Herbs For The Different Phases Of Women’s Cycle

A woman laying on the floor with her knees up

The female reproductive cycle consists of four phases that occur in a regular, cyclical pattern. Starting from menstruation up to the luteal phase, every month women go through a series of hormonal changes aimed at preparing the body for pregnancy. 

In the traditional Chinese system, the female menstrual cycle is viewed through the lenses of the yin-yang principle. The increase and diminution in hormonal secretion and the chain of events that follow are expressed in TCM as the interplay between these two physiological energies. 

Hormonal imbalances and certain health conditions can negatively affect the regularity and length of the menstrual cycle. Conditions such as dysmenorrhea and Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) are some of the most common female problems on a global scale. 

The Chinese pharmacopeia has since ancient times provided efficient herbal-based treatments for a large spectrum of female issues. As of today, systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials with high levels of scientific evidence supporting TCM’s approach are on the rise.

Table of Contents

The Origin of the Menstrual Blood According to TCM’s Theory

Menstrual blood is named tiangui [ 天癸] in the Chinese system. Tiangui is often translated as “heavenly water” or “celestial essence”. It is associated with the capacity to reproduce and is particularly tied to the Essence stored in the Kidneys (jing), which is the source of the body’s optimal vitality.

Jing is a very subtle and essential form of qi that is inherited by one’s parents and which is responsible for development, maturation, fertility, and longevity. It must be maintained by an appropriate diet, habits, and breathing. 

The portion of jing that lays the foundation for the body’s functional capacity is called Prenatal Jing. It is limited and non-renewable, gradually depleting over a person’s lifetime. It is associated with the individual’s genetic makeup and fertility. 

The portion of jing that is produced and replenished throughout a person’s life is called Postnatal Jing. It is derived from the food and fluids consumed and transformed by the digestive system. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle, proper nutrition, and adequate rest influence positively the Postnatal Jing, in a similar way the epigenome gets impacted by those factors.

Original qi is the basis of the birth of a body. Everything that exists in a body is generated and transformed from original qi.

Tianxian Zhengli Zhilun

The Cycles of Jing

Jing‘s transformation cycle happens in terms of 7 years in women, with some ethnic variations. In the first cycle of jing, the infant’s primary teeth are replaced by permanent teeth. In the second cycle, at the age of around fourteen, girls experience their first menarche which lasts up to the seventh cycle. 

The quality and quantity of menstrual blood are affected by the Prenatal Jing as well as the Postnatal Jing. The body’s Essence can get depleted before its natural time in several situations:

    • Chronic or recurrent diseases

    • Many deliveries

    • Strenuous exercising routine

    • Lack of appropriate rest

    • Work overload

    • Poor diet

With each menstruation, women slowly wear out their Kidney Essence.

There exists a secret Daoist internal Alchemy (neidan) practice that is still taught to adepts of this lineage in present days named “Cutting the Red Dragon”, in which female practitioners learn how to stop menstrual bleeding in order to preserve jing and have more vitality. 

Physiology of the Menstrual Cycle

The reproductive cycle can be separated into five different phases. It’s important to note that the duration and characteristics of each phase can vary from woman to woman.

It takes around twenty-eight days for each period to happen on average, but cycles ranging from twenty-three to thirty-five days are still considered healthy.

Menstrual Phase

The cycle begins with menstruation, which is the shedding of the uterine lining (endometrium), when fertilization does not occur. This phase typically lasts 3-7 days, the average being 5 days.

During menstruation, levels of progesterone and estrogen are typically at their lowest.

Follicular Phase

The follicular phase begins on the first day of menstruation. During this phase, the pituitary gland releases the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the growth of several follicles in the ovaries which contain immature eggs.

Usually, only one follicle matures into an egg each month. The dominant follicle produces estrogen, which thickens the endometrium to prepare for a potential pregnancy. The follicular phase typically lasts around 14-21 days. 

The end of the follicular phase is a highly fertile time.

Ovulation

Ovulation occurs approximately midway through the menstrual cycle, usually around day 14 in a 28-day cycle. In this phase, the dominant follicle releases the mature egg into the fallopian tube. This process is triggered by a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH) from the anterior pituitary gland.

To increase the chances of egg fertilization by sperm, the cervical mucous becomes more watery. This allows for more effortless movement and accommodation of the sperm.

Ovulation is a brief phase, usually lasting 12-24 hours.

Luteal Phase

Following ovulation, the ruptured follicle transforms into the corpus luteum, a temporary endocrine gland. The corpus luteum produces progesterone primarily, and estrogen in a lesser quantity. These two hormones thicken the uterine lining to prepare for implantation. 

 The luteal phase typically occurs from day fourteen to day twenty-eight, lasting 10-16 days.

Ischaemic Phase

If fertilization and implantation do not occur, the corpus luteum degenerates, leading to a drop in hormone levels. The endometrium layer can’t be maintained without the right amount of hormones, for which it is shed, producing menses. 

The Four Phases of the Menstrual Cycle According to Prof. Xia Gui Cheng

A modern proposition by Prof. Xia Gui Cheng on the mechanisms of qi during the menstrual cycle divides it into four phases in which the Kidney yin and yang act as antagonists to one another, creating changes in temperature during ovulation as well as blood discharge. 

The four phases proposed by Prof. Xia coincide almost exactly with the physiological phases of menstruation, except for the luteal phase which corresponds to both the third and fourth phases of Prof. Xia.

Not only is this theory a nice concept, but it is also of practical application.

Phase 1

In Phase 1, the yang qi has reached its peak and begins to drop in a sharp downward curve, while yin qi begins to increase and become dominant.

Although the graph above shows a symmetric curve, the yin-yang dynamic is not so in reality, since yin doesn’t reach its lowest levels until the end of the second phase.

This phase marks the start of the menses. According to TCM, it’s very important that the “old blood” gets completely shed in this phase. 

The emphasis is placed on the proper downward movement of qi and Blood in this first phase.

Phase 2

Phase 2 corresponds to the follicular phase. The healthy dynamic is that yang continues to drop, and yin keeps growing. In case yin does not grow, then ovulation will be delayed. If yang does not decrease the ovulation may occur earlier. 

In this phase, yin qi and Blood levels are lower when compared to the other phases, due to the loss of Blood during the previous phase. 

Phase 3

The most important characteristic of this phase is the cervical mucous, which should be abundant and present a thicker texture than normally. This mucous is a direct manifestation of jing, which is a primary requirement for fertility. Cervical mucous should be present for at least two days for optimal fertility. 

At the end of this phase, after ovulation, yang qi begins to increase causing the body temperature to rise.

During this phase, yin is decreasing and yang is increasing. If this does not occur ovulation gets delayed, such is the case in polycystic ovary conditions. 

Phase 4

In phase four, yang continues to rise rapidly while yin decreases. If yin and yang are not balanced, pre-menstrual symptoms may occur. 

Herbal Treatment According to the Menstrual Phases

According to Prof. Xia Gui Cheng’s theory, the yin and yang interact antagonistically during a woman’s fertility cycle, creating a chain of events that begins with menstruation in the first phase, and ends with the pre-menstrual phase. 

Different therapeutic approaches must be emphasized during each phase according to the characteristics of each one’s physiology. For instance, women with scanty menses need a different treatment from women with excessive bleeding.

It is important to consult a qualified TCM practitioner to get personalized guidance and treatment strategies based on individual health needs. However, Chinese medicine’s pharmacopeia includes several well-tolerated herbs which can be of help to women who upon appropriate diagnosis do not present any major health problems. 

Red Sage

Red sage is called Dan Shen in Chinese Medicine. It is the root of the Salviae Miltiorrhizae plant, which has a red hue from where its Chinese name comes.

Red sage is valued in the West for its cardioprotective benefits. Preclinical experiments suggest that it can enhance blood circulation and coronary blood flow, as well as lower the risk of heart attack and alleviate symptoms of stroke and angina.

Dan Shen is utilized in Chinese Medicine to Invigorate Blood, dispel Blood Stasis, and calm the Spirit/Mind. It has a Cool nature and a sinking tendency which can be useful to help lower the yang qi during the first phase of menstruation. 

This herb is specifically indicated to aid in the downward movement of qi and Blood and promote the proper shedding of the endometrium. It should not be used if the period is late and is counter-indicated for women with heavy periods.

Dosage: The traditionally recommended daily dosage of Dan Shen is 3-15 g, with the average being 10 g. It can be prepared in a decoction by allowing the root pieces to simmer for 20 minutes or made into an infusion by adding the powder to boiling hot water and letting It cool. 

Panax Notoginseng

Panax notoginseng is known as San Qi in TCM. This root belongs to the same family as Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer and American ginseng, however, these are not the same and their therapeutic properties are different.

Notoginseng has many pharmaceutical effects: it relaxes blood vessels, improves blood flow, and lowers blood pressure. Additionally, biochemical compounds in Panax notoginseng have anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective properties.

San Qi is a potent herb to stop internal and external bleeding, including epistaxis, hematemesis, metrorrhagia, hematochezia, dysentery, hematuria, and menorrhagia. It is indicated for women who have excessively heavy periods during the first phase of their menstruation. 

Dosage: The traditional recommendation threshold is 3-9 g of Panax notoginseng daily if prepared in decoction. However, since this is a rare and expensive herb, it is usually found in the form of pills, which can be consumed three times daily in doses of 1-1.5 g. 

Saffron

Saffron is known in TCM as Fan Hong Hua. It has been used for thousands of years for its unique flavor, vibrant color, and medicinal properties. 

Crocus sativus, also known as Saffron, has several pharmacological effects. These include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neuroprotective, and anti-depressant properties. Additionally, scientific research has found that saffron can improve sexual arousal in women with sexual dysfunction.

In the Chinese traditional pharmacopeia, saffron is considered a precious herb that nourish Blood, dispels Stasis which improves the symptoms of anxiety and palpitations due to Blood Stagnation. It is also indicated in the treatment of amenorrhea, menorrhagia, retention of lochia, and pain due to Blood Stasis.

Due to its Cold nature, saffron should be taken with caution. It is suitable for the first phase of the menstrual cycle for women with painful periods, yet, it should not be ingested if the period is late or very abundant. 

Dosage: Saffron presents a very high toxicity which can be lethal even in relatively small amounts. It should not be ingested in doses higher than 6 g. The traditional recommendation is 1-6 g daily in the form of infusion. 

Chinese Angelica Root

Dang Gui, as this herb is called in Chinese medicine, is known as the “female ginseng” for its benefits in Toning Blood and regulating menses.

Dang Gui and its active ingredients have been shown to possess anti-atherosclerotic, anti-hypertensive, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory pharmacological properties.

Due to its potent toning effects, it is especially suitable in the second up to the third phase of the menstrual cycle for women who lack Blood and yin during those phases. This can be identified by the symptoms of low energy and weakness after the period. 

This herb is counter-indicated in the absence of apparent weakness in the system, or in the presence of other symptoms such as palpitations and irritability along with low energy.

Dosage: The traditional dose threshold for Dang Gui is 3-10 g daily, with the standard being 6 g. It can be prepared into a decoction by allowing the roots to simmer for twenty minutes, or be turned into powder and prepared into an infusion. 

Disclaimer

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice or personal guidance.

If you have questions about your health or a medical condition, speak with a qualified health professional.

Ignoring medical advice or delaying it due to something you read on this website is not recommended.

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