Women’s Health Issues

May 20, 2019 Joe Brady

As one of my teachers in Chinese medical school told me “women are complicated.” Women’s biology allows for the miracle of childbirth but also creates many women’s health issues that are unique to or simply more prevalent in women. In recent years research into integrative medicine approaches have found good evidence that many health issues unique to women respond well to alternative, low tech approaches. For instance studies have found that acupuncture reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes without the risk associated with hormone replacement therapy. A 2012 research review of 13 clinical trials suggested that cranberry may help reduce the risk of UTIs in certain groups, including women with recurrent UTIs, children, and people who use cranberry-containing products more than twice daily. Tai Chi, Yoga, meditation and vitamin D, have been shown to be helpful in fibromyalgia and Acupuncture may help relieve osteoarthritis pain. Participating in tai chi may also improve pain, stiffness, and joint function in people with knee osteoarthritis. Qi gong may have similar benefits, but less research has been done on it.

Menopausal symptoms

In a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), hypnotherapy reduced the frequency of hot flashes in menopausal women who had hot flashes often. The women in the study also said that hot flashes didn’t interfere with their lives as much and they slept better. Meditation reduced the bothersomeness of hot flashes in menopausal women and led to improvements in anxiety, perceived stress, self-reported sleep quality, and quality of life. 

Chinese herbs in the treatment of menopausal symptoms are problematic in research. Western scientists try using only single herbs in studies with limited results. In traditional Chinese medicine, doctors rarely use single herbs. The traditional herbal formula for hot flashes is called Zhi Bai Di Huang wan. This formula has been used since 1702 c.e. to treat hot flashes and other post menopausal symptoms. It will be a while yet before western scientists figure out the value of formulas and how to study them. In the meantime the World Health Organization’s policy is that the fact that an herbal formula has been used for centuries is in itself some evidence as to the safety and efficacy of that treatment.

Osteoarthritis of the Knee

As a result of poor body mechanics and high heels, knee osteoarthritis is more common in women. Physical activity is crucial in the treatment of knee arthritis and because Tai Chi is done slowly it issuer than other forms of exercise. If you are not active the joint will only get weaker over time and the pain will only get worse. If you can keep the joint strong then the muscles do the work of daily activities and the joint doesn’t get inflamed. The American College of Rheumatology’s guidelines, conditionally recommend tai chi and acupuncture for knee OA patients who are candidates for knee replacement but who cannot or will not have the surgery

Read the fact sheet from the American College of Sports Medicine on proper exercise with arthritis. https://www.exerciseismedicine.org/assets/page_documents/EIM_Rx%20for%20Health_Osteoarthritis.pdf

One simple folk treatment from Chinese medicine is to “pump” the knee gently. Sit down and hold the two acupuncture points below the kneecap, on either side of the patellar tendon. Called the “dubi” points or calves nose. These points sit in between the two bones and if you gently hold the points and flex and extend the knee you can “pump” some synovial fluid into the knee. This will make movement considerably more comfortable for a while and is a very popular self-care technique in China.


Studies of tai chi, yoga, mindfulness meditation, and biofeedback for fibromyalgia have had promising results, the evidence is too limited to allow definite conclusions to be reached about whether these approaches are helpful. Vitamin D supplements may reduce pain in people with fibromyalgia who are deficient in this vitamin and some preliminary research on transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for fibromyalgia symptoms has had promising results.

For more information on integrative medicine and women’s health issues see