The period is sometimes referred to as “The Heavenly Waters” in Chinese Medicine. When trying to improve fertility or lessen period issues like cramps, spotting, floods, heavy or light flow, ensuring a proper monthly discharge of the uterine lining (aka menstruation) is an essential first step that Chinese Medicine practitioners take. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a really fascinating way of looking at the menstrual cycle – the time from the start of your period to the start of the next one. This viewpoint is based on the yin/yang theory, nature, and Daoist principles. In general, the basic principles suggest that greater health and balance result from eating and living in accordance with the seasonal cycles and your body’s individual characteristics. By being mindful of how your cycle’s rhythms mirror the ebb and flow of nature, you can achieve a deeper, more intuitive understanding of your body.
It is crucial to have a basic understanding of the yin/yang theory, including how it manifests in nature and how it affects our daily lives. An illustration of yin and yang traits can be seen in the following chart:
You can deduce two things from this diagram: first, yin and yang are opposites. Second, that they can not exist without each other, and are constantly morphing and transforming from one to the other. For example, Spring represents the gradual transition from Yin to Yang, as does when a person goes from sleeping to waking. There are aspects of the menstrual cycle which are distinctly Yin and Yang, but the constant movement and flux of your hormones causes it to constantly change.
Below, is the outline for the four phases of the menstrual cycle with details on what takes place as well as recommendations for each.
PHASE 1: CYCLE DAYS 1 – 3/4 (MENSTRUATION)
- The uterine lining (endometrium) discharges from the body, and the pituitary begins making FSH and LH hormones to stimulate the growth of new follicles (eggs).
- In Chinese Medicine, the emphasis is on reviving “qi” and blood flow to make sure the lining can completely shed. Additionally, this lessens cramping, which may be a symptom of blood stagnation. This is accomplished by using herbs and acupuncture points.
- Lifestyle: You tend to spend more time daydreaming and your energy is inwardly directed. It is advised to cut back on extracurricular activities while increasing rest and time spent alone or with the people you love. If necessary, gentle exercise only.
- Foods: Warm and comfort dishes like stews, whole grains, ginger soup and root vegetables.
PHASE 2: FOLLICULAR PHASE (CYCLE DAYS 6 THROUGH PRE-OVULATION)
- One of the follicles takes on a dominant role and starts to produce increasing amounts of estrogen. As a result, the cervical fluid builds up and the uterine lining becomes thicker.
- In Chinese medicine, the emphasis is placed on developing yin, which represents the blood and uterine lining tissue. However, the growth of the dominant follicle also has a yang component.
- Lifestyle: During this phase, women typically feel more extroverted, joyful, and creative. Getting a lot of exercise, starting new projects, being outgoing, and having sex are all best during this time of the month.
- Foods: Protein-rich foods are recommended in order to build yin and blood. Good options include beans, fish, eggs, and meat. To demineralize the body after bleeding, cooked leafy greens and shellfish like mussels or oysters are excellent in the early stages of this phase.
PHASE 3: OVULATION
- LH hormone surges, triggering the release of the egg from the dominant follicle. The egg is released from the dominant follicle as a result of an increase in LH hormone. The cervix is open during this period and there is an increase in fertile cervical mucus, which can occasionally have an “egg-white” consistency.
- In terms of Chinese medicine, this is the time when yin energy is at its strongest and yang energy starts to increase. This is when your body switches from having a yin (right before ovulation) to a yang (right after ovulation) dominance.
- Lifestyle: Creative expression skills are at their best; verbalize your emotions in words, and partake in creative endeavors.
- Foods: softer foods like fish, quinoa, and salads are strongly recommended. Chinese medicine generally advises against eating too many raw foods because they have a cold nature and can be hard to digest, but eating some raw foods along with cooked foods will make your diet more balanced. Have a salad, for instance, with cooked beets, whole grains, and a protein, like chicken.
PHASE 4: LUTEAL PHASE (POST-OVULATION)
- The corpus luteum (the “shell” of the dominant follicle from which the egg was released) begins to secrete progesterone, further changing the uterine lining and causing your body temperature to be consistently higher. The fallopian tube transfers the egg from there into the uterus. If the egg has been fertilized, implantation takes place.
- In Chinese Medicine, this is when yang energy is at its peak. The primary indicator of yang energy warmth is a higher basal body temperature (click here for more details). The primary manifestation of yang energy warmth is a higher basal body temperature (for more information, click here). In order for the newly implanted embryo to grow and divide its cells quickly, a lot of energy should be expended and there should be plenty of movement during pregnancy. However, as always, there is yin energy working too: if you are not pregnant, not much is going on with your uterine lining (stillness = yin) and in the few days before your period begins, women often report their mood is more withdrawn and they feel less social. But just like always, there is yin energy at work as well. If you are not pregnant, your uterine lining is not changing much (stillness=yin), and in the few days before the start of your period, women frequently report their mood is more withdrawn and they feel less social.
- Lifestyle: Feeling more introverted, intuitive. Premenstrual symptoms such as irritability or crying easily are your body’s clues to slow down. Reduce strenuous exercise, get a massage, and keep a journal of your thoughts and emotions.
- Foods: Consume more warming foods to help support the growth of the warm, yang energy. Boost protein intake once more and consume cooked vegetables and brown rice.
How can Acupuncture help with rebalancing the menstrual cycle?
Chinese Medicine to Encourage the Flow
When you visit a Chinese Medicine practitioner, our first goal is to encourage the complete discharge of the menstrual blood so that a new lining may grow evenly on a smooth base. Herbs and specific acupuncture points have the following effects:
- flushing the uterine cavity
- Widening the uterus
- encouraging strong downward movement
- circulating blood
- enabling a smooth and complete menstrual flow discharge
- removing blood flow hindrances
- reducing back and sacrum pain
- supplying the necessary force (Qi) for the blood to leave
- minimizing lower abdominal pain or cramps
- reducing anxiety
- Calming the mind