I have been intrigued by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for the longest time, but often put off by the sometimes seemingly complex and even counter intuitive concepts.
Lately, I decided to focus on one aspect - impact of TCM remedies on female health, specifically with our reproductive system.
Here are my findings, why we should follow the principles, and what we can do to achieve optimal health through TCM remedies.
The Chinese Secret
Over 5000 years of experience and knowledge built the basis for the TCM arsenal of knowledge and remedies that we know now.
The Chinese believe that taking care of our ovaries is the secret to looking youthful perpetually and overall general health.
From the perspective of reproductive health, we can easily segregate a woman’s life in 3 stages - Prepubescent, Menstrual and Menopausal.
At different stages of life, a woman will experience different challenges with regards to her ovarian health.
Taking Care: Puberty
TCM practitioners advocate the importance of timing to lay a strong foundation for good health. They believe adequate nutrition is crucial during puberty and if done well, can lead to prolonged youthfulness.
Puberty is believed to be an important developmental stage in setting the tone for the health of our female reproductive system.
For the current generation, the onset of puberty is most common among girls ages between 11-13.
There are 3 stages to puberty which usually takes place in the following order: growth of breast sizes (usually takes about 2 years to mature), followed by onset of pubic hair and armpit hair growth. The growth spurt in height usually takes place last.
For children who are experiencing slower onset of puberty, the Chinese believe that instead of nourishing the ovarians, parents should concentrate on strengthening the child’s stomach and spleen.
The stomach and spleen are linked to the digestive system. They believe that poor digestive system leads to poor nutrition, and hence not providing enough building blocks for appropriate developmental growth.
One practical aspect of the 5000 years of Chinese wisdom is that TCM favors building strength and nutrition through the daily foods we eat, rather than depending on medicines.
One herbal soup that parents can incorporate in their prepuberty teen’s diet to improve their digestion is the simple chinese yam pork rib soup.
Chinese Yam Pork Rib Soup Recipe
The chinese herbs can be easily obtained at the chinese medicine shop or Asian supermarkets. They are fairly common and quite easily available.
The ingredients are as follows:
- Fresh Shan yao/ chinese yam (山药) - half a tuber, cut into thin slices widthwise
- Dang gui/chinese angelica roots (当归）- 10g
- Dang shen/ poor man’s ginseng (党参) 10g
- Red dates (红枣) - 10 pieces
- Pork ribs - 300g
Add all ingredients to half a pot of water and bring to a boil. After which, turn down the heat and simmer for another 20 mins. Add salt and white pepper for taste.
All ingredients are edible. The soup should taste light and herbally, with a sweet tone due to the red dates.
The soup is nutritious and suitable for most people, with the exception of pregnant women due to the presence of the chinese angelica roots.
Melodrama Of Puberty - Dieting
The onset of puberty is also unfortunately the time whereby girls start to be more aware of their body image.
The desire to compare kicks in and many young girls have their first brush with dieting during that age.
Regular dieting had been linked to disruption of the menstrual cycle, or even cessation of menses. This is because the lack of adequate nutrition, especially fats, during this important period of development can result in the disruption of sex hormones metabolism.
When sex hormones metabolism is affected, the menstrual cycle can be interrupted, resulting in haphazard cycles. Outwardly, skin conditions are often compromised, and can result in poor and dry skin.
On the other end of the spectrum, rising obesity due to easy availability of processed foods has also been linked to poorer ovarian health.
A recent study in the UK suggested that children (from 3 years onwards), who consume at least 12 portions of animal protein per week has been linked to earlier onset of puberty, as well as increased risks in breast and ovarian cancers in later years.
With regards to dietary choices, most TCM practitioners would advise to avoid the following foods for prepubescent teens:
- Fried oily food
- Non seasonal fruits (as they are often given fertilizers to boost growth in non seasonal periods)
- Hyper productive animals such as beef cows that grow 20% faster, or chickens that are given growth hormones to boost the growth process so they can be ready for the market earlier.
They believe that eating these foods are linked to early onset of puberty, that can lead a variety of female reproductive health issues in future.
Taking Care: Menstruating Females
The Chinese believe that ovarian health is in the best shape when women are in their 20s-30s, and healthy ovaries are the key to looking youthful!
Some of the warning signs when ovarian health is compromised are when there is:
Unaccounted bloated lower abdominal/pain in the lower abdomen
Sudden increase in weight - having high levels of estrogen has been linked with increase in levels of testosterone in females.
The increase of testosterone levels can lead to symptoms of abdominal weight gain, increase in facial hair, and lowering of voice tone. In addition, sudden and continuous pimple/blackheads outbreak.
One TCM food remedy is a rejuvenation tea that is suitable for most women to take on a regular basis.
Chinese Herbs For Menstruation: Rejuvenation Tea
The ingredients for the rejuvenation tea are as follow:
- Shu di huang/processed rehmannia root (熟地黄) - 12 g
- Dried longan fruit - 8g
- Wolfberry (also known as Goji berries) - 8 g
- Dried tangerine peel - 8g
Add all ingredient to water and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat to simmer for 10-15 mins (the tea is black in color due to the rehmannia root).
You can adjust the proportion to make as many cups as you wish. It is best served warm and drank in moderation.
The dried longan fruit is believed to boost iron levels while wolfberries have anti-aging properties.
Regarding Menstrual Flow
Some women worry about the volume of their menstrual flow. Volume of menstrual blood fluctuates from person to person.
In the body, there are 4 command centers that need to work together to create our monthly menstrual flow - the hypothalamus, pituitary glands, ovaries and uterus.
A disruption at any level can affect blood volume.
Theoretically, if a person suddenly experiences significantly lower blood volume as compared to previous levels, TCM practitioners may explore possible fertility issues.
Conversely, if there is sudden experience of significantly more blood flow, TCM practitioners would suggest links to higher risks of illnesses in the female reproductive organs.
Taking Care: Menopausal
For most Asian women, menopause can start anywhere between ages 46-53. With the onset of menopause, some women find themselves in a emotional and physical conundrum.
With the decrease in estrogen levels and other subsequent bodily changes, menopausal women can often experience symptoms that can severely affect the quality of living.
4 Common Symptoms Of Menopause
Hot flushes. It occurs when the body have difficulty regulating heat distribution. Women tend to experience it during night time, some describing the sensation of heat rising from the tummy, causing much physical discomfort.
Some menopausal women reported experiencing hot flushes symptoms for up to 10 years. Hot flushes have also been linked with heart issues, diabetes and increased risk of cancers.
Insomnia/ Sleep disruption. Some women find themselves having difficulty falling asleep, or find themselves waking up in the middle of the night and having difficulty going back to sleep.
The effects of the poor quality of sleep can spill over to the next day, leading to physical and emotional fatigue. It is a vicious cycle that can severely affect quality of life.
Dryness in vagina. Many women report that as they go into the menopausal stage, they experience lesser vaginal discharge.
The decrease in lubrication in the vagina canal can make some women feel dry and uncomfortable. Some even report chafing of inner membranes, causing much pain and discomfort.
Women who experience dry vaginas are embarrassed to tell their partners about this problem and are hence more prone to avoid sexual intimacy.
To many, sexual intimacy is an integral part in most healthy relationships. When these women draw themselves away, they subsequently find their relationships with their partner suffer too.
Difficulty in managing emotions. Some women report they feel more emotionally unstable when they became menopausal, and are more prone to emotions such as anger and sadness.
They find it more difficult to control their emotions and thus affecting their relationships and work. The difficulty in emotional regulation has been linked to the decrease of hormonal levels, namely estrogen.
The TCM Solution
The Chinese believe that menopausal women can improve their symptoms by supplementing their diets with plant based phytoestrogens to cope with the decreased levels of estrogen internally.
There are 3 main classes of phytoestrogens:
- Isoflavones - found in soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts, soy products, etc.
- Lignans - found in seeds (flax, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower), whole grains (barley, oats, rye) and berries
- Coumestans - found in alfalfa, broccoli, sprouts, etc.
By adding these plant based phytoestrogens into the menopausal diet, we can boost the levels of estrogen within the body, to assist a smoother transition into post menopausal mode.
Do try your best to locate non genetically modified versions of these plant phytoestrogens if you decide to incorporate them into your diet.
Acupressure For Women's Health
Another way we can help ourselves is through acupressure.
- Shen ting xue (神庭穴) for relaxation and help with hot flushes. To find the acupoint, start by using the center of the nose as benchmark, and trace finger up to hairline, the acupoint is about half an inch from the hairline. Gently press it 10-15 times, before bedtime. It should feel a bit sore/
- Zhong Tu Xue (中渚穴) – for relaxation and to improve tinnitus. To find the acupoint, start by locating the space between last and fourth finger. Slide your finger between the bones of the 2 fingers, the acupoint is the point where the 2 finger bones are joint together. Press 15-20 times each time, twice morning and night.
By incorporating these simple remedies into our daily lives, we can adopt a more preventive nature in guarding our overall health, with the added benefit of looking youthful perpetually.
What’s not to like?