15th Mar 2019 | Article
Qi, Blood and the Menstrual Cycle
Chinese Medicine is one of the oldest medicines to use holistic (body-mind-spirit) theory to treat imbalances in the human body. Our health is the result of the interactions among all three. Western medicine is catching on to this framework and its ability to offer a more tailored and efficient approach to treating individual patients. The “one size pill” does not fit all.
Chinese medicine has been developed and refined over thousands of years. The old texts pre-date Jesus by 200 years, but even those have been hotly contested by a fossilized Ice Mummy named Otzi, aged 5,300! Otzi was found in a Swiss glacier with tattoo-like marks on his remains, corresponding to acupuncture points we would use to treat an arthritic lower back. An observant acupuncturist saw the pictures online and notified the team who later confirmed the presence of arthritis in a CT scan!
The framework to Chinese medical theory has not changed, but thanks to scientific research in reproductive medicine, we are now able to add a level of sophistication to our clinical approach.
Our health and menstrual cycle is a manifestation of flow. The moon waxes and wanes as does our breath; the mucosal folds in our small intestine help to regulate the flow of food; the pituitary/ovary axis is in a constant flow of communication; an egg is nurtured in the follicle till it is ready to be released and flow down the fallopian tube to meet its future.
In the same way, our Qi and Blood must flow unimpeded throughout our body.
The Chinese character for Qi is written in 2 parts – the upper part represents steam or air. The lower part depicts rice cooking in a pot.
What the ancient Chinese were drawing is one of the simplest equations in medical science:
Food + air = energy.
Qi facilitates the flow of communication between the organs and interior and exterior parts of the body – blinking, thinking, sleeping, blood flow, these are all effects of Qi.
Qi and Blood have a close relationship. Blood is a form of Qi, albeit a dense one, for Qi infuses life into Blood. Without Qi, blood would be an inert fluid.
The main function of Blood is to nourish the body and ensure the body’s tissues don’t dry out. With a deficiency of Blood, the sinews become inflexible and prone to injury, the skin becomes dry and periods can become scanty or stop altogether. When our Blood is strong, we have radiant skin, vital energy and normal menstruation.
If our Qi or Blood become congested in one area due to emotional or physical trauma, it will affect the body, mind and spirit in a domino effect. Poor diet, a lack of sleep, stress or any other issue that is allowed to build up over time, can become a contributing factor.
One of the functions of the Liver is to ensure the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body, not only through our organs but also our emotions. If constrained over a long period of time, our emotions become compromised giving rise to depression, frustration and irritability. Emotional stress at the time of ovulation can prevent an egg from being released. Stress can affect the levels of hormones released by the pituitary, which are necessary for the growth and release of an egg.
Restoring the flow of Qi and Blood creates balance in the body, restores well-being and helps resolve illness.
According to Chinese medicine, one of the key aspects of the menstrual cycle is the shedding of the endometrium (uterine lining). Treatment here usually focuses on moving Qi and Blood. If the period flow is problematic in any way – large clots, bright red blood, intense pain – key diagnostic information can be garnered.
During the menstrual cycle coiled blood vessels that feed the uterine lining, tighten and restrict blood flow causing it to die. Then, the tightly coiled vessels relax and expand again, releasing the lining from its base layer. Tissue, cells, fluid and blood vessels are shed resulting in several days of menstrual flow.
There is a theory that the purpose of the frequent “cleaning” of the uterus, is to prime and condition the uterine lining to ensure a successful implantation of the fertilized egg. A clean home is a healthy home!
This action takes place during the first half of the menstrual cycle, also known as the “Follicular phase”. In Chinese medicine this phase is characterized by the growth of Yin and Blood. Yin represents cool, calm, water, softness, conservation and storage – the incubating and nurturing of the egg.
The second phase, or “Luteal phase”, is characterized by the growth of Yang. It is the period of time between ovulation and the beginning of menstruation. Progesterone is produced by the ovary and nutrients are secreted by the uterine lining in preparation for a fertilized egg.
Yang is fire, heat, excitement, and transformation. The release of the egg is itself a reflection of Yang energy – womb to world, a transformation from nest to flight.
The switch from Yin to Yang, can be seen in the change in fertile mucus from stretchy, clear, pH friendly to a thick, dry, pasty discharge.
During the Yang phase, the uterus must be kept warm – something Doctors of Chinese Medicine have put emphasis on for hundreds of years. A “cold uterus” is seen as a common cause of infertility. Anyone who has had to track her Basal Body Temperature (BBT) will know of the importance in this hike in temperature post ovulation. The warmth of the uterus refers to its metabolic activity, the manufacturing and secreting of nutrients and the maintenance of a nurturing home for the fetus.
Periods are like a monthly report card evaluating the combined health of our holistic make up. Their nature and accompanying symptoms help us see where glitches in the movement of Qi and Blood lie. Treatment is tailored to help ease the symptoms of irregular, painful, clotted, heavy, or emotionally draining periods.
With Qi and Blood flowing in harmony, there is such a thing as a beautiful period.
Liv Inge BSc, LicAc, MBAcC