Hormonal imbalances are a primary concern I see in my practice. Many of my patients are perimenopausal or menopausal women and they tend to struggle with temperature fluctuations, which can lead to night sweats and hot flashes. I also commonly see menstrual pain and irregularities, and infertility. In men, low testosterone tends to affect their life, from sleep to libido.
Hormonal imbalances can have a huge impact on your quality of life. If you’ve ever had hot flashes. For example, you know what I mean. The treatment of hormonal imbalances tends to take time as we work with cycles in your body, which require time to heal.
Hormonal imbalance symptoms
Some common symptoms seen in hormonal imbalances:
- Perimenopausal or menopausal hot flashes, night sweats, or temperature fluctuations at night
- Disturbed sleep, especially in the middle of the night
- Painful periods
- Irritability and moodiness, the week or so before the cycle starts
- Breast tenderness
- Migraines and headaches
- Fatigue and mental fogginess
These symptoms often come in waves, which is aligned with the normal hormone fluctuations. The goal is to identify how to balance the hormone levels with acupuncture and functional medicine to resolve your symptoms.
How to treat hormonal imbalances effectively
A holistic approach to treating hormones is helping the body to more effectively:
- produce higher amounts of hormones
- better transport hormones in the body
- work on hormone sensitivity receptors
- and finally support detoxification of hormones
In order to make these processes as efficient as possible, I look at the mnemomic that we call in functional medicine the GALS:
- GUT – if you’ve read my gut healing page, you remember when I told you that if there was only one system I could treat in the clinic, it would be the gut. The gut is in constant communication with your hormones through the receptors found in its lining. If there is constipation, IBS or inflammation in the gut, it will affect the hormones, especially estrogen
- ADRENALS – stress impacts the adrenal glands strongly. The adrenal glands send bursts of cortisol when in need or in danger, to help you manage the situation. But when it happens every day and chronically, it starts to affect the health of your hormones. Cortisol and sex hormones derive from the same pathways and if the body feels there is always some sort of stress happening, it will shift its energy towards keeping you “on”, and sex hormones decrease or become imbalanced
- LIVER – the liver helps process and detox hormones; factors such as total body burden, alcohol consumption and genetics can all overwhelm the liver and lead to hormonal imbalances
- SENSITIVITY and SUGAR – the receptor sensitivity in hormones is crucial for sex hormones health. The response that the body receives from these receptors up-regulates or down-regulates the amount of usable hormones in the body. Sugar metabolism and insulin resistance have a direct relationship and will affect the hormone levels as well.
How acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help
When working with your hormones in Chinese medicine, if premenopausal, treatments vary based on your hormonal fluctuations. In perimenopause or menopause, we collectively treat various body systems. We often see the gut involved, the liver system, the kidneys and adrenal systems and so on. We look at the whole person and then treat accordingly with acupuncture and herbs.
Various symptoms when occurring together form what we call patterns in Chinese medicine. That is how we decide on the treatment protocols. Some patterns I see in my practice based on Chinese medicine principles:
- Liver Qi Stagnation – this is a pattern that most commonly comes up when menstrual symptoms or insomnia get worse the week before your menstrual cycle bleeding; it’s commonly associated with irritability, breast tenderness, painful cramping periods and menstrual clots.
- Kidney Yin Deficiency – this is the most typical pattern that shows up when there is a decline in hormone production and you experience perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. When ovaries stop producing hormones, the adrenals are left to help out. Replenishing this deficiency will nourish the adrenals so you can produce just enough sex hormones to feel well.
- Spleen Qi Deficiency – the spleen in Chinese medicine has different functions than the spleen organ in Western medicine; in general terms it refers to digestion, absorption of food and the health of the gut. It also connects to “digesting” thoughts. Many women who wake up with hot flashes and night sweats in the middle of the night and worry excessively usually have this pattern.
These are just a few patterns to exemplify how I work with Chinese medicine principles and use them for acupuncture and herbal treatments.
Functional medicine and hormone healing
The GALS mnemonic principles mentioned above are at the foundation of hormone healing. However, I always keep in mind Chinese medicine principles as they are effective and simple to follow. Hormones are a complex system to treat and acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment are clear and elegant to use.
In my practice, I like to start with the less-invasive treatment first. I start with lifestyle changes and other things you can do at home. Then acupuncture aims at regulating your own hormones. Herbal formulas are also very valuable to help regulate hormones and most of the time I have my patients start with a formulas when we start the acupuncture.
Lastly, laboratory testing such as saliva, urine, or blood can give us further information if needed and further us guide us towards supplementation.