Periods from a Chinese Medicine Perspective

Lynda's Advice to Young Women...

Hormones. Ask any woman and she is likely to have a tale or two about how hormones have
shaped her destiny. For women, their grand entrance is heralded by the arrival of a first period. While for some this is a celebrated passage of womanhood, for far too many, it is the start of a lifetime of “issues” with female hormones. PMS, painful periods, short periods, long periods, heavy periods, no periods…. you get the picture, hormones can be hell!

But does it have to be this way? The short answer is a resounding “no”. In our culture though, there is much we don’t learn about periods and how to befriend them! For 3,000 years Traditional Chinese Medicine has taught women how to manage their hormonal health and avoid so many of the period related ills and spills we routinely struggle with in the west.

In Chinese medicine it is understood that menstrual blood is the visible manifestation of a beautiful dance of harmony between several organs and energy pathways (meridians) in the body. The Uterus is especially connected with the heart and the kidneys. Anything that upsets the heart (stress, sadness, mania, longing etc) also upsets the uterus. If you are stressed out periods can either go into hiding or become too heavy. Then there’s the special relationship between the uterus and the kidneys (think adrenal glands). When the kidney meridian is depleted (adrenal fatigue) the periods become light, scanty or absent. In plain English I’m saying…. “stress plays havoc with periods”. Finding ways to rest more, rebalance work and play, and active relaxation such as meditation or Tai Chi, can work wonders with female hormones and period problems.

Chinese medicine talks always of Qi (Chi) and Blood. They are the two energies which create every substance and function in the body. Strong, flourishing Qi and blood are key to healthy periods. Anything we do with our life that impacts on Qi and blood will have a negative impact on our hormones and periods. Most importantly if we drain and deplete these energies; or do things that cause them to stagnate and “block up”, we are in big trouble!

This is what I wish someone had explained to me when I was a young woman starting a lifetime of periods. Qi and blood are precious jewels to be treasured and nurtured, not flogged to death and expended with never a thought of the outcome.   Over working or over exercising; forgetting to eat regularly, or eating junk food too much; staying embroiled in toxic relationships; drinking too much alcohol; smoking; the oral contraceptive pill will all play havoc with Qi and blood balance.

I struggled with painful periods for years, and panadol and anti-inflammatories were my best friend (long before I discovered the miracle of acupuncture).  I didn’t understand a few key choices I was making were causing “stagnation” and period pain. Just like most young women I always chose tampons instead of pads. They were easy, less conspicuous and more comfortable. Unfortunately, they also block the free release of chi and blood wanting to flow from the body during a period. Tampons cause energetic stagnation which lead to period pain and clotting. The simple solution is of course to swap to pads instead!

A few other gems of wisdom largely lost with the passage of time: Avoid swimming in cold water during your periods as this will also cause stagnation and period pain. Avoid sexual intercourse during periods… this works in the same way as tampons to cause stagnation of blood flow. Steer away from smoothies, juices and endless salads if you are suffering from the type of period pain which feels better for a hot water bottle.

Period time is the time to rest more, take less on, spend time in contemplation and relaxation. Eat a nourishing, warm diet (soups, stir fries, porridge, warm drinks, roasted root vegetables), and eat regularly.

Lynda Wharton

Acupuncturist, Naturopath, Writer & Women’s Health Advocate

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