Hot flashes are a real drag. We’ve all had them. Some are medication-induced, some are due to nervousness or anxiety, but most are a side effect of a hormonal imbalance. They are the first symptom you think of when discussing menopause, but the truth is, anyone can experience them, male or female. No matter what the cause, I’ll be discussing how we view hot flashes in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and what steps you can take to help your body regulate itself without having to resort to hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Typically, hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms are a result of low estrogen in the body. People often experience night sweats, insomnia, anxiety, dryness, irritability, low energy, brain fog, etc as a side effect of hormonal imbalance. In TCM, we refer to the process of menopause as “Kidney Yin Deficiency.” The kidneys (in Chinese medicine) are responsible for hormone function and as the body ages, the hormones naturally diminish. The yin, or nourishing fluids of the body, start to decrease as a person gets older. As those decrease, the body’s ability to regulate its temperature also decreases. Thus: hot flashes (day or night) and unpredictable sweating.
There are statistics that show that women in America experience menopausal symptoms at a much higher rate than in different parts of the world. For example, approximately 75% of women in the US and UK experience noticeable discomfort going through menopause versus 10% of women with symptoms of menopause in Asia. So what gives? Why are we so afflicted over here?
The ancient Chinese truly understood this flux of hormones in the body. Because of that, Asian cultures have used food and Chinese herbs for centuries to regulate their systems a little better; therefore, they experience less discomfort than our Western world. Foods that nourish the yin aspect of our systems include things like warm, cooked foods, kidney beans, sweet potatoes, meat, tofu, miso soup and some cheeses. Now I should say that I don’t often recommend an excess of soy, but using it therapeutically for this specific condition could be of benefit. From a Western perspective, using soy products as a food source can affect the low levels of estrogen. Incorporating organic, non-GMO, fermented soy into the diet can mimic estrogen in the body, so it has the potential to take the edge off of the pesky hot flashes or any other menopausal symptoms you experience.
Chinese herbs and acupuncture/moxibustion are another great way to treat hot flashes. Moxa (processed mugwort) is traditionally used to nourish the yin of the body, so it’s a great modality to incorporate into your treatments if you or a loved one suffers from hot flashes. Herbally, we typically use a traditional formula called Liu Wei Di Huang Wan for hot flashes. Remember that the temp in your body doesn’t turn on and off like your thermostat in your house, so be patient. Sometimes it takes a while to get the body to regulate!