Women's health and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views the female reproductive system as a network of energy systems that includes the organs, hormones, and blood. This energy network responds to environment, exercise, diet, sleep, and emotions—any stress on the system, from chemicals in drinking water to insomnia to grief, can affect the body. These stresses can manifest as painful or difficult periods. The quality of a woman’s menstrual cycle tells us about her overall health.

TCM gently puts the body back into balance. It can take a few cycles to re-regulate hormones, but acupuncture and herbs are extremely effective for almost all menstrual issues, including:

– PMS symptoms
– Irregular, early, or late periods
– Painful or clotty menstruation
– Low back pain before or during menstruation
– Cyclical digestive disturbances
– Fibroids
– Ovarian cysts
– Fertility

One of the many questions we ask during the intake (even if you just come in for back pain or acid reflux) is what day of your menstrual cycle you’re on. Why is this important to us? TCM treats people according to how they present on a given day. We are all constantly in flux. One day we might be well-hydrated, happy, well-slept, and the next we may have just eaten a greasy meal and been up all night with a screaming baby. These are two very different presentations and they require different treatments. There are always certain constitutional tendencies or chronic issues that will recur from one appointment to the next, but in our intake we always try to look at you with fresh eyes. This is especially true with regard to a woman’s hormones. Because of acupuncture’s powerful effect on the endocrine system, we need to know where you are in your cycle so that we have a sense of how to work with your body’s natural rhythms.
Western medicine sees the menstrual cycle in two phases: the follicular phase, which is dominated by estrogen (days 1-14), and the luteal phase (days 15-28), which is dominated by progesterone at the end.

TCM sees the menstrual cycle in four parts: Blood, Yin, Yang, and Qi.

BLOOD PHASE/ Menstruation (days 1-5): We work on nourishing blood and avoid Qi-circulating acupuncture points. Likewise, overly-moving activities and foods should be minimized (vigorous exercise, spicy foods, alcohol). This is a good time for rest and turning inward. Let us know if your periods are clotty or painful! Herbs are especially helpful for this.

YIN PHASE (days 6-13): Yin phase. During this time, there are increased amounts of estrogen, causing the lining of the uterus to thicken and the follicles to develop. We encourage you to eat protein and mineral-rich foods (meat, eggs, cooked leafy greens) to replenish blood and Yin.
Day 14: Ovulation. An ovum is released. The body prepares to shift from Yin to Yang and the basal body temperature rises. Some women experience discomfort, cramping, or spotting at this point in their cycle. This is something to tell us in your appointment.

YANG PHASE (days 15-21): The body turns its focus from building and nourishing the uterine walls and follicles to preparing for implantation; if fertilization does not take place, the uterus prepares to shed the lining. This is an active and energetic time.

QI PHASE (days 22-28): Toward the end of this phase, levels of estrogen drop drastically. Serotonin levels drop with the estrogen, so there can be depressed mood and PMS symptoms. Feelings of frustration, easy tears, mood swings, as well as physical symptoms like breast tenderness and bloating are all symptoms of what TCM calls “Qi Stagnation.” Your body is ready to move all the blood it has gathered in the uterus and your hormones are about to shift drastically again as you head into the menstrual phase. We use acupuncture points that circulate and smooth your Qi so that you don’t experience as many difficult emotional and physical symptoms.

Our bodies are a part of nature. A woman’s menstrual cycle is a potent reminder of this fact; it has four seasons and moves with the moon. Just as we shift our behavior, clothing, and foods from winter to summer, through being mindful of our own seasons we learn about our internal nature. Please feel free to ask us any questions about your cycle when you come in!