Your Menstrual Cycle from a Chinese Medicine Perspective

Your Menstrual Cycle from a Chinese Medicine Perspective

The Yin and Yang of the Menstrual Cycle

Much of the beauty and potency of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is that it considers the body a microcosm of the universe. To better understand how TCM views our cycles, let’s review the concept of Yin and Yang. We can reduce every health condition, symptom, and phase of life into having a more Yin or Yang quality.

Yin describes nourishing, moistening, substantive, and internal body functions and structures. When it comes to our cycles, Yin is related to menstruation, the follicular phase, and estrogen. Blood is a very Yin substance, and when we shed the uterine lining, it is very common to feel more indrawn and reflective, which are Yin characteristics. Yin also manifests as the ovary structure and function, the lining of the uterus, and cervical fluid.

Yang is the complement energy to Yin. Compared to Yin’s slow, cooling nature, Yang energy is dynamic, active, transforming, and warming. In our cycles, Yang governs ovulation, the luteal phase, and progesterone. You may resonate with feeling your best – the most focused, energized, and confident – during your ovulation phase; this reflects heightened Yang energy. 

From a Chinese medicine point of view, how we support and treat someone with acupuncture, herbal medicine, and lifestyle practices vary on what phase someone is in their cycle. The cycle is perpetuated by hormonal changes which is equivalent to the rise and fall of Yin and Yang. When we balance the menstrual cycle phases with acupuncture and herbs, we actually balance the hormones, build blood, unblock and restore Qi, and more. 

What is an Optimal Menstrual Cycle?

When you come in for an acupuncture appointment, you may be surprised by the level of detail and depth in which your practitioner inquires about your bleed. What is your practitioner looking for? Well, there is a saying in Chinese medicine that is nearly the opposite of what we are used to hearing during our annual doctor’s visits: the period should come and go with ease. 

This statement is our blueprint; it’s what we are constantly circling back to and prioritizing. But, if this is not the case, it is our cue from the body that it needs support – how can we return to easeful periods? One of my professors emphasized that Blood is the basis of female bodies and to always look at the cycle to determine their general health. 

The qualities of your cycle offer great insight into where we need to move toward and how to best support you. 

Some signs that things are on track: 

  • cycle length is between 25-35 days
  • ovulatory cycles – we want to make sure ovulation is happening 
  • 4-5-day bleeds
  • the blood is fresh bright red
  • moderate flow, not too heavy or light
  • no clots or spotting
  • no PMS, pain, or other life interrupting symptoms 

Phase I – Period – Yin – Winter 

Day one of your cycle begins with the first day of your period. The uterine lining sheds, and the pituitary gland begins making FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone) to stimulate the growth of new follicles. 

The focus of this phase is to invigorate Qi and Blood to ensure a free and smooth bleed. Qi and Blood Stagnation are often the patterns at play that lead to painful periods.

Lifestyle: Your energy may be at its lowest and focused inward. Regard this time as an opportunity to nurture yourself and replenish your reserves (more on supportive foods, below!). Keep your body (especially the low back, abdomen, and feet) warm, take warm baths, and use a heating pad to move and circulate the blood and reduce pain. Spend time alone or with those you love. Stretch, take a walk, and enjoy gentle and restorative movement. 

Phase II – Follicular Phase – Yin Transforming into Yang – Spring 

The period ends, and the emphasis is on the growth and maturation of a dominant follicle. It’s also the time when the uterine lining thickens and cervical fluid increases. A good clue that you are about to ovulate is the presence of fertile cervical fluid – clear stretchy ‘egg white’ vaginal discharge, a key indicator of fertility – produced by the cervix in response to rising estrogen and a ripening follicle. The treatment principle of this phase is to nourish Blood and Yin.

Lifestyle: enjoy wholesome and nourishing foods and practices that build the body’s energy and support the reproductive organs. You’ll have higher energy, want to socialize more, be more creative, and ready for new projects due to the rise in estrogen. 

Beneficial Foods During the Period and Follicular Phases: focus on warm prepared meals with these blood-nourishing ingredients 

  • Protein: broths and stocks, pasture-raised eggs, high-quality pasture-raised meat (beef, chicken, liver)
  • Vegetables: beets, broccoli, chard, collard greens, kale, spinach, seaweed, carrots, butternut squash 
  • Fruits: raspberries, blackberries, goji berries, oranges, kiwi 
  • Complex Carbs and Grains: black beans, lentils, brown rice, red rice, wild rice, quinoa
  • Misc.: black sesame seeds, dark chocolate, molasses, and a tablespoon of raw/ground pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds daily 

Phase III – Ovulation – Yang – Summer 

The spike of estrogen and the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) stimulates the ovaries to release an egg (ovulation). 

To promote ovulation, the most Yang and dynamic point of the cycle, our goal is to circulate Liver Qi. Liver Qi is responsible for dispersing Qi throughout the body, especially in the reproductive region, and it can inhibit ovulation if it becomes stagnant from physical or emotional stress.

Lifestyle: You’ll feel abundant with energy, confidence, focus, and an increase in libido. Move your body in ways that bring you joy and satisfaction, and melt away mental and emotional stress. Practice breathing exercises to allow Qi to move freely and reduce tension. Verbalize thoughts and feelings in this phase to offset internalized frustration that may manifest as PMS in the luteal phase.

Phase IV – Luteal Phase – Yang Transforming into Yin – Autumn 

The egg travels down the fallopian tube and either implants in the endometrium if fertilized or slowly dissolves and sheds with the uterine lining in the next period. This journey takes around 5-7 days. Progesterone, a hormone secreted from the corpus luteum (the casing of the dominant follicle from which the egg is released), secures the uterine lining and warms the uterus. There will be a slight increase in body temperature. 

Yang at its fullest and shifts gears to transform into Yin, initiating a sense of withdrawal and moodiness. 

Lifestyle: As progesterone rises, you may want to slow down, engage in more self-care, and scale back from socializing. If PMS occurs, this is a sign that you may need to carve out time for yourself and process your thoughts and emotions through movement, journaling, or conversation. Continue to move your body in ways that resonate with you, to a lesser intensity. If you are prone to stagnation, more gentle and low-intensity exercises like yoga and Pilates will help smooth the flow of Qi. 

Foods to Support the Ovulation and Luteal Phases: focus on warming foods that will move Qi/fluids and support the reproductive system.

  • Protein: organic and pasture raised meats like chicken, beef, lamb, shrimp, and liver and high-quality fish like salmon, tuna, and anchovies. 
  • Vegetables: onions, garlic, ginger, leeks, Brussel sprouts, kale, chard, beets, broccoli, cabbage, pumpkin, sweet potato, turnips, and seaweeds
  • Fruits: citrus, cherries, plums, pomegranate, and berries 
  • Complex Carbs and Grains: brown rice, oats, kidney beans, black beans, adzuki beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Misc.:  cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, basil, rosemary, pistachios, walnuts, and a tablespoon of raw/ground sesame and sunflower seeds daily 

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Consultations:

Traditional Chinese Medicine has been used for thousands of years to balance hormones, regulate the menstrual cycle, and enhance fertility by restoring the body’s natural harmony with acupuncture and herbal medicine. Treatments to resolve menstrual conditions and notice significant changes typically take three months, with visits once a week. 

Keep in mind these are simplified explanations and general tips. If you’re experiencing difficulties with your cycle, it is best to seek support from a healthcare practitioner.

Still have questions? The best way to understand the effects of Traditional Chinese Medicine is to experience treatments for yourself. Book your free consultation today to get started!

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