Menstruation: A TCM Perspective

Let's talk about our natural monthly cleanse ladies. Theres a reason that women live longer than men and we can thank our monthly flow for this. Our menses is the body's natural detoxification method. Toxins that are stored in the liver and blood are flushed out of the body making this the ideal time for rest and relaxation. A lot easier said than done but if possible stick toward light work loads and a highly recommended week of TLC for us wonder women out there. Can't continue to conquer the world without the proper resting period so make sure you take some time out to pamper yourself. 

During our periods our body is working so hard detoxing, it slows down the digestion process in order to make this detoxification possible. Because our digestion slows we get hit with those pesky sweet, sour and salty cravings. These cravings are our bodies way of letting us know what organs need tending to (salty craving meaning your kidneys need some looking over, while a sweet tooth can speak to your spleen's condition) it also shows what nutrients we are missing do to our blood loss. Our bodies are smart and are finding different ways daily to let us know whats going on inside. 

Uncomfortable Symptoms are NOT Normal!

Uncomfortable symptoms are our bodies way of telling us we are out of balance and not in its, as the West would call it, 'homeostasis'. Lifestyle choices, diet and toxic buildup can all effect the gravity of each symptom such as; mood swings, anxiety, constipation, cramps, breast tenderness, increased appetite, headaches, acne, weight gain and bloating, are not and should not be normal! Unfortunately for us here in the West this IS "normal". Popping an aspirin for the cramps here, wearing legging to deal with the bloating there and general discomfort is seen as a normal month to month response to what nature intended to be a time of rest, cleansing and rejuvenating.

If your period is painful we can assume that the body as an excess of dampness and extreme cold which could have been inherited from your mother or due to stress and lifestyle choices. Wearing the wrong attire during your menstruation can also cause the body to be cold leading to a more painful environment leading to those much hated uterine cramps. 

OUCH!

Dress warmer than you normally would during your period to keep your midriff away from the cold. This can be the difference between a peaceful period and a painful one ladies so it doesn't hurt to try, it actually hurts NOT to. 

Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners are known to ask questions. Lots of them! We ask these questions to get a better understanding about our patient and their health history. Your first visit to a TCM practitioner is a thorough examination of your verbal health testimony, along with a visual diagnosis (face, tongue and pulse reading) plus an extensive intake form which all help the practitioner discover the deep rooted reasons for your dis-ease. We ask all kinds of questions similar to those you would be asked at your general practitioners office with the exception of the menstrual cycle. We make a big emphasis on knowing when it started, how long it lasted, if it came early, late or irregular this month and what your symptoms are each month. Your period tells us, the practitioners, if you are internally cold, have heat or if your Qi is deficient.

Bare with me, I'll explain it further.  

In TCM if your period arrives earlier than expected its considered Heat causing reckless movement of Blood and the Qi is unable to govern Blood. On the other hand if your period arrives later this is an indication of deficient blood or cold within the body causing stagnation. Simply put if you are early frequently it shows us that the body is trying to release some heat while a late period its similar to that of a cold, slow moving environment.  These details along with a tongue diagnosis can determine which of the two are present in the body. A red tongue, for example, would signify Heat while a pale tongue would mean deficiency in Qi If you are one with frequent irregular periods this is an indicator that the Liver Qi is not moving harmoniously. 

Even the level of menstrual flow is scrutinized by Chinese practitioners. In TCM an excessive flow  signifies heat in the blood or deficiency in Qi. If the flow is insufficient or your period has completely stopped (not including if you are pregnant) this shows signs of deficient blood, cold stagnating the blood or congealed (thick, clotted) blood. 

No one ever talks about food and its relationship with our menses, but did you know that what you ate can and will effect your menstrual cycle? Eating a diet high in cold, raw fruits and vegetables can slowly hinder the reproductive organs and cause delayed arrival, blood clots from stagnation causing unwanted cramping and an obstruction in the flow of Qi. Eating a diet high in yang foods such as meats, coffee, hot peppers tend to create an overly hot environment for the body causing early menses arrival, excess flow and a lowered immune system. 

Foods To Add to Your Diet While Menstruating 

Foods high in minerals and nutrients are what we need to be sticking with during this time such as; sea vegetables (Sea cucumber, seaweed, etc.), sweet potatoes, carrots, beets (great blood builder), nuts, lemon and limes (liver detoxification).

According to TCM during the menstrual phase of the cycle the energy of the mind, body and spirit is turned inward with an emphasis on cleaning.

During this time one must regulate the body's Qi and nourish the blood. Foods that are recommended are those that invigorate the circulatory system, stimulate digestion and aid in detoxification. As mentioned above foods that are great to add to your diet while on your menses include, lots of fresh vegetables like beets, eggplant, greens (kales, spinach, chard, bok choi, watercess), asparagus, cilantro, celery; beans like mung beans and adzuki beans; seaweeds (including micro-algae like spirulina); bitter fruits (as bitter foods help the liver detox) grapefruits, green apples, lemons, and natural sweetness with warming qualities such as Chinese brown sugar, barley malt, red dates.

It is also highly beneficial to add apple cider vinegar to help alkalize the system and to aid in the process of making hydrochloric acid to help the body digest. Also adding my favorite tea; ginger tea is also very beneficial as it helps with circulation and aids in warming the body from the inside out. 

Pregnancy & Your Menstrual Cycle

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Early Cycle: (4 days or more early) This is a sign of low immunity, lung Qi deficiency and this is an early indicator of blood deficiency in the future. If you were to become pregnant during this time it is said that the baby will be born with an immunity 

Late Cycle: (4 days or more late) This is a sign of deficiency in blood, excess cold, liver stagnation or kidney deficiency. If consistent can lead to amenorrhea. Getting pregnant during this time can lead to a child born with delayed growth (mental and physical) with speech delays and hyperactivity.

Irregular Cycle: (Sometimes early, sometimes late, or on time) A sure sign of blood deficiency and spleen deficiency or excess cold. This happens often with people trying to lose weight or skipping meals. Pregnancy during this time can result in a picky eating child with digestion and fppd sensitivities.  

Amenorrhea According to TCM Practitioners

If you experience amenorrhea (abnormal absence of menstruation) before 50 it indicates a liver or kidney deficiency. An over accumulation of dampness (ie. mucus, parasites, toxins.) in the body can also cause an early onset of amenorrhea. Stress is another factor to consider when examining a patient who has an abnormal absence of menses. At this point there may be fertility issues. 

Listening to your bodies subtle messages can help determine what is going on. We have been so consumed with work and bills that we have forgotten that without health we cannot work to our most optimal ability. Every craving, symptom, pain and discomfort is our bodies way of speaking to you. The earlier we tackle your symptoms, the easier it is to begin the healing process. By adding something as simple as ginger tea to your morning routine or eating Goji Berries can help put you, your menstruation and your body on the right track to health.