The Menstrual Cycle

The Chinese view of the menstrual cycle is very different to that in western medicine. The following is a brief and simplified explanation.

First we need to understand the concepts of yin and yang which underpin Chinese medicine. These two are equal and opposites used to describe our environments, lives and body. For example, yang is up, so yin is down, yang is midday so yin is midnight, yang is hot so yin is cold… and so on.

The nature of yin and yang are that they are opposites such as night and day but also that they transform into each other so night becomes day and day becomes night. This transformation is often represented with the following symbol.

In our bodies, the yin represents the cooling, moistening, nourishing, growing and fertile function actions, while the yang represents the heating, drying, moving, more energetic side.

Imagine the menstrual cycle as 28 day (it doesn’t have to be 28 days) circle. In the first half of the cycle, the uterus is being nourished. The new follicle is developing, the cervical fertile mucus is produced and the endometrium, the lining of the uterus is being built up. These are all yin actions. On the 14th day ovulation occurs. At this point everything changes, the egg is released, it moves down the fallopian tubes and the body temperature increases. In this second half of the cycle, the movement culminates in the period. This is the yang half of the cycle. Like the yin/yang symbol, this process then restarts and a cycle is formed.
Problems can occur in either half of this cycle.

Problems in the first half

For example, if the yin is insufficient the woman will not be developing the follicle sufficiently or making enough blood or cervical mucus in the first half. This could lead to a long cycle or anovulation. Or even though the follicle, endometrium and cervical mucus are undernourished, ovulation may still occur on day 14. This could result in a scanty period or inability to become pregnant as the released follicle is always immature.

Problems in the second half

If problems were to occur in the second half of the cycle where the qi and blood is supposed to be moving, different symptoms may arise. If, in the premenstrual phase movement does not occur smoothly, signs of stuckness and stagnation occur such as breast tenderness, bloating, constipation, irritability etc. This is why when the period arrives and the blood physically moves, all these signs dissipate almost immediately. If this stagnation is worse, it actually affects the blood. Dark blood or clotting in the menstrual blood along with period pain gives an indication of this form of stagnation. In western terms this may have a diagnosis such as endometriosis. This poor shedding of the endometrium leads to problems of possible egg implantation for the following month.

This is a very simple explanation and most problems seen in clinic are a combination of various problems. There is not the time or space to explain all possibilities here but with an individual diagnosis, most problems can be described in such a way.

Holistic View

Your acupuncturist will look at your cycle in the above manner but then look further to other aspects of your health and wellbeing – energy levels, digestive system, thyroid function, emotional state and stress levels, to see whether any of these are likely to be having an influence on your cycle. In conjunction with blood tests results, scans and reports and previous diagnosis, we can come to a comprehensive overview of your current situation and appropriately target any problem areas. One current advantage of acupuncture as a treatment is that all of the above takes quite a bit of time and acupuncturists have considerably longer and more frequent contact time with their patients than most western doctors and consultants. This allows us to delve deeper, investigate and notice subtleties which otherwise might have been missed