens and specific lifestyle habits predominantly affect our monthly menstrual cycles – or the absence of them.
If these issues are untreated long-term, they may lead to a host of conditions including fibroids, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and infertility. This may ring true for some of you that already have one or more of these conditions present in your lives. You are certainly not alone. But what many women don’t know is that the holistic practices of acupuncture and Chinese herbalism (among other lifestyle practices and modalities) play a vital role in helping to bring hormones back into balance.
Here at the clinic, we tend to see three primary causes of hormonal dysfunction:
Estrogen and progesterone are the two primary hormones in females. During a normal, healthy menstrual cycle, estrogen rises in the first half of the cycle, peaks during ovulation, and then falls in the second half (while progesterone rises). As mentioned before, genetics does play a role here, however estrogen dominance is dramatically affected by how many xenoestrogens we are exposed to, as well as how good we are at breaking down and excreting all that estrogen. Symptoms of estrogen dominance usually include:
- Irregular or abnormal menstrual periods
- Bloating and water retention
- Breast swelling and tenderness
- Mood swings such as irritability and depression
- Weight gain, especially around the abdomen and hips
- A sluggish metabolism
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Extreme fatigue
- Insomnia and trouble sleeping
This pattern can best be addressed by using Chinese medicine and other holistic modalities to support healthy hormone production and elimination. Specifically, the liver acts as a filter in metabolizing excess estrogen and harmful environmental toxins in our bodies. When the liver is overburdened with these xenoestrogens, its ability to effectively metabolize estrogen is compromised. Support your detox organs with proper foods and limit the amount of xenoestrogens that you’re exposed to.
Here are a few helpful tips for doing so:
- Reduce your consumption of commercially-raised meat and dairy products (such as beef, pork, chicken, milk, cheese) and consume hormone-free products.
- Eat local and organic foods whenever possible, as non-organic products contain the most pesticide residues.
- Drink filtered water (in glass or BPA-free bottles)
- Toss out personal care products (shampoo, soaps, cosmetics) that contain paraben or phenoxyethanol chemical compounds.
- Avoid soft plastics (which contain phthalates) and store and consume liquids and foods in glass containers; especially avoid heating plastic wrapped foods in the microwave.
- Reduce your consumption of soy (especially those containing soy protein and soy protein isolates), which contains an unusually high amount of plant estrogens.
- Avoid conventional tampons and sanitary products that contain chlorine, fragrance, rayon, etc. and instead use products made of organic cotton or other natural materials (and, they’re better for the environment!).
Poor circulation in the pelvis
Unfortunately, the pelvis is at a natural disadvantage when it comes to stagnation. While poor systematic circulation is already a common problem, sitting too much over extended periods of time (hey, sedentary desk job) is usually the main culprit. Poor circulation and stagnation can result in painful, heavy periods and cramping accompanied by blood clots, perhaps without other indicators of estrogen dominance. You may also experience lower abdominal bloating, constipation and even ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids. Poor diet and environmental toxins (as mentioned above) may also contribute to pelvic congestion, as they compromise our liver’s ability to properly eliminate excess estrogen and toxins from circulation, and excess estrogen contributes to bloating and constipation.
With the support of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, menstrual issues can resolve due to improved circulation in pelvic tissue. Fertility challenges may also decrease as a result of improved circulation in the ovaries.
Additionally, the uterus prefers a warm environment for optimal circulation and blood flow, so be sure to incorporate warming foods and drinks into your diet. The consumption of too many cooling foods can cause a damp environment, which can exacerbate issues. If you have a heating pad at home, that’s also a nice tool to place over your pelvic area to encourage circulation (while also alleviating painful cramps). Also, try a standing desk at work and get the body moving to help encourage blood flow, especially exercises that utilize your legs and core area.
Deficiency type hormonal imbalance.
This particular type of imbalance relates to women who are unable to effectively produce enough hormones often as a result of having a high metabolism, over-exercising or having experienced a life event that drained the body of its resources (especially during intense periods of high stress). Since one of the first systems to willingly take a hit during times of stress is the endocrine system, hormones tend to fall out of whack. Women with this deficiency type tend to endure very long or very short menstrual cycles (3 weeks, or 6 weeks), and periods are usually short and light. Alternatively, some women may not have a period at all (known as amenorrhea). Ovulation may also be absent, therefore affecting fertility and the ability to become pregnant.
In our experience, the best tool for these women is to conduct a review of their current nutrition, lifestyle, and exercise habits to see where they can make improvements towards optimal health and hormonal balance. Incorporating less intense exercises (such as yoga) may be beneficial towards helping to lower cortisol levels, especially if they live in stressful environments or circumstances. Chinese herbs often manifest healthier menstrual and ovulatory cycles within a few months by essentially putting energy back into the battery.