“Man is albuminoid, proteinaceous, laked pearl; woman is yolky, ovoid, rich.” The Exact Location of the Soul, Richard Selzer, surgeon and short-story writer.
Menstrual problems, the link between the spleen-pancreas and the liver
The great difference between women and men is that women bleed every month, and they produce the babies. Our babies are what you might call ‘transformed blood’. The dietary focus of women in the reproductive age-group, therefore, is on a blood-nourishing diet. A blood-nourishing diet is a spleen-pancreas strengthening diet that boosts menstruating women, prevents premature aging, and supports women throughout the years of pregnancy, breast-feeding and child-rearing.
The state of the (Chinese) liver plays an important part in a regular and steady menstrual pattern. This is because the most important function of the Chinese liver is to regulate the free flow of Qi. The literal translation of the Chinese characters for the free flow of Qi is “allowing to flow” and “to liberate”. When Qi does not flow freely, TCM speaks of a Liver Qi Stagnation. The Chinese liver also stores and cleanses blood at night.
A healthy spleen-pancreas produces healthy blood and Qi. A chronic spleen-pancreas deficiency leads to a blood deficiency. This always leads to a ‘Liver Blood Deficiency’. A Liver Qi Stagnation as well as a Liver Blood Deficiency impact the menstrual cycle.
Overall, you could say that every malfunction of the liver affects the menstrual cycle. When the liver functions well, menstruation is normal. When liver Qi and liver blood are impaired menstruation can stop, become scanty, excessive or irregular. It can also cause pains and irregular bleeding outside the menstrual cycle.
As we saw early on in this book, emotional disturbance, and in particular frustration, rage and stress obstruct the free flow of Qi and therefore negatively impact the liver. But food retention in the stomach and intestines due to inactivity, overeating or Stomach Heat also obstructs the liver. An obstructed liver, in turn, obstructs the stomach and spleen-pancreas. Together, they negatively affect menstruation.
A severe Liver Qi Stagnation equals irritability, frustration, impatience, explosive behaviour, (suppressed) anger and negativity. It can affect the lungs and lead to an oppressive feeling in the chest and depression. It can cause a sensation of distension in the breasts. It can lead to the ‘lump in the throat’ syndrome: the ready rise of inopportune tears whenever we happen to hear or see something of an emotional nature. When the stagnation affects the stomach and spleen-pancreas, there can be burping, acid indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea or loose stools.
Menstrual problems: The link between the spleen-pancreas, the liver and the kidneys
If you look at some of the various Five Elements diagrams in this book, you will see that each organ network is linked to the next by an arrow. You may also have noticed that the order of the organ networks is often the same: the Liver/Gallbladder leads to the Heart/Small Intestine, which lead to the Spleen-Pancreas/Stomach, which lead to the Lungs/Large Intestine, which lead to the Kidneys/Bladder, which lead to the Liver/Gallbladder. Each organ network nourishes the next. TCM says that each organ network is the mother of the next network and the child of the previous network. Thus, the kidneys are the mother of the liver, thereby nourishing it and making the liver the child of the kidneys. If the liver is deficient, it feeds off - and potentially drains - the kidneys. In addition, a deficient liver is unable to nourish the heart. Weak kidneys, in their turn, are unable to nourish and support the liver and they drain the lungs.
The Chinese kidneys promote and dominate reproduction, growth and development. They regulate the reproductive organs. We have seen earlier on in this book how an inferior diet and food pattern can undermine our spleen-pancreas and kidneys. When the kidneys are weak, they are unable to boost the liver. A kidney-liver deficiency undermines a healthy menstrual cycle and our reproductive ability. Menstrual problems include a) scanty or infrequent periods, b) irregular and painful periods, c) excessive periods and d) PMS.
a) Scanty or infrequent periods are caused by a ‘Liver Blood Deficiency’, usually the result of a diet-induced blood deficiency. Either the diet is inadequate, or the uptake of nutrients is poor due to a weak spleen-pancreas. Childbirth, accidents and weak kidneys can also cause, or aggravate, a Liver Blood Deficiency.
Other signs and symptoms include a pasty complexion, dream disturbed sleep, dry and tired eyes and blurred vision, high ear tones, night blindness, pale lips and pale nails.
Take a blood-nourishing diet, more rest and meditative exercises, leisurely walks in natural settings. Avoid alcohol and sharp spices.
b) Irregular and painful periods can be due to a stagnation of liver blood (blood stasis), which is caused by a prolonged Liver Qi Stagnation. A Liver Qi Stagnation is mostly triggered by emotional stress, but inactivity and food retention in the stomach and intestines can also be a cause. Irregular periods can originate in the kidneys (kidney deficiency), in which case the person is often thin and pale with dizzy spells and pain in the lower back. When the kidneys are weak, they fail to nourish and support the liver, so in either case, both organs need to be normalised or nourished. Other possible symptomsinclude: Dark menstrual blood with blood clots, and abdominal pains or cramps before and during the periods. (Blood stasis gives sharp, acute pains as in cramps). If the cramps are very severe and located in the lower abdomen and in the back, there is blood stasis in the uterus; with other symptoms such as vomiting, depression and headaches during menstruation; frustration, impatience, explosive reactions, anger; mastitis, fatigue, allergies, eye problems, and difficulty waking.
• Fennel- and aniseed resolve the Qi Stagnation. Take these herbs in tea or gently simmer aniseed for 10 minutes in milk. Brown sugar (dark brown) also helps, and so does fresh ginger. Try a tea of fennel or aniseed, with a teaspoon of brown sugar or, alternatively, ginger tea with brown sugar. Take this tea only as long as it is needed, it should not be taken routinely.
• Herbal teas, additional: lemon balm, camomile, yarrow, ladies mantle, rosemary.
• Vegetables: beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi (turnip greens), pulses/legumes, water cress, chicory.
• Grains: sweet rice.
• Fruit: strawberries, cherries, peaches.
• Sweeteners: brown sugar, dried dates, rice syrup.
• Raw foods.
• Heavy and oily foods and cooking methods.
• Butter, cheese and eggs.
c) Excessive periods are related to the liver, kidneys and spleen-pancreas.
When the time between excessive periods is short, there is Heat in the blood. Other symptoms are irritability, a red face and an overall sensation of warmth.
When the time between excessive periods is too long, there is a spleen-pancreas deficiency with Cold symptoms. You may also be weak, pale and thin, with an overall cold sensation.
When excessive periods are irregular, there can be a ‘Liver Excess’, or a kidney deficiency. Consult a TCM practitioner for these three cases.
Pre-menstrual syndrome is caused by a Liver Qi Stagnation, as are irregular or painful periods, a pre-menstrual feeling of distension of the breasts, pre-menstrual tension and irritability.
The recommendations, therefore, are the same as those for Irregular and Painful Periods (see above).
Author Details: Leni Hurley