Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a comprehensive system of healthcare that originated in Asia and has been practiced for thousands of years. It is based on the belief that the body, mind, and spirit are interconnected, and that health is achieved by maintaining balance and harmony within these systems. Eastern medicine includes a range of practices such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary recommendations, all of which aim to address the root cause of a person's health concerns and restore harmony to the body.
The menstrual cycle is important for a woman's overall health, as it reflects the balance of hormones in the body and can impact fertility, mood, and energy levels. Imbalances in the menstrual cycle can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, poor nutrition, and hormonal imbalances.
Similar to the days before your period, any problems that arise during the beginning of menstruation (cramps, headaches, emotional instability) usually indicate underlying qi and blood stagnation. However, problems that arise at the end of the period (fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, anxiety, lack of appetite) usually indicate qi and blood deficiency.
Key herbs are combined and used to support energy (Qi) to lead the blood out, moving and facilitating the blood, removing obstructions to blood flow, and facilitating thorough discharge of the menstrual flow. TCM believes that once these core issues are addressed, other menstrual symptoms such as pain in the back and sacrum, lower abdomen cramping or pain, bloating, and anxiety and irritability, will be resolved.
The Role of Proper Diet in Maintaining Menstrual Health
In Eastern medicine, diet is an important factor in maintaining overall health and balance. There are certain foods and eating habits that are believed to support menstrual health, such as consuming warming, nourishing foods (apricots, cherries, red dates, grapes, pineapples, onions, chives, leek, pumpkin, garlic, walnuts, ginger, beef, chicken, lamb, prawns, black tea, jasmine tea), avoiding cold and raw foods (apples, watermelon, bok choi, cucumber, eggplant, spinach, tomato, seaweed, barley, buckwheat, millet, mung beans, soy beans, tofu, chamomille, chrysanthemum, peppermint tea, fish, duck, crab, pork), and maintaining regular meal times. Foods that are thought to be particularly nourishing and supportive of menstrual health include cooked vegetables, soups, grains, and proteins such as chicken and eggs. More of the following foods can help move qi and blood: turmeric, ginger, basil, nutmeg, rosemary, mint, cardamon, cumin, fennel, eggplant, beet, onions, garlic, mustard greens, and sprouted grains.
In addition to the specific properties of individual foods, the timing and frequency of meals can also be important in Eastern medicine. It is generally recommended to avoid skipping meals and to eat regular, balanced meals to support the body's natural rhythms.
Some common herbs to help treat and maintain an optimal menstrual cycle and resolve symptoms include:
Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Ginger is a warming herb that is traditionally used in Chinese medicine to support circulation and reduce menstrual cramps. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and may also help to reduce nausea and other digestive complaints.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Licorice is a herb that is traditionally used in Chinese medicine to support hormonal balance and regulate the menstrual cycle. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory and estrogenic properties, and may also help to reduce PMS symptoms such as mood swings and irritability.
Angelicae Root/ Dong Guai (Angelica sinensis), also known as Chinese angelica, is a herb that is traditionally used in Chinese medicine to support menstrual health and regulate the menstrual cycle. It is believed to have tonic, sedative, and anti-inflammatory properties, and is often used to reduce menstrual cramps and other menstrual discomforts.
Dong quai is believed to work by regulating the flow of Qi (energy) and blood in the body and supporting the function of the endocrine system. It is traditionally used to nourish the blood and improve circulation, and may also help to balance hormones and regulate the menstrual cycle.
Dong quai is often used in combination with other herbs in Chinese herbal formulas, and is commonly combined with herbs such as ginger, licorice, and peony to support menstrual health. It is available in a variety of forms, including capsules, tinctures, and dried herb, and can be used as a tea or decoction. It is important to note that dong quai should be used with caution and under the guidance of a trained practitioner. Some people may be allergic to dong quai or experience side effects such as skin irritation, and the correct dosage and preparation can vary depending on the individual. It is always best to work with a licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine to determine the best course of treatment for your individual needs and health goals.
- Motherwort (Herba Leonuri): Motherwort uses can be traced back to ancient Chinese medicine, and it has been valued for many cultures as a healing herb. However, nowadays motherwort's medicinal applications are more specific, as this herb has proven useful for menstrual cramps and relieving premenstrual syndrome (PMS), helps stimulate and ease muscle contractions, invigorating and facilitating blood flow and dissolving blood stagnation, and can be used for encouraging menstruation in the case of amenorrhea. It also has the effects of easing anxiety and stress associated with the menstrual cycle. Motherwort has been found to mildly stimulate the uterus while also aiding the uterus to work efficiently in the case of bringing on menses for women with absent menstrual cycles, as well as those with painful periods. It is also commonly used to treat uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, and endometriosis.
Common Formulas to Support and Treat Menstrual Health
Many women's formulas have been documented for over 2000 years since the Song dynasty, in treating women's reproductive and menstrual health. Longer treatments and consumption of these formulas over a long period of time may prove drastic results if taken consistently. Here are a few well-known herbal formulas:
Four Substances Decoction: This is the basic formula for tonifying the blood and regulating menstruation. It can be used (with appropriate modification) in treating a wide variety of problems associated with menstruation or birth in which the nails are lusterless, the tongue is pale, and the pulse is thin. This formula has many derivatives, some of which are listed under the variations and associated formulas, such as the Eight-Treasure Decoction (ba zhen tang) and Tao Hong Si Wu Tang. This formula may be used in treating dysmenorrhea, irregular menstruation, anemia of various etiologies, threatened miscarriage, post partum weakness, insufficient lactation, urticaria, and neurogenic headache*.
Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang: The therapeutic properties of this formula include vitalizing the blood, dispelling blood stasis, moving the qi, and regulating the upward and downward momentum of the body's energy flow. Generally, blood stasis is a significant pathological product due to stagnant blood. If blood stasis occurs within the body, characteristic symptoms such as pain and primary dysmenorrhea can occur. Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang can thereby remove this pain by allowing for a healthy movement of blood and qi to circulate within the body.
*This article is used for the primary purpose of educating. It is important to note that Chinese herbs should be used with caution and under the guidance of a trained herbal practitioner. Some herbs may interact with medications or have potential side effects, and the correct dosage and preparation can vary depending on the individual. It is always best to work with a licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine to determine the best course of treatment for your individual needs and health goals.