Women’s bodies are beautiful, amazing and complex. But in our rush to succeed in school, careers, and the ever-expanding social horizons of our modern world, it is also possible to downplay, perhaps even forget the unique physiology of women related to menstruation. Indeed, some women may find their period a hassle, a needless interruption to their hectic schedule, a problem to be managed pharmacologically. In the world of Chinese medicine, doctors have long given special attention to the physiological demands of menstruation and its associated states of pregnancy and childbirth. Rather than repress menstruation, ancient Chinese doctors believed in the importance of regulating a women’s cycle, addressing the imbalances of Qi, Blood, yin, yang, etc., as central to her maintain gynecological health and to managing the special states of pregnancy and childbirth.
Perhaps it is not surprising then that Chinese doctors understood woman’s health concerns to be related above all to the state of her “blood.” In Western medicine, blood is the substance that courses through our arteries and veins, comprised of red and white blood cells, platelets and innumerable other immune system components. In Chinese medicine, the understanding of blood is less fine-grained in terms of its constituent parts, but more expansive in terms of how it relates to the various organs of the body. Blood is one of the four Vital Substances, along with Qi (energy), Body Fluids, and Essence. It flows to the organs, skin, bones and muscles, providing nutrients for the whole body. With sufficient nourishment from the blood, we function optimally, resulting in a healthy glow in the skin, cheeks, nails and hair. Blood is regulated by and stored in the (Chinese medicine concept of) liver, and so the liver is also responsible for maintaining a normal menstrual cycle. Menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding require a surplus of liver blood, so it is crucial to maintain the reserves and keep the blood flowing smoothly.
The monthly menstrual cycle is draining – literally! Women inevitably lose blood every month, which is taxing. Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding similarly require a proper supply of blood. (According to modern biomedicine, a women’s blood volume often increases by 40 – 50% during pregnancy and red blood cell mass by 20 – 30%.) Considering the demands these events put on a women’s body, Chinese medicine doctors have been particularly concerned with two issues, both of which are addressed by Woman’s Formula: the problem of insufficient blood, know as “blood deficiency,” and the issue of poor flow of blood, known as “blood stagnation.” Although Women’s Formula focuses more on the former, it recognizes that the two states are interrelated and therefore treats both.
Traditional Chinese Formula: Four Substance Decoction
Women’s Formula is based on a centuries old formula classically used for nurturing women’s bodies by building the blood and gently moving stagnation. Indeed, doctors of Chinese medicine have used this formula as the basis for managing a very wide array of gynecological concerns, modifying it with just the simple addition of a few herbs depending on the individual’s presentation. Technically, this traditional Chinese formula is most appropriate when deficient blood leads to irregular menstruation with little blood flow or when blood stagnation causes excessive blood flow and abdominal pain. However, in China (and by association, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory), this formula is popular as a general tonic to manage menstruation. Taken at the beginning of one’s cycle, a couple days after one’s period has ended, women like to use it to replenish what was “lost” during menstruation and to get the next cycle off to a good start. The uses of Women’s Formula are not limited to managing the menstrual cycle. Because doctors of Chinese medicine believe that labor and delivery produce a state of blood deficiency and blood stagnation for the mother, this formula can be appropriate from some post-partum conditions, such as general weaknesses and insufficient milk supply after childbirth. In clinical practice, this formula is not just for women. Doctors will use it to treat any condition that has blood deficiency at its root, such as certain chronic skin disorders, dizziness, blurred vision, muscle tension and cramps, and insomnia.
Herbs in Four Substance Decoction
The composition of this formula is an excellent example of balance. Rehmannia root nourishes liver blood and replenishes the body’s reserves and enhancing fertility. Peony also builds the blood but additionally softens the liver, smoothing the flow of Qi to address cramping. Chinese angelica root is a classic herb for women’s health, used to nourish and gently move the blood as well as harmonize the liver. Szechuan lovage root moves Qi to address the stagnation of blood, which often develops from chronic blood deficiency, It also prevents the supplementing action of the other three herbs from becoming excessive and a cause of blood stagnation itself.
Disclaimer required: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to treat, mitigate or cure any disease or symptom.