Author: Dr. Maryam Mahanian, DTCM, RAc
Audio Broadcast of the article is available below:
Are you tired of struggling with PMS, Irregular Periods and Painful Cramps? Or do you want to have a healthier menstrual cycle to get pregnant easier? Do you want a healthier menstrual cycle once and for all?
Chinese medicine has a lot to say about the health of your menstrual cycles and what you can do to keep your cycles regular, free of pain, have good quality bright-red smooth flow with minimal clotting and a healthy reproductive system and fertility.
When it comes to the menstrual cycle, Chinese medicine breaks it up into four phases. Phase 1 is the menstrual phase (during your period); Phase 2 is the post-period phase; Phase 3 is ovulation; Phase 4 is the luteal phase.
Phase 1 During Your Period
During your period, there’s a sharp fall in estrogen and progesterone levels and the uterine lining is shed. Blood is moving and it relies on the free flow of Qi (energy) and blood.
Having your period allows you to release any old stagnant blood in order to generate fresh new oxygenated blood and tissue. This allows for a healthy reproductive system.
It’s important to have a good amount of healthy blood flow. Not too much and not too little and should ideally last from 3 to 5 days. If you use a pad or tampon, you should need to change every 3 to 4 hours.
Treatment with Chinese herbal medicine, having acupuncture or acupressure, your lifestyle and the foods you eat all could encourage movement and unobstructed flow of Qi and blood to encourage the discharge of menstrual flow and relieve any discomfort you may be having like painful cramps, dark blood, large clots and bloating.
Diet recommendations during your period:
Have lots of cooked vegetables like beets, eggplant, dark greens – kale, spinach, chard, bok choi, watercress, asparagus
Eat Iron-rich foods to replenish the blood your body is losing. Some examples are red meat, eggs, fish, kelp, spinach, broccoli, dried fruits, seeds.
Include foods rich in Vitamin C to help with the iron absorption such as citrus, mangoes, cherries, potatoes, tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries, and peas.
Eat plenty of animal and vegetable protein; Try to have some protein with each meal.
Have beans like mung beans and adzuki beans
Include seaweeds (including micro-algae like spirulina)
Have a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in warm water to help alkalize your body and help digestion
Have hot water and/or ginger tea or cinnamon tea throughout the day to warm your body and help circulation.
Lifestyle recommendations during your period:
During your period, it’s important to avoid swimming in cold water, having sex, being barefoot on cold tiles (wear socks or slippers), and all cold foods to avoid excessive cold and damp exposure. Cold and damp exposure can contribute to painful clotted periods, delayed cycles, unsmooth flow.
Avoid over-exercising during your period.
Try to stay warm and get lots of rest during this time
Phase 2 After Your Period Until Ovulation
This phase is after you’ve finished your period up until you ovulate.
During this phase, the uterine lining grows and thickens. As estrogen levels rise, more tissue develops. The body is also getting ready for ovulation (the next phase) as the follicles mature and develop in response to the hormone FSH (follicle stimulating hormone).
With Chinese herbal medicine, we use blood and yin tonics during this phase to replenish the blood and yin that was lost with the period. We also give small amounts of blood and Qi regulating (moving) herbs to encourage circulation throughout all the new blood vessels and tissue that’s being produced. The use of yin and blood herbs are also useful to aid in follicular development so they’re extremely helpful if you’re trying to get pregnant.
In terms of diet and lifestyle, we’re also working on replenishing the yin and blood. Here are some recommendations:
Include protein at every meal
Eat regularly and keep yourself nourished
Eat lots of cooked veggies and some fruit
Have plenty of Legumes, Grains, Leafy greens, Beetroots, Chicken soup; Soup made with a whole chicken, carrots, mushrooms, shallots and sweet potato is an excellent soup to nourish the blood after your period, Bone broth, Red meat, chicken and turkey, Goji berries in hot water drank as a tea, Nuts and Seeds, especially black sesame seeds, blackberries, blueberries and mulberries, fish and seafood
Eat foods rich in Vitamin E as vitamin E is found in the fluid around the developing egg and is important for its nourishment. Good sources of Vitamin E are cold-pressed oils, sweet potatoes, avocados, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains.
If you’re trying to conceive, avoiding alcohol in this phase is very important because this is the time that your follicle is developing, getting nourished and matured.
avoid spicy foods at this time because spicy foods tend to consume the yin rather than promote the yin (fluids) of the body
avoid fried fatty foods
at this phase you might feel more energized so it’s a time you can accomplish more and exercise moderately. Avoid over-exercising and over-sweating as that can deplete the yin fluids.
avoid stimulants, get lots of sleep, avoid being overworked and overstressed because these can consume the yin
avoid being overly busy at this time and spend less time on your computer or phone
Read a book, spend time with friends, relax more and go to bed earlier
don’t eat when you’re upset
Hydrate well – water is needed to help keep the blood circulating and if you’re trying to conceive it is needed to nourish the fluid around the egg of the follicle, the fluid in the fallopian tubes and the fluid levels in the uterus. 8 or more cups of warm or hot water is recommended. Use plenty of water in your cooking.
Phase 3 Ovulation
Contrary to what many think, ovulation doesn’t always happen on cycle day 14. It can happen anywhere between 11 to 16 days prior to the onset of your period flow. The ovulation phase is roughly three days prior to ovulation until 3 days after ovulation.
The key to this phase is movement and warmth as yin (cooling/estrogen) transitions into yang (warming/progesterone).
This is when the uterine lining is nice and thick and blood-rich. The dominant follicle has grown to its optimal size and yin has reached its peak. There is then a surge in LH (Luteinizing Hormone) which triggers the release of the egg from the dominant follicle.
This is a time when Qi must be moving well. If there is Qi stagnation, ovulation may not even happen. The yang warming energy starts to rise in order to increase progesterone levels and gear up for the luteal phase (progesterone phase) of the cycle.
Chinese herbal medicine at this phase aims to increase the yang (warming) energy and to also move the Qi to encourage the removal of any obstructions that would prevent proper ovulation.
If there is any Qi stagnation, you may experience ovulation pain or other uncomfortable symptoms around ovulation like bloating, breast tenderness, bowel changes or mood swings.
Diet & Lifestyle Recommendations:
Incorporate spices that help move the Qi such as turmeric, ginger, basil, nutmeg, rosemary, mint, cardamon, cumin, fennel,
Have eggplant, beet, onions, garlic, mustard greens, and sprouted grains.
In small amounts, the following are potent qi movers: horseradish, wasabi, coffee, red wine, citrus, and vinegar.
If you’re trying to conceive, eat plenty of foods rich in B vitamins and zinc because they are particularly important to the release of the egg, cell division and implantation. Choose leafy greens, whole grains, eggs, fish and meat
This is a great time for acupuncture to promote ovulation if you’re trying to conceive or if you have delayed ovulation and irregular periods
Eat lighter foods and smaller portions
Reduce sugar and dairy products
Avoid fatty rich foods because they can cause more congestion and stuck fluids
Do exercises like yoga and stretching to increase blood flow to the pelvis
Phase 4 The Luteal Phase
The luteal phase can also be called the premenstrual or implantation phase (depending on if you are trying to conceive or not).
This is the yang part of the cycle and progesterone is produced by the ovaries. This is the period of time where you want to build your Qi and your Yang (warming energy).
If you’re trying to conceive, you want the yang energy to be plentiful which will allow more warmth for the uterus and aid implantation.
Diet & Lifestyle Recommendations:
Keep your liver Qi moving to prevent any pms symptoms by moving your body and decreasing stress. If you’re trying to conceive, don’t over-exercise or over-sweat.
Have warm cooked foods and avoid cold raw foods to support the yang warming energy
Eat lightly cooked, easy to digest foods like soups and stews, stir fries, white rice, sweet potatoes and yams
Eat at regular times, chew your food thoroughly and eat moderate amounts.
Do moderate exercise to move your Qi
Avoid stress as much as you can to prevent liver Qi stagnation. Liver Qi stagnation can lead to more severe PMS symptoms like irritability, breast soreness, bloating and premenstrual acne. It can also cause painful period cramps, clotting and delayed cycles.
Limit junk foods, processed foods, refined sugars, coffee, rancid oils, dairy products and alcohol
Increase water and fiber intake to help your body eliminate excess estrogen more efficiently to relieve PMS.
This is a really important time to get acupuncture to move your Qi.