If there is something that Traditional Chinese Medicine knows well its gynecological health. There is a long and very well documented history of the use of Chinese Medicine to support women’s health with the earliest recorded being in 1500 – 1000BC the Shang Dynasty. These inscriptions show depictions of the support of problematic childbirths. In 2600BC the use of medicinal plants the diagnosis of a wide variety of women’s health issues and the support of fertility can be read about in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine.
Over the duration of Scott’s clinical practice, he has had the benefit of working in clinics with a strong focus and additional training and resources in women’s health. This has enabled him to develop a deep understanding of the many health concerns unique to women and how they can be supported with the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
We have put together this blog to highlight the diverse ways Traditional Chinese Medicine can be used to support women’s health both in the area of general health and in also in the care of specific health imbalances.
What’s special about Women’s Health?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine there is a saying “To treat one woman equals treating five men”. This speaks to the complexity and variety of a woman’s cycle and the way that the menstruation interacts with and influences their overall health. The beauty though is that Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners can gain so much information from a women’s cycle, using it as an important as a diagnostic tool.
The blood is a strong focus and diagnostic tool when we support women at Red Bridge. If a woman is experiencing good health this is reflected in her cycle. When her health is in balance her period will come and go without any pain, discomfort, or concern. It simply forms a part of her life. Unfortunately for most women we treat at Red Bridge, and dare I say for most women in general, this is rarely the case. It has become the norm for women to experience cyclic mood disturbances along with painful and irregular periods. Not commonly serving as the sign it should be that her health is off kilter.
Women’s Health from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective:
When looking at Women’s Health support from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective we see it as primarily governed by three organs. The Kidney, Liver and Spleen.
Our Pre-Natal Essence and Original Qi is known to be housed in the Kidneys. The Essence or Kidney Yin is the considered to be the basis for our growth, development, reproductive health, and sexual life. It is also the origin of the “Heavenly Gui” or menstrual blood. It is imperative for optimal women’s health that the Kidney Qi is well supported and replenished.
Traditional Chinese Medicine seek a strong connection between the emotions and our health. Deficiency or imbalance of the Kidney system can be connected with the emotions of fear and anxiety. Where fear and / or anxiety become chronic conditions, they negatively affect the Kidney Qi. A depletion of the Kidney Qi can manifest as cold obstruction in the uterus which may present physically as fertility issues, lowered sex drive and dysmenorrhoea. On the opposite end of the scale where there is excess in the Kidney Qi it may present physically as heavy or prolonged bleeding, fertility issues and miscarriage.
Our Liver in TCM theory is responsible for the storage, filtration, and smooth distribution of blood throughout the body. When you consider the close relationship of the Liver with the Blood and the Uterus it becomes clear why it is of extreme importance to women’s physiology.
Liver Qi imbalances will present in several different ways. When we see a deficiency in Liver Qi the menstrual cycle could be absent. Conversely, heat in the Liver might be physically expressed as heavy and long menstrual cycle. Stagnation of Liver Qi is quite common, and this can result in an impaired or irregular blood flow and pain with the cycle. The emotion associated with the Liver is anger. Unresolved anger, frustration and resentment will impact Liver function. Many gynaecological problems relate back to Liver disturbances.
The Spleen is another important organ system when looking at a woman’s health. The Spleen oversees most energetic processes in the body. The Spleen takes nutrients and energy to produce blood. It transports this energy and nutrients to the other organs. Whilst the Liver plays a crucial role in menstrual function the Blood is made by the Spleen.
For a woman to experience a healthy menstrual cycle the Spleen must be functioning at its optimal level. Where there is a deficiency of the Liver you will often find there is a deficiency of the Spleen. The health of our Spleen is largely influenced by what we eat. When our diet is laden with sugary, process and high carbohydrate foods our Spleen becomes clogged and stagnant. An excess of worry or sustained period of study and intense concentration can also impact the function of our Spleen. Physical manifestations of an imbalance in the Spleen can include lethargy, mental fog, deficient menorrhagia and prolapse of bladder or uterus.
Women’s Health and Blood Deficiency:
As we have already noted above, the support of Women’s Health in Traditional Chinese Medicine is dominated by Blood. The Blood (Xue) provides us with an important marker of health throughout a women’s life in the form of her monthly cycle. It also forms the foundation of fertility, conception, pregnancy, and childbirth.
A woman’s first period varies widely but generally is found to occur during the early teen years. Menopause (when the monthly period has ceased for 12 months or more) occurs roughly around 50 years of age.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view a woman’s menstrual cycle should measure 26-32 days and the monthly bleed should be 4-6 days. Irregularity of cycle length or bleed is considered abnormal and a sign of underlying imbalance.
We have discussed the fact that the menstrual cycle acts as a vital sign of health. We identify each cycle to be broken down into four distinct phases:
Menstrual Phase – This takes place during the woman’s bleed. During the menstrual phase we are looking for a strong healthy blood flow. Achieving optimal blood flow relies on the health of the Liver Qi and Liver Blood. If a woman is experiencing a period that is too heavy, then we can also work to ease the strength of the flow.
Post-menstrual Phase (Follicular Phase) – During the week after the woman’s period she enters an estrogen dominant phase. Estrogen is a cool hormone which in turn results in the woman’s body temperature being slightly cooler. It is a time where we look to nourish the woman’s blood and Yin so it can begin to build for the next phase.
Mid Cycle Phase (Ovulation Phase) – This phase also lasts approximately 7 days. In a balanced cycle this is where we would expect ovulation to occur. We promote ovulation by nourishing the Kidneys which in turn nourishes the Essence.
Pre-menstrual Phase – During the pre-menstrual phase we see Yang Qi rise and ideally Liver Qi begins to move in preparation for the period. Stagnation of Liver Qi can be a common pattern we see amongst women, and this is a time we would be aiming to move any stagnation in order to promote best flow of Qi and Blood.
Tracking the phases is an important diagnostic tool in women’s health care. By doing this we can find specific areas of deficiency and excess and select the optimal timing for patients to receive individualised support.
What does Blood (Xue) deficiency look like?
When the Blood is not nourished and becomes stagnant and deficient, we may see some of the following physical signs:
Pale skin tone
Dizziness upon standing
Floaters in your eyes
Loss of appetite
These are common emotional and cognitive signs of blood deficiency:
If some of these signs and symptoms are ringing true for you then you can find more detailed information in our blog post ‘Let's talk about Women’s Health and Blood Deficiency’.
Supporting Gynaecological imbalances with Traditional Chinese Medicine:
There are several gynaecological health issues that we can help support at Red Bridge Family Acupuncture. Here is a snap shot of a few of the more common conditions.
Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS):
PCOS is hormonal disorder that causes havoc to a woman’s hormones, ovaries, eggs, and endocrine system. Symptoms associated with PCOS include:
Excessive facial hair
Loss of head hair
Traditional Chinese Medicine can be used in the support of PCOS to improve the flow of Qi and blood to the ovaries, balance hormonal and endocrine health, lower stress and assist in lifestyle and dietary changes.
Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 Australian women. Unfortunately, this number is only an estimate and because Endometriosis can only be diagnosed by surgical exploration, and it is thought that the real figure is probably much higher as many women go years before they are correctly diagnosed. Endometriosis is the abnormal growth of endometrial tissue outside the lining of the uterus. In some cases when endometriosis is experienced a woman’s immune system reacts to this endometrial tissue causing inflammation which in turn can lead to pain and scarring. Common symptoms of endometriosis include:
Pain with intercourse
Primarily treatment of Endometriosis will involve the use of Acupuncture, Moxibustion, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chinese Herbs to harmonize the Liver, tonify the Kidney system, strengthen the Spleen and remove stagnation by harmonizing the Qi and Blood. We have a detailed blog exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine in the treatment of Endometriosis that you can read by following the link ‘A Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach to Endometriosis’.
Painful Periods and Pre-menstrual tension:
The very present taboo that still surrounds open discussion of periods serves to feed a general lack of understanding around what constitutes a ‘normal’ period. In our clinical experience at Red Bridge this leads to a high proportion of woman’s health patients putting up with cyclic pain and mood instability because they have been led to believe that both are a normal part of menstruation.
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine pain, discomfort and emotional imbalance are experienced when there is disruption to the free flow of Qi and Blood around the body and deficiency or excess of one or more of the organ systems.
When a woman is in balance her monthly cycles should be painless. She should also experience no profound pre or postmenstrual signs or symptoms. The menstrual blood should a rich and fresh colour and of good volume with no clotting. Any signs contradictory to this show signs of imbalance.
Traditional Chinese Medicine can use Acupuncture and various TCM techniques to find areas of deficiency and excess and work to restore balance and optimise Qi flow.
Perimenopause and Menopause:
Menopause, often referred to as ‘the change’ is the time that marks the completion of a woman’s reproductive cycling. This also means the ovaries stop the production of oestrogen and progesterone. Menopause typically takes place between the ages of 45 and 55 years old. More often than not it tends to take place around 51 years of age. That said it can occur as early as 40 years or as late as 55.
While Menopause is certainly normal and natural the time leading up to menopause called perimenopausal period, which can last anywhere from 5 – 10 years before the woman’s last period can come with some uncomfortable symptoms.
During perimenopause, a women will experience the first signs and symptoms of fluctuations of hormone production. These can include:
Changes in cycle length and flow
Perimenopause and Menopause can be a challenging time. Oestrogen and Progesterone affect many other functions in our body therefore changes in the production of these hormones has a flow on effect of imbalance across our entire system.
Night sweats = Poor Sleep
Poor sleep = Fatigue and irritability
Vaginal dryness = decreased libido
Sadly, many women expect menopausal symptoms to be a non-negotiable part of life and they try and take it in their stride. This is not so. When the body is in balance menopause should be able to occur with minimal discomfort.
To help you restore balance and make the transition through to menopause in comfort we would offer a combination of Acupuncture, herbal medicine and lifestyle and dietary changes. Acupuncture is used to regulate the flow of Qi around the body.
Excess of Qi during perimenopause could be experienced as hot flushes, sweating and restlessness.
Stagnation of Qi may manifest as cyclic pain and clotting.
Prevention is always considered better than cure. Incorporating supportive dietary and lifestyle changes leading up to your 40’s will stand you in good stead for not having to experience an unpleasant menopause.
Cut out processed foods
Limit caffeine and alcohol
Reduce your consumption of dairy
*All of these are heating foods which will zap your Yin and Fluid (hello hot sweats).
Get plenty of sleep now
Prioritise the work life balance
Exercise smart, find an activity that restores you while keeping you active, think yoga, tai qi, walking.
Get your health in check early
Keep your reserves strong and your essence healthy then the impacts of these changes to come will be minimal.
The Kidney is considered the key organ when addressing symptoms of menopause. Our Kidney system houses our Essence. Our Essence is our inherit Qi / energy received from our parents at conception. Our Essence is supported, nourished, or depleted by our lifestyle. There is a natural decline of our Essence in menopause however it is the imbalance of either Yin or Yang that results in the unpleasant symptoms. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can work alone or along side Western medicine to help restore balance and alleviate the symptoms of menopause.
Supporting Fertility, Pregnancy, Birth and Post Natal Recovery:
Women’s Health medicine, particularly in the areas of fertility and pregnancy support has evolved a lot over the recent years to support an integrative approach of western and Traditional Chinese Medicine with many specialists being able to collaborate with each other to support patients to best results. Practically when considering an appropriate Chinese medicine practitioner, it’s of great value to select someone who has a good working knowledge of current western diagnostic techniques treatments and trends which I am pleased to say we have been able to achieve in at Red Bridge.
Working with families is the at the heart of our practice at Red Bridge Family Acupuncture. This means that we hope to offer health support to everyone at every stage of life. Of course, one of the most exciting times to be a part of someone’s health team is during the creation of family. Offering health support, guidance and advice as our patients navigate their way through the fertility journey is an honor and a privilege.
Becoming pregnant is no longer as straight forward as it once was. Currently 1 in 6 Australian couples experiencing infertility. Of this number up to 45% of them has male infertility as a contributing factor. One of the most frustrating parts of these statistics is the lack of focus given to men’s health and the role it plays in a couple’s chances of conception. They are, after all, 50% of the equation! Often the point at which couples reach out to us at Red Bridge is after many years, much expense, great emotional strain and countless invasive procedures and a focus solely placed on the female partner.
There is so much to be said about the benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine in pre-conception and fertility support that we have several detailed blogs on the subject.
If you are considering a pregnancy in the future, then you will find a wealth of information in our blog ‘Pre-Conception Health and the Yuan Qi’
It will give great insight to maximizing your overall health as a couple and raise your awareness to lifestyle and dietary factors that need to be considered for optimal outcomes and to influencing health factors to consider.
If you have been trying to conceive and have encountered some challenges and obstacles you will find further detailed insight in our blog ‘Maybe Baby – Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Fertility Journey’
Pregnancy is a wonderful time, full of change and eager anticipation. Unfortunately, it also tends to come with many health quirks ranging from slightly inconvenient to extremely uncomfortable. It’s important your health is well supported and carefully managed during this time with the upmost of care to be non-invasive and supportive of your growing baby’s health. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine offers a natural and effective way of managing many of these health concerns including:
Morning sickness and nausea
Headache and migraine
Over the course of pregnancy there will no doubt also be times that other general health issues that are not pregnancy related but because you need to mindful of interactions with some medications and pregnancy these simple health issues can be more challenging to treat during pregnancy. These can include things like:
Cold and flu
Acupuncture is also commonly used towards the end of pregnancy to ensure that bub’s is in the optimal position for birth and that the woman’s body is well supported and prepared for labour.
You can find more information about how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can be used during pregnancy in our blog post ‘Experience a Healthy pregnancy with Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine’
Often the first time we see a woman during her pregnancy is right at the end (sometimes even after her ‘due date’) when she hears about the benefits of acupuncture for labour preparation! It’s around about then that women start investigating how to turn a breech baby or how to get labour started naturally and usually it’s a midwife or girlfriend that points them our way.
We can certainly help! In fact, the rumors are true, acupuncture can be quite effective at spinning bubs and preparing the body for birth, in an ideal world we would support a woman throughout pregnancy and have much more time to work on balancing the body for optimal birth and recovery but it’s never too late for some acupuncture!
Labour support at Red Bridge means working to ensure the Spleen, Kidney and Liver energy is strong and balanced. We will also work with the body to direct Qi and blood to desired areas. Promoting natural ripening of the cervix and encouraging the baby into the best birthing position in preparation for a natural labour. A wonderful bi product of pre-birth acupuncture is the calming effect and reduction of stress and anxiety prior to birth leaving the mother confident, supported and prepared.
Post Natal Support:
There is a traditional postnatal practice observed in Chinese Medicine called ‘sitting the month’. In Japanese culture it is referred to as ‘sango no hidachi’. This important period of postnatal recuperation time typically lasts between one month and 100 days and includes bedrest, ritual, TCM therapy and herbal medicine.
Post-partum acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine care in the time immediately after birth is called ‘Mother Warming’ and is something we are strong advocates of at Red Bridge. During pregnancy, a woman’s health and the health of her unborn child is of foremost importance. Post childbirth is a time where in our western culture places less emphasis on the rest and recouperation of the mother.
The post-natal period is a time when blood deficiency in the mother is quite common. Acupuncture, TCM therapies such as moxibustion and herbal medicine can be used at this time to replenish Qi and Blood, encourage repair, and introduce warmth back into the mother’s pelvic area.
Breast Feeding Support:
Nourishing the mother and boosting her Qi is essential so that she can maintain her own health but also nurture her bub.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can assist with promoting optimal milk supply and resolving breast feeding related imbalances. Musculoskeletal pain are also common.
Some breastfeeding related health concerns we can support include:
Low milk supply
Neck and Back pain
If you would like to discuss how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine may be able to support, you or someone you love please do not hesitate to reach out. Your health concerns and experience will be individual to you and your care should be also.
We can be contacted online, by email, via social media or by calling us on (03)59061494.