from the perspective of Chinese medicine
About menstrual cycle and menstrual disorders from the perspective of Chinese medicine ? the second interview with Kasia Jaszczyk-Grska.

Natalia Milunska: This time I?d like us to talk about how the Chinese medicine perceives the female cycle and what advice it gives us to keep it regular and carefree. Let?s start from the ancient Chinese outlook on the female body and physiology.

Kasia Jaszczyk-Grska: Female physiology in TCM is closely linked with the Blood and the Liver. According to the taoist foundations of Chinese medicine, all phenomena that occur in nature, and thus also in the human body, can be explained through the Yin and Yang theory. They are two principles, energies, which on the one hand are opposing but on the other complementary, and which are in a continuous process of change: Yin into Yang and Yang into Yin. Yang cannot exist without Yin, and Yin without Yang. Yin is connected with matter, substance and Yang with energy. Women are more Yin and men more Yang. Blood also belongs to the Yin aspect of the body ? thus it is specifically connected with the female principle. Moreover, monthly loss of blood makes its production and sustaining its correct level a vital part of the female physiology.

The important role of the Liver in female physiology is connected to its two main functions described by TCM: storing the Blood and enabling the free flow of Qi (energy) in the body. In the Chinese medicine organs are understood more broadly than in the Western medicine. Thus the liver is an anatomical organ and, at the same time, its meridian ? an energy channel and the functions it has in the body.
Why is the free flow of energy Qi in the body so important? And what is the connection with menstruation?

We can distinguish 4 phases in the menstrual cycle ? they should be taken into account while treating a woman according to TCM principles. The first phase is the menstrual bleeding, when the free flow of blood is vital. The second phase starts on the seventh day from the beginning of menstruation ? then the production of blood is paramount. Ovulation is the time of transforming Yin into Yang, so in the third phase strengthening Yang energy becomes the most important. We talk about warming Yang, because the Yang aspect in the body is connected with warmth. The fourth phase, before menstruation, is the time when blood must be sent to the uterus using the energy Qi. At that time correct functioning of the liver and the free flow of Qi and blood are crucial, so that menstruation can begin on time and without unpleasant symptoms.

These 4 phases need to be taken into account in healthy diet, to support the body. The most important is not to distort the free flow of Qi before menstruation, to help the free flow of blood during it and to nourish the blood afterwards.

What does it mean? How can we help the free flow of Qi before menstruation? How can we distort the free flow of Blood during it?

Before and during menstruation it is especially beneficial to eat cooked dishes of thermally nuetral vegetables and whole grains (thermal properties of products are given in charts in books on Five Elements Cooking or in a chart of products on my website. It should be taken into account that the way of preparing food affects its thermal properties ? the most balanced (which means neutral) state is achieved by boiling in little water or in water with fat).

Before and during menstruation it is good to limit:
  • raw and cooling foods such as cold water, juices, ice cream, raw, especially exotic, fruit, lettuce
  • spicy dishes ? they are very warming
  • sour taste ? it blocks Qi (citrus and other sour tasting fruit, yogurt, vinegar, pickles, sauerkraut, sour soups like tomato, gerkin, white borscht, urek, kapuniak)
  • coffee, green and black teas, alcohol
  • sweets
I know that before or during menstruation women often have a craving for chocolate. Does it mean that we have magnesium deficiency or lack some other minerals? You say about limiting ? does it mean that we can, from time to time, eat or drink something from the list above?

These are guidelines for the time before and during menstruation. Of course, in the case of some women, they should be observed daily. It depends on the patient.

And what about additional symptoms before menstruation, such us tension in the body, irritability, sore breasts?
In the case of PMS, besides the right diet, it is beneficial to drink an infusion of three herbs for a week before menstruation: yarrow, white deadnettle, calendula ? a spoonful of each herb per glass or a single herb: calendula, yarrow or lemon balm.

I know that garden angelica is also great for relaxing muscles and to regulate bleeding. And how can we take care of our blood after menstruation?

After menstruation it is a good idea to nourish the blood. It can be done with dates, raisins, Gou Qi Zi (dry lychee fruit), sesame, especially black, all sweet tasting vegetables which strengthen the colon ? carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, fennel, beetroot; cabbage and vegetable or chicken stock cooked for a long time are very important, also eggs, spinach.

These products will also be beneficial for women who have such symptoms as: sensitivity to light and dryness of eyes, weak and splitting nails and hair, pale skin and lips, frequent muscle cramps, scanty menstruations, irregular ones ? sometimes late, sometimes early. These are the symptoms connected with Blood deficiency.

Where do the distortions of menstrual cycle come from, according to TCM?

Qi and Liver Blood are interdependent ? if we have too little life energy, it cannot move the blood in the right way in preparation for menstruation. When Qi gets blocked before menstruation it will lead to PMS and late menstruation.

I would like to stress that in Chinese medicine we always prepare an individual diagnosis and recommend treatment based on it. Generally speaking, the following basic mechanisms of menstrual distortions can be distinguished:

  • blood deficiency (scanty menstruations, irregular ones)
  • hot blood (menstruation is heavy and cycles short)
  • Qi deficiency when Qi cannot keep the blood in vessels - menstruation is heavy with possible staining in-between
  • Qi blockade ? symptoms of PMS such as chest problems, irritability, sighing; menstruation is irregular with varying intensity
  • hypothermia ? prolonged cycles or lack of menstruation, scanty, painful menstruation, dark blood, abdomen pains which lessen under a hot compress

How can we deal with such distortions?

As I said earlier, to decide on treatment, an individual diagnosis is necessary. The recommendations will be different for a woman whose problems are caused by the cold and different for one suffering from, say, hot blood.
What I can recommend to every woman is prevention: appropriate diet and slowing down before and during menstruation.
Finding an area in life where we can express ourselves, be creative ? it is especially important if we have a frustrating job or an unsatisfactory relationship. Cherishing our creativity supports the liver in its fundamental function ? ensuring the free flow of Qi. Thus dance is highly recommended for women, as it moves the hips, enhances and regulates the energy flow.

It would suggest that, to have a regular cycle and a healthy body, we need to realize our creative potential, to act but also find time for rest and regeneration. Many indigenous cultures have always held the belief that women should be active while ovulating and rest and open up to inspiration during menstruation. These two points of view seem to coincide...

Yes, it could be said so.. A woman who can slow down during menstruation gets inspiration for the active phase afterwards, up to ovulation.

Another important issue concerns working on improving relationships, with partners, family. As I said earlier, women are more closely connected with the Yin aspect and relations in family are very important for them. Being unfulfilled in this area leads to frustration, which sooner or later will manifest in problems with menstruation.

It?s very interesting what you say about emotions. Based on my work with women I can say that the main cause of menstrual distortions, especially painful and late menstruation, are blocked emotions. They are often connected to unpleasant experiences related to their first menstruation, but not only.

Yes, emotions can cause illness, just like external factors. In Chinese medicine we speak of 7 emotions. They are anger, anxiety, fright, pensiveness, sorrow, grief and joy. Each one has influence on Qi circulation. If we experience one for a long time, it will certainly distort the flow of Qi and, as a consequence, blood circulation. The next step are menstrual distortions, e.g. blocked or late menstruation, heavy bleeding, increased PMS etc.

A piece of good news at the end - something that each of us has access to. Joy is the emotion which keeps Qi in harmony and lets it flow freely. If we find it difficult to eliminate other disharmonies, let?s balance them with joy. Let?s learn to enjoy life!

It?s a very positive recommendation. Thank you for our conversation.
 
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