Women’s health usually refers to issues like fertility, PMS, menopause, breast and uterine health and emotional balance. Issues like family stress and exhaustion and how they impact heart health and immunity should also be included under this banner. These are complex issues and they can be difficult to manage.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an age-old system that offers holistic diagnosis and care for women’s health. Its remedies work with the natural rhythms of your body to correct problems and improve your health overall.
Read on to uncover some safe, natural, and gentle tips and strategies that may help support women’s health using the wisdom of TCM.
The breast, a crowning glory of feminine beauty, is located near the heart which means that the breast is impacted by circulation and emotions. Lumps in the breast may be aggravated by:
- Chronic stress
- Excess caffeine use
- Physical injury
- Diet of congesting foods (fried, rich, fat foods, alcohol and especially smoking.)
So far that applies equally to men since men can develop breast cancers.
A breast related issue that sets us apart as women is how our emotions may affect the chest and circulation. “Broken heart syndrome” is much more common in women than men. Its symptoms resemble heart attack, however, without any problems related to cholesterol. It results from grief and can be fatal. See Heart to Heart: Care for your heart naturally
Supporting Menstrual Health and Fertility
Menstrual health and fertility are important parts of women’s health. And often, increasing blood cells is not enough to assure a healthy, comfortable menstrual cycle and continued fertility.
TCM is a good solution for this aspect of women’s health. It’s more holistic than Western solutions because it takes into consideration the whole body, rather than just isolated parts of it.
To have regular periods the stomach, spleen, pancreas, liver, hormones, and emotions must work in tandem to digest and absorb nutrients and release sexual hormones at the proper time. Circulation is also important as it ensures the free flow of menstrual blood without complications that might lead to blood deficiency or fibroids. Here’s how these systems can impact fertility and what you can do about it:
Your stomach needs to “cook” the food you eat before it can be properly digested. To do this, it uses digestive enzymes supplied by the liver and digestive acids. If this process is interrupted or not performed properly, you may experience bloating, indigestion, or diarrhea.
That’s why an exclusively cold, raw diet can actually harm your health. It can lead to inadequate digestive power which ultimately results in blood deficiency and may increase your chances of becoming infertile. In TCM, this is called a “cold uterus.” One effective remedy for this is to warm the stomach with ginger or lemon tea.
The pancreas helps to absorb foods by providing pancreatic acids. A diet of sweets and highly processed foods such as white flour and pasta can damage the pancreas and negatively affect blood sugar levels.
You can improve the health of your pancreas by replacing white flour and pasta with healthier options such as whole grains and drying grains like millet, buckwheat, and coix barley.
The Liver, Heart, and Circulation
Since the liver and heart control muscles and circulation, they play a large role in menstrual comfort, emotional balance, and fertility. When your blood doesn’t flow smoothly and your muscles are jammed due to a congesting diet or emotional upset, your period may be late, sparse, clotted or absent. See the blog “Spring Greening.”
Safe, Natural Hormone Replacements
Even when you support all the organs and systems involved in menstruation, age and hormonal fluctuations can still cause problems with menstruation and fertility as well as uncomfortable symptoms.
During these times, many women turn to hormone replacements. These medications can be used to increase or decrease estrogen levels in the body. These types of medications can help you avoid problems associated with unbalanced hormone levels such as arthritis or premature aging.
However, hormone replacements can cause side effects such as breast or uterine cancers as well. That’s why you should always try to balance your hormones naturally first. This is much safer for and gentler on your body. Some foods and herbs that supply phytoestrogens include:
- Tofu, tempeh
- Soybeans and miso
- Flax seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Yucca potato substitute and capsule
- Dong Quai (aka Tang Kuei) herb
- Shatavari (Ayurvedic wild asparagus)
You can also use natural products to help to block estrogen such as:
- Wild nettle root, because the root and leaves are antihistamine and cleansing
- Chrysin, which is a flavonoid found in passionflower, honey, and bee propolis.
- Maca, which is a cruciferous plant that helps to regulate the hormones and may increase or decrease sexual hormones as needed
photo by Jo Sonn
Blood and Menstrual Issues
Even when your menstrual cycle and hormones are healthy, you may still experience problems. Every month, women lose blood because of menstruation. This can lead to a range of symptoms such as:
- Poor muscle coordination
- Nervous issues such as insomnia and irritability
Post menopause blood deficiencies can result in the same issues as well as poor skin, hair, and bone quality.
The best way to correct this problem is naturally, with foods that increase red blood cell production such as:
- Red meat like beef
- Organ meat, such as kidney and liver
- Dark, leafy, green vegetables like spinach and kale
- Dried fruits like prunes and raisins
- Egg yolks
Tonics for Improving Women’s Health
As a woman, you need to understand how to improve the health of your body as a whole as well as the separate systems that affect women’s health. One way to do this is with blood building Chinese herbs for hormone and menstrual regularity such as:
Warming Blood Tonics
These include Dong Quai, which is estrogenic and enhances uterine circulation. Avoid using this tonic if you suffer from inflammatory conditions such as fever, acne, or irritability.
Cooling Moistening Blood Tonics
These tonics improve dryness, blood deficiency due to fever conditions, and may also slow certain signs of aging. Some examples include:
- He shou wu
- Jujube date
- Rehmannia glut
These moistening tonics should be balanced with herbs to improve absorption and circulation. This will help you avoid water retention, lethargy and diarrhea. Some balancing herbs to try are:
photo by Jason Leung
Traditional Chinese Medicine Herbs for Women’s Health
Chinese herbal doctors look at the body holistically when trying to bring about health and fertility. This takes into account issues like:
- The appearance of the tongue
- Pulse rate and strength
- Facial coloring
- Menstrual history
With this intensive examination, Chinese herbal doctors gain a deeper understanding of the body as a whole and can supply herbal treatments that support and improve your health safely and naturally. These treatments are typically varied and may include:
- Nutrients for blood production such as goji, rehmannia, dried fruits that supply iron and vitamin C sources such as cornelian cherry
- Herbs to improve the circulation in female organs, hormones and nutrition such as tang kuei
- Herbs that increase herbal absorption such as licorice, atractylodes, bupleurum, and white yam
- Herbs that reduce water retention or “stuckness” such as cinnamon and fu ling
If you decide to try TCM, you will have to work closely with your herbalist. As your health improves or changes, you will need adjustments to the herbal treatment, and it’s important that you not try to make these changes on your own.
You may also want to try one of the TCM combination remedies that are available. Some of the best and most popular are:
- Women’s Precious Pills, a patent remedy that helps warm the body
- Xiao Yao Wan* (aka Free and Easy Wanderer, Relaxx Extract) which supports digestion, menstrual regularity and emotional balance
How to Make Xiao Yao Wan at Home
You can also create the energetics of the Xiao Yao Wan formula in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Try making a tea or vegetable recipe with fresh ginger, fresh mint, fresh tarragon, prunes (or cooked spinach) and parsley. For example, add the chopped herbs to:
- Cooked barley or millet with olive oil
- Vegetable soup containing carrot, onion, celery and spinach
For a little added flavor and blood building, you can add a piece of chicken liver to the resulting vegetable soup.
photo by Natural Chef Carolyn Nicholas
Women need a wide variety of nourishing foods and herbs to stay healthy. And these needs may change seasonally and because of changes in your condition.
Creating this kind of healthy diet and lifestyle can gradually train your hormones, emotions and immune system to respond in healthy ways. And this is the best way to create a strong body now and in the long term.
Holistic nutrition can be one of the most effective medicines in the world. If you want to learn more about building a healthy lifestyle for yourself and for others, then become an expert in natural foods at the Academy of Healing Nutrition, New York, London and online.