Photo of Chinese Herbs courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and Stuart Miles
Today’s guest post is written by MaryAnne Bachia, a dear friend of mine. MaryAnne is a Licensed Acupuncturist and specializes in women’s health.
I asked MaryAnne to write about how acupuncture and Chinese herbs can assist with the hot flashes that plague us during and after chemotherapy treatments. I found that regular acupuncture treatments combined with Chinese herbs really assisted me after chemotherapy.
“Sweating after chemotherapy is a very natural process. What really happens with chemo, as you probably know, is that the chemo burns out everything in the body, good and bad, if you want to look at it that way. It burns out the immune system as well as any signs of disease.
According to Chinese medical principles, this isn’t such a great idea. It’s like burning the oil in a car and continuing to run the engine.
What’s happening with hot flashes is that the body is trying to create the oil again – it’s attempting to rebuild estrogen levels. It’s one of the ways the body is brilliant for trying to create homeostasis and heal itself.
The body has a perfect way of managing stress. Cancer may be created in a similar way. The body has created much stress, systemically, and so it creates stagnation or a cyst or tumor compact, in one area, such as the breast. This is why it can be easy to have surgery and eliminate a tumor but we have to learn how to handle our stress in a way that is more balanced so we don’t re-create accumulations or stagnations (as tumors are called in Chinese medicine).
What To Do For Hot Flashes?
Chinese medicine works wonders with both acupuncture and herbs or either one on its own. If you find the right acupuncturist, one with experience with dealing with cancer, you can also gain tips for nutrition and lifestyle choices that can benefit your re-building and help you regain your strength.
If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com). It is my honor to help you through this.
As you may know, conventional HRT uses hormones that are slightly different from the ones found in the body.
Conventional HRT works by replacing women’s two main sex hormones – estrogen and progesterone – but the replacements you get are not exactly the same as the versions your body was making before.
For instance, the estrogen used in the widely-prescribed pharmaceutical Premarin comes from the urine of pregnant mares. It contains forms of estrogen normally found only in horses.
The replacement for progesterone that comes in regular HRT is known as progestin, which has a slightly different chemical structure from the natural hormone.
In 2002 when a major study called the Women’s Health Initiative linked conventional HRT to a much higher risk of breast cancer and heart disease, the use of conventional HRT in America, Britain and Australia dropped by around 50%.
The Problem Is, When You’ve Had Breast Cancer…
Women who have had breast cancer are often launched prematurely into menopause via the chemotherapy regimen they hope will save their lives. So yes, we’re alive, but at the mercy of seemingly never-ending hot flashes! Finding support for all of these tropical moments can be difficult – most doctors will tell you (and I agree) that since you’ve had breast cancer going on conventional HRT is just too big a risk.
So we have to look further afield and natural medicine does have many things to offer us for treating the symptoms of menopause, however quite often we are warned against these remedies because their long-term safety has not been adequately studied.
This is an area that desperately needs some funding – doing the proper research on herbal medicine’s effectiveness for menopausal symptoms particularly after breast cancer.
The herbs normally recommended for treating the symptoms of menopause are agnus castus (chasteberry), black cohosh, dong quai, evening primrose oil, flaxseed oil, maca, St John’s wort, soy isoflavones, and red clover.
I started to write about the effects of each of these herbs, but my research turned up quite a few articles online that warned against using certain herbs because of lack of studies showing their safety and effectiveness. Normally that wouldn’t worry me because I’ve been using herbal medicine for YEARS with no ill effects, in fact quite the opposite. But I wanted you, my faithful readers, to be aware of the ones that have scientific backing.
Cornell University’s Herbal Medicines and Breast Cancer Risk . See especially Table 2 – Results of Clinical Trials of the Effectiveness and Safety of Herbal Medicines Used For Treatment of Menopausal Symptoms.
From these articles, it’s clear to me that much more research needs to be carried out on the safety of herbal medicine for those affected by breast cancer.
Some studies are currently being carried out, however, because herbs cannot be patented like drugs can, there is little financial incentive for research facilities to carry out expensive trials. The good news is that organizations like Stand Up To Cancer are now starting to provide funding for this type of research.
5 Interesting Things That Appear to Assist Menopausal Symptoms After Breast Cancer
My research turned up a couple of interesting things (with research backing them) that appear to assist menopausal symptoms after breast cancer:
Unfortunately, conflicting information appears to be the order of the day when you’re looking for menopausal support after breast cancer. Rest assured that I will be following this subject very closely and will let you know when I find safe nutrients (and the studies backing them) that will assist menopausal symptoms and also be safe for people who have had breast cancer.
I send my love to everyone taking this journey right now. If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.
Yesterday I discussed hot flashes and promised to provide you with some support, so here it is. In case you didn’t read yesterday’s blog, here’s what basically happens to trigger a hot flash.
Low Levels of Estrogen and a Wonky Thermostat
When the hypothalamus (located in your brain) senses a drop in estrogen levels, this confuses the hypothalamus, which among other things is your body’s “thermostat”, and makes it think “This body is too hot!”
The brain responds to this by sending an all-out alert to your heart, blood vessels, and nervous system: “Get rid of this heat!” The message is transmitted by the nervous system’s chemical messengers and the message is delivered instantly, causing your heart to pump faster, the blood vessels in your skin to dilate to circulate more blood to radiate off the heat, and your sweat glands release sweat to cool you off even more.
This heat-releasing mechanism is how your body keeps you from overheating in the summer, but when that process is triggered by a drop in estrogen, your brain’s response can make you very uncomfortable. Some women’s skin temperature can rise quite a few degrees during a hot flash.
Your body cools down when it shouldn’t, and you are miserable: soaking wet in the middle of an important work meeting or in the middle of what might have been a good night’s sleep.
There are many triggers (as you probably know if you’re going through hot flashes)! Drinking alcohol (we only wanted one glass of wine, and now we’re paying for it!), a hot cup of coffee, eating something sweet or sugary, hot or spicy food, sitting in a sauna, going to a hot, tropical place, stress (just try having a heated debate and NOT having a hot flash!), a hot bedroom… I’m getting a hot flash just thinking about having a hot flash.
I was Prescribed an Anti-Depressant
When I spoke to my oncologist about the severity and frequency of my hot flashes (mine were brought on prematurely by my chemotherapy regimen for breast cancer), he wanted to prescribe me an anti-depressant. Apparently low dose anti-depressants work by intercepting the chemicals in the brain that transmit the hot flash alarm.
Being a natural therapist, I declined, preferring to handle the matter naturally instead of creating a whole new problem for myself with anti-depressant side effects.
In 2008 Henry Ford Health System oncologist, Dr. Eleanor Walker with the assistance of acupuncturist, Beth Kohn, conducted a study with 47 breast cancer patients. These patients were all on Tamoxifen or Arimidex to reduce cancer recurrence. Hot flashes are a common side effect of these two drugs. Half of the women received acupuncture treatment and half were given the anti-depressant venlafaxine (Effexor).
The study results: “Both groups exhibited significant decreases in hot flashes, depressive symptoms, and other quality-of-life symptoms, including significant improvements in mental health from pre- to post-treatment. These changes were similar in both groups, indicating that acupuncture was as effective as venlafaxine. By 2 weeks post-treatment, the venlafaxine group experienced significant increases in hot flashes, whereas hot flashes in the acupuncture group remained at low levels. The venlafaxine group experienced 18 incidences of adverse effects (eg, nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, anxiety), whereas the acupuncture group experienced no negative adverse effects. Acupuncture had the additional benefit of increased sex drive in some women, and most reported an improvement in their energy, clarity of thought, and sense of well-being.”Here is a link to that study.
‘Nuff said. See below for more info on acupuncture.
7 Easy, Low Cost Tips for Hot Flashes
Spray mister with peppermint oil – keep it close to hand. You just need a plastic or glass spray mister with a few drops of peppermint essential oil in filtered or distilled water. The peppermint oil is very cooling and the fan is absolutely divine. Instant relief.
Ice water – sip away at it all day, helps to keep you cool (make the ice yourself from filtered water).
Paper fold-up fans – I have one in my purse, and in every room in the house, tucked away in an accessible place.
Take a cool shower before bed.
Dress in layers – avoid wool, synthetics and turtlenecks. Go for cotton, rayon, linen, hemp – breathable and much cooler.
Eat a healthy diet – eat a diet loaded with whole grains, legumes, fresh vegetables and fruits, flax seeds (grind them just before you add to salad or cereal), cold-pressed olive oil, coconut oil, non-farmed salmon.
Avoid these – sugar, alcohol, carbonated drinks (they deplete calcium from your body), caffeine (stimulates an already over-stimulated nervous system).
If all else fails, I usually stick my face in the freezer for a few minutes (LOL…)
Special Hot Flash Breathing Exercise
Try to do this twice a day for 10 minutes (it helps to set a timer). Women who did this exercise regularly not only experienced fewer hot flashes but also reduced stress levels.
You can also do this when you first feel a hot flash coming on – stop what you are doing, find a quiet place, and practice this breathing exercise until you are feeling comfortable again.
Sit in a comfortable, quiet place.
As you breathe, keep your rib cage still. You will be lowering and raising your diaphragm (takes some practice) to empty and fill your lungs.
Inhale for a count of 5, pushing your stomach muscles out at the same time.
Exhale for a count of 5, pulling your stomach muscles in and up.
Repeat this cycle of breathing until you feel cool, calm and relaxed or the 10 minutes is up.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”) has a few centuries of tradition for treating hot flashes. Since there are all sorts of hot flashes (you know what I mean, there are hot flashes and then there are HOT FLASHES!), the Chinese have descriptions and remedies for all of them.
Before treating you, a TCM doctor will take a full history and will pay close attention to your tongue and your pulse. With that information they can then determine whether you’re suffering from a “hot” menopause or a “cold” menopause and will treat you accordingly. Treatment generally involves acupuncture and/or herbal medicine.
Acupuncture helps to move your CHI (aka Xi – your inner wind, energy, or spirit). Skeptical? Don’t be. I’ve tried it, it definitely helps.
Chinese herbs – common to most TCM herbal remedies for menopause is dong quai. I would recommend having your TCM doctor make up the herbal for you, don’t self-treat with Chinese herbs. Make sure if you have had breast cancer you tell your TCM doctor your complete history.
Women have found many Western herbs effective in treating hot flashes over the centuries. They include American ginseng, evening primrose oil, hops, licorice root, red raspberry leaves, sage, spearmint, damiana, motherwort, chasteberry (also known as Vitex), black cohosh, and wild yam.
These herbal remedies can be very effective at reducing hot flashes but their relative safety in women who have had breast cancer is not completely known. Please use herbal medicine with great caution, always have an herbalist or naturopath’s advice, and let your oncologist know what you plan to do.
Other Hot Flash/Menopause Remedies
I’ve tried Remifemin and a few other menopause formulas. All of them seemed to help with frequency and intensity of hot flashes, but so far nothing I’ve found helps remove them entirely. I’m trying a new product called Menoquil and I’ll let you know the results of that in a few weeks.
Warnings for DHEA and Pregnenolone
DHEA is a “parent hormone” produced by the adrenal glands near the kidneys and in the liver. It is changed in the body to a hormone called androstenedione, which is then converted to estrogen and progesterone. DHEA is thought to support memory, libido and mood.
Pregnenolone is the precursor hormone to make estrogen and progesterone.
The American School for Hypnosis has a great article on using hypnosis to treat hot flashes. I’m going to try it!
I would suggest getting yourself a little MP3 recorder (or some device where you can record your own voice) and record the script that appears on this webpage. As they say, “What the mind can conceive the body can achieve.”
I have read some discussion of biofeedback for relief of hot flashes but I don’t have any experience with it personally. I mention it here in case you’d like to do more research on it. It sounds like an interesting avenue to explore if nothing else I’ve listed above has worked for you.
If you’d like to stay connected, sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey.
One day you sense something strange is happening to your body. It’s like all your veins and arteries from the waist up have suddenly dilated and a tiny flutter of heat starts from somewhere in the center of your being and begins to sweep up your torso, neck and face, leaving you feeling totally weird and slightly twitterpated.
Then it begins happening at night, waking you out of a sound sleep. “What’s wrong?”, you think to yourself. “Am I sick?” But you don’t feel ill. What the heck is happening?
Why Our Bodies Do This To Us
Both night sweats and hot flashes are virtually synonymous with menopause and they are completely harmless (so I’m told). Outside of driving you NUTS because your sleep is so interrupted.
Hot flashes are triggered by the hypothalamus, which (among its many responsibilities) acts as a thermostat for your body.
In the simplest terms, when the hypothalamus perceives that there are insufficient hormones in the body, it increases its production of a particular hormone known as GnRH – and its voltage. The resulting electrical excitation spills over to affect a region of the limbic portion of your brain that is involved in temperature control and that causes a reaction that produces rapid temperature increases in your body. The capillaries in your body then dilate and your nerves become highly reactive.
Ever have that feeling of “Oh no!” that just precedes a hot flash? That’s your nerves reacting to these chemical messages.
I find that “Oh no!” feeling hard to deal with. I also know that suddenly wanting a drink of cold water can precede a hot flash.
Heightened stress tends to make hot flashes worse – sometimes all I need to do is think about something stressful and that brings on a hot flash!
Hot, humid weather also makes them worse. On those days, it’s difficult to tell whether your sweat soaked brow is the result of the weather or your hot flashes!
For me, the hot flashes began about 30 days after I started chemotherapy for breast cancer, so it wasn’t a natural phase of getting older.
Chemo-related menopause is like hell on earth to begin with (or at least it was for me). You go from being a fully functioning, “normal” (whatever that is for you) woman with regular periods to nothing but a heat-radiating, sleep deprived, cranky, wild eyed, grouch, ever on the lookout for the cool spot on the sheets.
I was having “tropical moments” every 45 minutes until my body got somewhat used to the chemical infusions and lack of hormones.
Conventional & Natural Therapies
The standard medical treatment for hot flashes is estrogen. Unless you’ve had breast cancer. Then they want to give you Tamoxifen (which I couldn’t fathom – why would I want to take an estrogen suppressor when I didn’t have any damn estrogen in my body in the FIRST PLACE????).
Because I’d read “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer” by Dr John R Lee, I knew that a decline of progesterone was also a factor. I took myself off to a natural medicine doctor who specialized in women’s hormonal problems and he told me that because my tumor had progesterone-receptor positive cells on the surface, I wasn’t a candidate for progesterone either. ***Sigh***
I have tried a myriad of natural things to cope with hot flashes and while some things decrease the severity and frequency, nothing seems to remove them totally. I still have them 8 years later!
Tomorrow I’ll discuss the natural remedies I’ve found that assist with severity and frequency of hot flashes. Who knows? You might be the lucky one whom they help to completely eradicate hot flashes.
Our Ever-Suffering Husbands
I just want to pay a little tribute to our poor husbands or significant others here.
It can’t be easy living with someone who does blanket aerobics in the middle of the night (regardless of the weather), sprays herself down with a spray bottle of cold water mixed with peppermint oil, has to have the window open in the car even though it’s zero outside, flings off her sweater in the midst of the quiet part in a movie and rummages around in her purse until she finds her fold-out fan…
We do appreciate that it can’t be easy living with an overheated, sleep deprived maniac.
If you’d like to stay connected, sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey.
While acupuncture has been around for millennia, the form of acupuncture practiced today is mainly based on a standardized system which evolved in China around 50 years ago. I do recommend acupuncture for people going through cancer treatments and here is why.
How Acupuncture Works – the Simple Explanation
Acupuncture treatment involves the stimulation of defined points on the body using tiny, ultra-thin needles (or sometimes electricity). In Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”), the surface of the human body and its internal organs are thought to be connected by meridians through which “qi” (pronounced “chee”), or energy, flows.
In TCM, when the flow of qi is blocked, it is thought that pain and disease soon follow. Acupuncture is a complex subject but primarily acupuncture works by inserting the special ultra-thin needles into the specific points on the surface of the body (“acupoints”) along the meridians where qi is blocked, thus restoring the flow of qi.
Acupuncture Studies Show Its Effectiveness for Breast Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Acupuncture has been one of the most studied forms of complementary medicine. Especially exciting are some of the studies coming in that show its usefulness for breast cancer patients.
Nausea: Several studies have proven that acupuncture is quite effective in controlling chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and post-surgical nausea.
Hot Flashes: In another study, it was demonstrated that acupuncture is helpful for relieving post-menopausal hot flashes.
Hormone Inhibiting Drugs – Joint Pain: Many breast cancer survivors are treated with drugs known as aromatase inhibitors to help prevent recurrence, but a common side effect of these drugs is joint pain and stiffness. Several studies have found that acupuncture is quite effective in reducing these side effects, thereby allowing the drug regimen to be continued.
Neuropathy: Acupuncture can reduce the nerve pain, numbness and tingling resulting from chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). This disorder can be extremely frustrating to those who suffer from it and knowing that acupuncture – properly administered – can help is huge.
Lymphedema: Several studies have indicated that lymphedema resulting from removal of lymph nodes can be assisted by acupuncture.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
I often get asked if acupuncture hurts. I have to say (for the most part) NO, especially not when the needles are inserted. You can feel it, of course, but it’s not uncomfortable. Once in awhile, one of the points might ache a little when the needle is first inserted, especially if the qi is particularly blocked, but that eases off quickly usually.
I went to a Chinese Medicine doctor during the entire 6 months of my chemotherapy treatment – she gave me herbs that helped strengthen my immune system, and I often got acupuncture to help with energy levels. Having an acupuncture treatment is ultra-relaxing, you’re generally laying in a comfortable position for about 45 minutes and falling asleep is quite common. It’s a nice experience, nothing to fear.
Acupuncture treatments are generally affordable and are often covered by health insurance policies.
For a good look at all of the most recent research on acupuncture and breast cancer, click this link:
Effect of Acupuncture on Aromatase Inhibitor-induced Arthralgia in Patients with Breast Cancer: a Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28384564
Electrothermal Acupuncture in the Prevention and Treatment of Chemotherapy-induced Nausea and Vomiting: a Randomized Controlled Trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29231584
The Effect of Acupuncture on Chemotherapy-associated Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Gastric Cancer – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28270726
Management of Menopause Symptoms with Acupuncture: An Umbrella Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29298078
Treatment of Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy in Integrative Oncology: A Survey of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Practitioners – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28661695
Acupuncture and Reflexology for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy in Breast Cancer – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5759933/
Treatment of Lymphedema with Saam Acupuncture in Patients with Breast Cancer: A Pilot Study – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4491154/
Effects of Warm Acupuncture on Breast Cancer–related Chronic Lymphedema: a Randomized Controlled Trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4754066/
If you’d like to stay connected, sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, and/or “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey.
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About Marnie Clark
Hi I'm Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor, and breast cancer coach. I have 20+ years of experience in natural medicine. In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.
I've been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!
Why should you work with me? Because:
(1) You don't want to go through this journey alone, feeling unempowered, frightened or just plain
clueless about what to do to help yourself.
(2) You will have someone working tirelessly on your behalf, putting together a healing plan for
you so you don’t have to lose your precious energy researching what food you should eat,
what supplements you should take, and what other things you can do that will give you the
best chances for survival. Instead you can spend that time resting, meditating, healing.
(3) You will learn what questions to ask your doctor (and have someone to turn to for the
questions they can't or won't answer).
(4) You will be armed with the tools and strategies you will need to get through the therapies you
choose so you can make your body hostile terrain for cancer.
You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.