Here in the west, we understand that our menstrual cycle consists of different stages for example, the follicular phase which is the first stage of the cycle and the luteal phase which is the second stage of the cycle.
Chinese medicine also understands that there are different stages of the menstrual cycle. But in contrast, these stages can be explained via the understanding of Yin and Yang theory and how this affects your body.
Let’s explore the principles that underpin Yin and Yang and how this ancient philosophy can help us to have a healthier menstrual cycle by making some specific lifestyle and dietary choices at certain stages throughout your cycle.
So what are Yin and Yang?
Yin and Yang can be described as two opposing energies that bring balance to one another
Yin and Yang can be described as two opposing energies that bring balance to one another and that are mutually dependent as they cannot exist without each other.
The theory of Yin and Yang can be applied to everything that is exterior to us such as the world we live in. It can also be applied to understand our body, mind, and spirit as it relates to our environment.
Using this model a holistic system of healing has been used for over 2500 years to create balance, harmony, and wellness of our entire being.
So what’s the difference between Yin and Yang?
The Chinese character for Yin is translated to mean “shady side of the hill” in contrast the character for “Yang” is the sunny side of the hill. This example perfectly describes the oppositional nature of Yin and Yang.
Further manifestations of Yin qualities include female, moon, cold, stillness, night and dark. Yang qualities represent male, sun, warmth, activity, morning and light.
How can I use the principles of Yin and Yang to have a healthier menstrual cycle?
The nature of Yin and Yang is that it flows and changes over time. An example of this would be how the morning (Yang) gradually transforms and becomes the night (Yin).
The Yin and Yang of our menstrual cycle change throughout the month in the same way as the day flows and changes into the night.
There are times in our menstrual cycle when we are more “Yin” and times that we are more “Yang”. To support, nourish and bring balance to our cycle we can eat foods and make lifestyle choices based on their Yin and Yang qualities.
Although eating wholefoods like the foods we are about to discuss are beneficial to your health throughout your cycle, we can increase their healing benefits further by eating more or less of them at certain times.
Before we move on to discover how this can help you to have a healthier menstrual cycle. I will swiftly introduce you to another key principle which is integral to the understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
This principle is the notion of Qi. Qi can be translated as our “life force energy” it gives us both our strength and our connection to life.
Qi is present in everything and according to Chinese Medicine each of our organs is said to have its own QI. So for example I may use the term “Liver Qi” and when I do this I am referring to the overall energy and vibrancy of your Liver.
Now – Let’s take a look at the stages of your cycle
This is the Yin phase of our menstrual cycle and it starts on the first day of your period and It lasts approximately between 1 and 7 days.
What’s happening to us?
This is the stage when we shed the uterine lining. Our body loses blood and it is at this point of our cycle that we are most likely to be iron deficient which can make us feel weak and tired. Oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest which further results in us feeling more tired and sluggish than usual. We want to include foods that provide us with the nourishment we need to rebuild our selves and sustain our energy levels.
What can we eat?
Dark leafy greens such as kale, rainbow chard, cavelo nero, watercress, and spinach will help us to replenish our iron stores. It is important that you have adequate vitamin C levels as this helps with the absorption of iron, foods rich in vitamin C include, bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, and papaya.
Beetroots are incredibly beneficial for you at this stage too as not only are they a rich source of iron, beetroot can also improve blood flow to the uterus which can reduce painful cramping.
TCM further explains to us that beetroot is a liver cleanser and healer as It helps relieve stagnant Liver Qi. When our Liver qi is flowing freely we have little pain (such as menstrual cramps) and improved moods (less frustration and irritability).
A warming bowl of steaming quinoa porridge can be just what you need to provide you with some extra oomph to ward off any tiredness you may be feeling.
Quinoa was referred to by ancient civilizations as “gold of the Inca’s” and was used to increase stamina in their warriors. It is particularly useful when we feel heavy and bloated (TCM terms this as dampness).
If you really want to boost your energy further you can try topping your porridge with some black sesame seeds. You can usually easily pick these up in a health food shop.
These potent, heroic little seeds have been revered by Chinese Medicine for thousands of years for their incredible health benefits and have even been used to reverse the greying of hair!
How can they do this? Well, it’s because of the amazing effects that they have on our Kidney Qi. Our Kidneys (as well as being responsible for how quickly we age) have a direct relationship with the health of our menstrual cycle. And the hair on our head.
Next – Make sure that your food is warm
The temperature of the food that you eat throughout your entire cycle is incredibly important but this is most true at this stage.
Having too much cold and raw food can lead to one of the most common syndromes I see in the clinic. This condition is termed by TCM as a “cold uterus” When you have this condition you will likely have period pain and see clots in your menstrual flow
This is because the nature of cold is to constrict, it stops things flowing, which causes pain as Blood and QI in your uterus become stuck.
In contrast, warmth helps to move stuck Blood and Qi and this is the reason that many women find using a hot water bottle on their lower abdomen so comforting when they have menstrual cramps.
To further harness the healing impact of sufficient warmth, this is a great time to prepare yourself a warm soup or stew and to make extra so that it last you a couple of days (which will mean less food prep when you’re tired)
You can add nourishing and flavorsome spices to your stew such as ginger, cinnamon, cumin, and turmeric. Turmeric is especially helpful for easing menstrual pain.
This stage is the post-menstrual stage and it lasts approximately 7-14 days.
This is still the Yin stage of our cycle (although there is a yang aspect that encourages the growth of a dominant follicle).
Your body has just been through a cleansing stage by shedding the old endometrium lining (the lining of your uterus). So it can be helpful to eat foods rich in chlorophyll to help assist the detox that your body has just done.
We want to eat foods that replenish the blood that we have just lost in the last stage of our cycle as well as nourishing our Yin.
By doing this we will be able to support the Yins function of producing the new endometrium lining.
What should we eat?
Because we still want to build our blood we can still enjoy the wonderful healing leafy greens from stage one (they contain chlorophyll too!)
Usually, around day 9 women start to feel less tired as their hormone levels normalize. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, we have rebuilt our blood which helps us to feel more energized.
You can add the following foods which are wonderfully rich in chlorophyll they are spirulina, parsley, spinach, cress, and leeks.
You can also add a few more cooling green foods such as rocket and lettuce.
This is a good time to eat more avocados as they nourish both your blood and your Yin! Some of my clients make wonderful desserts from avocado combining them with bananas, nut butter, cocoa, and honey.
If you eat meat then grass-fed meat is a potent way to rebuild and support yourself by supplying you with the necessary amino acids and omega 3 fats. You don’t need huge amounts 4oz is perfect!
Eggs that are rich in omega 3 are also greatly restorative you can eat them soft boiled or lightly scrambled topped with fresh green herbs.
Black beans are fantastic too as they nourish both your blood and yin. You can pair them with other blood and Yin nourishing foods such as seaweed and red quinoa.
You can also enjoy blackberries and blueberries too. If they aren’t in season you can buy them frozen (preferably organic as they are high in pesticides).
With oestrogen levels at their highest, this is a great time to eat cruciferous vegetables
This is the ovulatory phase and this is the stage that Yin turns into Yang, so we want to support this stage of our cycle by eating foods that nourish our Yang energy.
What should we eat?
With oestrogen levels at their highest, this is a great time to eat cruciferous vegetables as they contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol which helps the liver to balance oestrogen.
Some of the most helpful and easily accessible of the cruciferous family include broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts.
If you aren’t currently keen to eat these vegetables you can find ways to cook them that change the way they taste dramatically.
I used to hate brussel sprouts before I tried roasting them. I lightly steam them then roast them in the oven with some cumin and ginger for about 40 minutes, they are amazing.
Likewise, cauliflower is such a versatile vegetable. You can use it to make cauliflower rice or cauliflower steaks, a quick search on google will provide you with multiple ideas and recipes.
This is a good time to eat lighter sources of animal protein such as chicken and fish.
Trout and wild salmon taste great and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or tea! and don’t forget about the smaller fish like sardines and anchovies which are especially good for us due to their high omega 3 content and being small fish have had less time to accumulate dangerous heavy metals such as mercury.
Warm salads are perfect to enjoy too! You could use the above protein sources and/or add warm beans, quinoa, millet, sautéed broccoli and cauliflower, some roast veg on a bed of green salad topped with pomegranate seeds, yum!
The final stage of our menstrual cycle is the premenstrual stage
This is the stage when our Yang is at its most abundant. We can feel the warming quality of Yang as our temperature is slightly raised.
This is the stage when we experience PMS symptoms, such as sore breasts, irritability, acne, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. As well as food cravings such as salty and sweet foods.
What to eat?
As Yang continues to build we can further support our Yang buy eating chestnuts, pistachios (unsalted), pine nuts and walnuts.
Many PMS symptoms are caused by stagnation of Qi of our Liver. So alongside nourishing our Yang, we want to eat food that promotes the flow of Qi. This will help with cramping and pain that you may experience when your period arrives. We want to eat food that moves this stagnant Qi so that you experience less cramping and pain when your period arrives.
You can do this could by adding the juice of half a lemon to some warm water. Doing this first thing in the morning usually works well. This will help cleanse and remove blockages in your liver. I always advise my clients to drink lemon water through a straw to protect the enamel of your teeth. Adding apple cider vinegar (with the mother, meaning it is unpasteurized) to salad dressings will also help to accomplish this too.
This is the stage that unhelpful food cravings start
We often crave sugar or salted foods, we want to be able to satisfy our cravings without reaching for processed foods that are detrimental to our wellbeing
What can we eat?
We can satisfy our sweet tooth by cooking roasted vegetables such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, and carrots.
Or by adding a little raw honey to some plain yogurt or adding a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses to some warm water.
Try snacking on nuts to help stabalize your blood sugar levels. Walnuts, almonds, pecans and cashews taste delicious and will help to halt those annoying sugar cravings.
Have some chocolate!
If you crave chocolate, then do have some! Just make sure that it’s 85% dark chocolate. Cacao is one of the richest sources of magnesium and if you are suffering from any premenstrual pain around this time then magnesium is particularly helpful as it helps to relax the walls of the uterus helping to ease cramps.
I hope that you manage to implement some of Chinese Medicine’s suggestions to: