The female menstrual period represents a very physical external expression of female reproductive health. The characteristics and quality of the menstrual flow gives vital diagnostic information. In health, the menstruation should have a regular 28 day cycle which follows the waxing and waning of the moon. Arriving and departing uneventfully like the peaking and ebbing of the ocean tides. The Chinese Medicine understanding is that when there is an imbalance in female reproductive functioning menstrual irregularities arise.
Symptoms can include delayed, scant, absent or painful periods, breast distension, premenstrual tension, irritability, menstrual migraines, clotting, lower back or flank pain, skin breakouts, bloating, fluid retention, diarrhoea and/or constipation. It is also very common for menstrual irregularities to follow the female lineage. Girls often follow a similar developmental path to their mothers and grandmothers, experiencing similar symptoms. As such stories and experiences of menstrual irregularities are passed from generation to generation with girls and young women suffering needlessly thinking that their symptoms are ‘normal’ and unaware that there are natural, non-invasive, effective treatments available.
The menstrual cycle can also be explained according to the concepts of Yin and Yang, the two opposing forces of nature, and the cycle of change. Under normal circumstances women will have an established, regular 28 day menstrual cycle. This cycle reflects the pattern of build up and breakdown of the endometrium, or nutritious lining of the uterus. The monthly purge of ‘old’ blood and nourishment makes way for new nourishment and is a perfect system of biological cleansing designed to maintain optimal reproductive health.
~~ The start of the menstrual cycle is calculated from day 1 with the commencement of the period. This occurs when the blood is abundant and overflowing. By the end of the period all surplus blood is expelled and bleeding ceases. By day 7 the body has started producing more energy and blood to replenish that which has been lost. Around day 14 of the cycle the volume of blood is relatively full again and the body temperature increases. The additional body heat causes egg follicles to bloom and ripen, resulting in ovulation. From day 21 excess energy and blood continues to accumulate in the uterus creating a rich, nutritious endometrial lining in preparation for either receiving a fertilised egg or being expelled as a period. From day 28 the cycle begins again.
Chinese medicine theory has several answers to the question of menstrual troubles, the most important of which are: emotions, diet; and imbalance or blockage of the internal organs (Zang Fu) and internal energy pathways (meridians). Each of the major internal organs is affected by a specific emotion, and each organ also controls one or more of the energy meridians.
For example, the Liver is strongly affected by anger, and the Liver meridian encircles the reproductive organs. The Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of emotions and Blood in our bodies. When there is excessive anger, especially unexpressed anger, the proper functioning of the Liver is damaged. Many problems, including menstrual disorders, eating disorders, and depression can result.
Worrying and excessive thinking can impair the proper functioning of the Spleen, which generates the energy (Qi) and Blood that nourish our reproductive organs. Fear is the big killer for our kidney meridian, which contains our vital essence. Vital essence is very damaging to the Kidneys, which holds our vital essence and genetic makeup. Disharmony of Kidneys, Spleen and Liver is therefore one of the key factors in menstrual dysfunction.
Unhealthy diet choices also strongly affect the reproductive system. Over-consumption of cold, raw foods and icy drinks can decrease energy flow, drain energy from the system, and over time will cause the painful blockage of energy flow and the accumulation of cold in the body. Eating a lot of hot and spicy foods, such as red meat, chocolate, coffee, fried foods, hot spices can overheat the Blood and cause the accumulation of Heat in the body. Unregulated emotions also contribute to Heat accumulation.
When you look at our eating habits and stress levels in this country, it is easy to understand the prevalence of Heat and Cold pattern menstrual disorders. In traditional Chinese medicine, the specific details of the menstrual cycle - duration, volume, appearance of flow, etc. - are only the surface phenomena. The underlying causes of menstrual disorders are dysfunction of the internal organs; disharmony of Qi, Blood and Body Fluids; imbalance of the Conception and Governing meridians; and irregularity of Kidney Essence. In any type of menstrual disorder, blood is critical. For regulating the menstrual cycle, regulating blood is always necessary. Angelica, peony and rehmannia are medicinal plants which nourish the Blood and regulate the menstrual cycle. Angelica tops the list for gynaecological problems. The "female ginseng" can tonify the female reproductive system, relieve menstrual pain, regulate the menstrual cycle, reduce premenstrual syndrome and relieve many symptoms of menopause.
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