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Reasons Why #4: Balance Them Hormones!

Hormones are a symphony, playing together in harmony.
Hormones are a symphony, playing together in harmony. Photo by Manuel Nageli

 

It’s a bit reductionist to think of life as a bucket of chemicals, and at the same time, the factual complexity also totally blows my mind!! The scientist in me loves to geek out on biochemistry, and the nature lover creative in me loves the beauty of it all too.

Let’s explain that while it’s important and super cool to understand about endocrine glands and the hormones they secrete, that the simplest and one of the most effective ways to treat hormonal imbalances, is through Traditional East Asian Medicine.  Because this is such a HUGE topic, this article focuses mainly on a just a few hormones and a few of their functions.

 

Regulating Hormones

What do we mean by that? Well, hormones are the communication molecules of the body, telling every system how to behave, how to metabolize, sleep, when to menstruate or not, how to regulate body temperature, and on and on. The intercommunication of the 60+ hormones is truly a miraculous marvelous symphony.  It’s so finite and delicate and complex, that sometimes medications work well for imbalances, but sometimes they miss the mark.  Acupuncture to the rescue. Because acupuncture is energetic, it helps the body to regulate and balance itself. By design it allows a return to homeostasis, which is when everything is in balance.

 

Hormone Production & Detoxification

Many hormones, including the sex hormones such as estrogens, progesterone, and testosterone, and stress hormones like cortisol, are synthesized from cholesterol.  Because stress is the response to perceived danger or threat to survival, that response, such as increased cortisol or adrenalin, is prioritized.  When constant perceived stress is present, this means resources can be diverted from the less necessary (sex/reproductive) in order to keep you “alive”.  This is why many people are diagnosed with low estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc. 

On the other hand, hormones also need to be metabolized, broken down, and recycled or excreted.  When this is impaired, too much of a hormone can build up.   What can interfere? Well, it’s the liver’s job to metabolize nearly everything we ingest and every hormone.  And liver toxicity or sluggishness is very commonplace in our hectic modernized society.  With an overwhelmed liver, estrogen and other chemicals can build up, and this too can lead to hormonal imbalance symptoms. Again, a big topic, so can’t get into all of it in this short discussion.  But the solution is supporting the liver’s natural detoxification pathways in order to balance. 

 

Hormones, Fertillity, and a Natural Approach

Our approach to fertility at Energy Flow Health goes beyond analyzing hormone levels. Fertility is a reflection of overall health of mind-body-spirit, and this is why TEAM is such a successful approach for conceiving and maintaining pregnancy.  It’s the synergy of the acupuncture working with the entire hormonal symphony, the natural stress reduction effects, and the balancing and nurturing of the time-tested herbal formulas that account for this.  Our medicine is not reductionist, it’s holistic.  This makes all the difference, and can bring joy back to the baby-making journey.

 

Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine, along with other natural therapies, reduce stress, promote circulation, and improve natural communication pathways so that hormone balance and production regulates.  We also take into account liver health, to relieve the strain on the liver, improving its ability to naturally detoxify the body and ease metabolism of hormones.

 

A Success Story to illustrate

Melissa was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), but didn’t have some of the stand-out symptoms commonly associated with this  metabolic disorder.  her doctor had found that her estrogen and progesterone were low and testosterone high.  She was in her mid twenties, yet had had only a handful of periods in her life due to anovulatory amenorrhea – her body was not releasing an egg every month and thus not menstruating.  She came to me to get help conceiving a second child.  Her first was conceived with assisted reproductive therapy, but she wanted to get to the root cause this time.    

Literally after 2 acupuncture sessions and some herbs, she got a period.  Well that worked quickly! We continued to work on the chronic digestive issues since everything is connected, and continued to support hormonal regulation with acupuncture, herbs, and TBM (Total Body Modification).  The next month, the period didn’t come, and I thought, well of course the cycle won’t be regulated this quickly.  But I was wrong – she was already pregnant naturally!  

 

Trust Your Body to Know

No matter the diagnosis from your conventional doctor, don’t take that as gospel.  Your body’s wisdom runs deep, and with the right nudges it can be set back into rhythm.  The conductor, musicians, and audience just all need to be in harmony!

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Reasons Why #3 – Get Regular! Beat IBS

Poop like a champ! Eliminating waste on a daily basis is not a ‘nice-to-have’.  It’s a top-down job!

 

What is IBS?

While it’s beyond the scope of this short blog, Irritable Bowel Syndrome in a nutshell manifests as diarrhea, or constipation, or both alternating, often with pain and unpredictability/dysregulation of elimination.

 

How Often is Normal?

We are designed to poop every single day.  In fact, passing formed stools 1-3 times a day is normal.  Less than that and your intestines are sluggish.  More than that and you’re in the diarrhea zone.  Loose indicates an imbalance.  

Sometimes, every other day is within normal limits, as long as it’s complete and you feel good.

 

Digestion Top to bottom

There are myriad reasons why elimination becomes compromised, and it’s not always insufficient fiber or water intake.  I use individualized observations and findings to determine what’s backing you up, and how to open the pipes. 

 

In Chinese medicine, the digestive system is seen as one tube from mouth to anus, and the overall directionality is downward. So we look at symptoms in terms of going down too fast, too slow, or coming up.  Reflux, nausea, vomiting are all considered counterflow, and can accompany constipation or even diarrhea.  We also regard the digestive system as the center around which all other bodily functions operate.  We need to have this tube open and regulated to relieve other problems in the body as well.  It’s often the first stop on the healing train – fix digestion, then see what is left to resolve after.

 

map of digestive system

One Patient’s Story

Ebony, 39,  had been very constipated her whole entire life. Her mom recalls giving her suppositories as a child.  Fast forward, and add on endometriosis, chronic pain, reflux, and nausea.  Constipation alternating with explosive diarrhea where she can’t stay away from a toilet was a daily interference with her life. Then she came to me to help to get some relief from all these issues. And the first thing that resolved was the perpetual IBS constipation alternating with diarrhea, along with less frequent and less intense reflux.  Within a few weeks, she reduced the reflux medication by half, and the explose bouts of IBS were gone. Instead, she’s been having daily formed, complete BMs.  The regulation of her digestion system has been such a big relief! 

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Reasons Why We Choose Acupuncture – Reason 2

One Good reason:  Avoiding the drug / Surgery cascade

 

While the addage ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ is still meaningful and relevant, eating a healthy diet is not the only thing you can do to prevent developing disease.   There is an ancient Chinese proverb ‘the best physician has no sick patients’.  This speaks to the fact that long ago physicians were adept at spotting imbalances before illness developed.  This is what I and my fellow Chinese medical practitioners strive for as well.  We look at the tongue, feel the pulse, feel the abdomen, ask questions, and then gain an understanding of the inner patterns that are becoming out of balance. We can notice the minor annoyances, irritations, things that maybe the patient doesn’t think is anything to consider.  And we know the systems that need attention in order to prevent problems from worsening, and symptoms from getting more severe.  Then it’s the patient’s job to follow through on the prescribed treatment plan.

 

Many young people today are barraged with problems resulting from stress.  Many people deal with it, thinking everyone feels that way.  I have patients who come because they don’t feel good.  The doctor says you’re fine, and offers perhaps an anti-anxiolytic or anti-depressant, or birth control to “regulate the hormones”.  However, in my clinic, I just see an overall healthy youthful person who just needs some gentle acupuncture and perhaps a course of gentle herbs to adjust the mechanism in the body causing dis-ease.

 

I’m very passionate about helping teens and young adults to avoid medications, or to discontinue medications.  Allow the body to heal itself!

I have had numerous cases of young women being faced with starting birth control for hormonal imbalances, and not for birth control.  E’s mom called me because of miserable menstrual cycles every month (headaches, nausea, pain, fatigue). They were about ready to follow the pediatrician’s advice to start oral contraceptive.  After one treatment, her cycle came at the expected time, but without all the awful symptoms. It was easy for the first time in many months.  Continuing consistent treatments for 2- 4 cycles usually results in greatly reducing premenstrual and menstrual symptoms while regulating.  Here’s my blog about the guidelines for a healthy cycle.

 

This also applies to the way menstrual imbalances if left untreated can result in surgical procedures such as hysterectomy because that is a common solution offered by conventional medicine.  By treating imbalances throughout our life cycle, we can often head off crises and prevent drastic measures.   Before suffering for extended periods of time with excessive bleeding, seek care that takes you the whole person into account.  Starting with less invasive measures when problems arise can truly make a difference.

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What does a normal menstrual cycle look like?

Here are the guidelines that I look for my patients to fall within for a healthy menstrual cycle and the fluctuations that indicate the need for attention.

 

Week before the period – Premenstrual Time

A normal cycle does not require there be symptoms or changes before menstruation begins.  A very mild brief breast tenderness or brief mild mood change is not very alarming, although still indicates a tendency to what we call Qi stagnation.  Lots of cramps, fatigue, bloating, back ache, headache, moodiness, constipation, and sore breasts are all symptoms of imbalance that can be treated with acupuncture and/or herbs.

 

The menstrual period

The flow should last between 3-7 days total, and going 2 hours or longer before needing to change a pad or tampon is an ok amount. Although heavier flow should not last more than about 3 days. Changing every hour and a half or less is considered too heavy, assuming a thicker absorbant is used.

Mild cramping sensation for a day or less can be typical, as long as it does not interfere with anything you’re trying to do.  If you are reaching for an over the counter pain reliever, this can be addressed naturally with acupuncture and/or herbs. Cramps again indicates stagnation, which means energy or blood flow is impaired.  Exactly what we specialize in with Chinese Medicine!

There should be no headaches, no nausea and no vomiting.

Bowel movements should not be constipated or loose or frequent (more than 3 formed).

Clots that are small and not painful to pass are ok and normal.  Clots bigger than a nickel or so, especially quarter sized or larger, are not normal. Pain with passing clots is also not normal and indicates an imbalance.

First color to last color longer than 7 days indicates imbalance.  Some spotting at the beginning or end of the flow can be ok as long as total color is 7 days or less.

Dark color, brown color or pale or pink color all are bits of information we use to diagnose the imbalances as well.

 

After the Flow

If you are really tired or weak after the period, or get headaches after, this indicates deficiency that is also important to address.

Day One to Day One should be from 24 to 33 days or so, with 28 being the average.  Shorter than that or longer than that can indicate imbalance that can be adjusted.  If you fluctuate month to month from the shorter end to the longer end of normal or more, this too is too much irregularity.

 

These are general guidelines.  Traditional East Asian medicine is well suited to identifying and treating smaller imbalances before they snowball into worse problems.

Don’t just suck it up

Let’s admit it, since it’s been a man’s world, there’s been a lack of sensitivity to the monthly cycle of women, and a culture of just suck it up, everyone deals with it.  If it were a woman’s world, i think we’d have 1 day a month to just rest.  Despite all the wonderful things chiense medicine can do, the day before or day one of our period can be a time of low energy and needing to hunker down and rest.  I don’t see anything wrong with that.  We don’t have to go go go 24/7/365.  However, if it’s a struggle for you every month, and you can’t do what you want to do without a struggle, then please know you’re not alone, and there are solutions.  And birth control is not the only option.

 

You deserve to be seen, to be heard, and to be cared forCall today to see if we’d be a fit to work together!

Here’s to taking back our Menstrual Health!

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Reasons Why Series – Reason 1

Treat side effects from drugs without adding another drug.One Good Reason:  Treating Medication Side Effects

Drugs are amazing.  They help a lot of people prevent and manage illnesses.  But let’s face it, most drugs have side effects.  Not for every person, but for the majority of patients one or more side effects shows up, sometimes to the point of outweighing the benefits.   In response, your doctor may suggest or prescribe a secondary medication to address that side effect.  And so the cascade of pharmaceuticals goes.  
As an acupuncturist, I see a lot of people who are trying to avoid or reduce dependence on medications.  
 

Here’s the story of a woman we’ll call A. 

She takes a medication daily to prevent cancer recurrence.  A. is so grateful for this important drug, however she happens to be one of the 27% who gets a non-serious heart problem as a side effect.  For her, it’s thumping and skipping beats – really uncomfortable.  The doctor reassures her the palpitations, called PACs, are benign, and prescribes a beta blocker to address the misfiring of the heart’s rhythm.  Concerned about the beta blocker’s own list of various side effects, she takes a friend’s advice and tries acupuncture.  And guess what – after one week of treatment – the disturbing heart-attack-like feeling decreased dramatically to mild and less often. 
In less than 3 weeks, the skipping and thumping abated so much, and stayed so mild, that we were able to incorporate treatment of secondary complaints while continuing to address the heart’s signaling imbalance to ensure it continued to regulate and heal.  
Now we’re starting to space treatments further apart as symptoms continue to improve and not return between visits.  She went from having to take this beta blocker when it got bad (a few times a week), to not touching the stuff! 

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