'Menopause affects everyone differently... with acupuncture we treat the cause, not the symptoms'
When Co Down woman Roisin Armstrong began to experience symptoms of the menopause she turned to natural remedies for relief - and having practiced acupuncture for 25 years she's passionate about its benefits, as she tells Leona O'Neill
Complementary health practitioner Roisin Armstrong knows the struggle menopausal women go through all too well. When the 50-year-old Co Down woman approached her menopause she was gripped by insomnia and debilitating hot flushes.
It was then that she drew on her 20-year experience treating women navigating this chapter of life with natural health methods to make herself feel better.
Menopause is an inevitable stage in the life of any woman in her middle years. It marks the end of her reproductive years, but it is so much more.
Many lucky women sail through it with barely a symptom and just a sigh of relief. But for others it can spell many years of misery, coping with symptoms ranging from mild and short-lasting hot flushes, to huge rushes of heat, with visible sweating on the upper lip or red-faced head sweats obvious to all.
There are many other symptoms too: mood changes, from anger to tears and even depression; joint pains, especially in the hands and feet; while numbness and tingling in the hands and feet are also common.
Some people experience insomnia, weight gain, hair loss, vaginal dryness leading to painful intercourse and recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs). Dry eyes affect many as well as loss of elasticity in the skin, leading to fine lines and wrinkles. And all that's without even mentioning the side effects often associated with HRT.
Roisin (right) lives with her partner Patrick in Holywood, where she has run her highly successful natural health practice for the past 25 years.
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She has helped hundreds of women cope with the symptoms of the menopause through acupuncture. She says that in just three sessions women feel better as symptoms dissipate.
"I have been an acupuncturist for over 25 years," Roisin says. "And I have known over all that time how well it works for menopause issues.
"Sadly, I am now of that age myself, so I knew how to work with it.
"There are many symptoms of the menopause and they are very wide ranging.
"It can range from insomnia, mood swings, joint pain - a lot of women get sore hands and feet, dry eyes and vaginal dryness. Loss of libido, exhaustion, hair loss and weight gain are also very common, as are headaches. It just goes on and on and on.
"For myself, the biggest issue I have had with the menopause is insomnia. I go through little waves. I generally fall asleep, because most of us are absolutely knackered, but then I wake up at three, four or 5am and can't get back to sleep.
"So to try and function and go to work and be calm and pleasant was really, really hard to do.
"But I would have had a lot of hot flushes also, which are really debilitating. For me they were accompanied with nausea and weakness, so I'd get this overwhelming feeling just out of the blue. You would really love to leave the room and go and lie down, but I work on a one-to-one basis with clients, so I have to stay upright and keep smiling.
"It really is very debilitating for a lot of women. For a lot of them you can actually physically see them having a hot flush, because a little row of beads of sweat appears across the top of their upper lip. And once you become aware of it you can notice a lot of women really struggling with it.
"I have been treating women going through the menopause for 20 years," she adds.
"Very rarely will any woman walk through the menopause without any issue. It affects everyone in a different way. And the really brilliant thing about acupuncture is that we don't treat the symptoms, we treat the cause."
Roisin says before treatment begins, she takes a look at two very specific areas - the tongue and a person's pulse.
"We do things very differently in that we will look at your tongue and we will do a pulse diagnosis and with those two diagnostic methods we will discover what your particular triggers are," she explains.
"From looking at the tongue I can tell you what is going on with your organs.
"Your tongue is basically like a map of your body - the back, sides and front of your tongue are completely related to each organ and you can get a reading from that. We also get indications from the colour and texture of your tongue.
"A normal tongue will be a pale pink tone and even all the way around. You might have a crack down the centre, which is about heat. It might be big and pale, which is a lot to do with your spleen.
"There are three main organs connected to your menstrual cycle, according to Chinese medicine, and they are your spleen, your liver and your kidneys.
"Each one of those will give you a different set of symptoms. So you could be treating a person who has the same symptoms, but completely different underlying causes.
"We are kind of like detectives - we have to investigate and find out the underlying issue. And when you treat that, the symptoms will resolve themselves."
Roisin explains what is involved in looking into a person's pulse.
"In western medicine there really is only one pulse, where you see if a person is living or dead," she says.
"But in actual fact there are nine different pulses which relate to each of the organs, so you can read what is going on with the kidney, spleen and liver, lung, heart. And from that you can tell what the trigger is that is causing the issues.
"Your kidney is really pivotal in menopause. You might have issues with your kidney jing, yang or yin. Say, for example, you have a kidney yin issue and that would cause you to have hot sweats, a sore back, night sweats, insomnia, dry throat, and dizziness.
"So there are very specific points where you would put needles in to resolve those issues.
"If you had a kidney jing issue - which is completely different, that is about your energy - that would cause low libido and a sore back and your tongue would look completely different.
"It would be red and peeled, like someone had taken the coating off it.
"And the third one is kidney yang and with that the tongue would look big and pale and swollen and the symptoms for that would be loose stools and swelling in your feet and hands and a weakness in your legs.
"We do very thorough diagnosis of the person before treatment to find out what is going on at the root."
Roisin says that acupuncture gets to the heart of the problem and resolves any issues. She says, despite the presence of needles, it is one of the most relaxing treatments to experience.
"The acupuncture needles are chosen after gauging the size of the person's body," she adds.
"There is no particular pain associated with it. When I work with people I tell them to breathe in when I'm putting the needles in, so they are concentrating on breathing so they don't really feel it.
"So when I'm doing that I'm looking for the chi, I'm twisting the needle bit looking for a sensation so that I know that I'm at the right spot.
"If you can allow yourself to relax it is the most fantastic relaxation you will ever have. It really just takes you down a gear or 12, depending on the person.
"I myself have had sessions where I can't feel myself lying on the bed, I'm almost above it as I'm so relaxed. It's really lovely."
She says it's a method that works immediately.
"The brilliant thing about acupuncture, in terms of menopause, is the relative immediacy of effects," she explains.
"Sleep can be restored from that day, from that night on. And also the heat will come away down. Generally I will do one to three sessions with women and that is all it takes.
"But then you can come across a women who have underlying issues that can cause the menopause symptoms to be exacerbated and that might take a little longer.
"When you do this you are giving women their life back. When you think of a woman who works in a busy office or has a managerial role and has to stand up and give talks, and to have a huge hot flush in the middle of that is totally debilitating.
"So when you don't have that to worry about, it just makes like so much better.
"And when you are sleeping properly, everything is normalised. You can cope and function in the world.
"For the menopause, acupuncture acts really, really quickly and deeply. So it's just fast.
"And we are in a world where we all want fast results, so it's brilliant for sorting you out in a short space of time. Because no one would want to feel like that."
Roisin also offers kinesiology to clients, which is a method of healthcare that creates harmony of the body, mind and spirit.
It uses a system of muscle testing to identify areas of the body not functioning as they should.
Any problems so identified, are treated with acupressure - finger pressure on acupuncture points - and gentle spinal adjustments, massage of neuro vascular and neuro lymphatic points along with dietary advice and the use of nutritional supplementation.
For further information about Roisin's work, you can log on to www.roisinarmstrong.com