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Chinese Medicine: Ancient Healthcare For The Modern Woman

At certain times of the month, Judy has a hair-trigger temper. She finds herself yelling at traffic lights, fighting with her co-workers over trifles and seething at her boyfriend over minor bathroom etiquette infractions. Caroline, a woman in her 40's, breaks into a sweat for no apparent reason and has begun to have trouble sleeping at night. Harriet, known to all her friends as Miss Effervescence, gave birth to her first child a year ago and has been struggling with bouts of depression and crying that she can’t explain.

In much of the western world, such problems are often dismissed as “women’s problems” and are largely ignored. Even as modern medicine has evolved to a better understanding of hormonal variations and their profound effects, their tools for treatment of these problems are limited.

From the other side of the planet, comes a medical system, thousands of years in the making, that until recently, most Americans hadn’t even heard of. As more and more American women have been discovering, though, the perspective that this traditional medical system from China has on their ”women’s problems” is enlightening and helpful to a degree that surprises them and their physicians. As the Chinese see it, the two issues most involved in women’s health problems relate to blood and to the flow of energy, or qi, in the body. In the Chinese system, blood has a greater set of functions than it does in western medicine. It nourishes the body, moderates the temperature, preventing extremes of heat or cold, but also provides the basis for balanced emotional composure and for mental clarity and focus, and is essential for reproduction. Qi, on the other hand, is the energy necessary for blood to be made from the raw material of food. It also is the energy that helps blood to circulate. Over the course of one menstrual cycle, the first half is one in which the focus is on strengthening and nourishing blood after having menstruated, while the challenge of the second half is on maintaining a smooth flow of energy to facilitate menstruation.

One of the most potentially difficult times of a menstrual cycle is the second half, especially the week or so before menstruation begins. As is true of gynecological symptoms in general, most pre-menstrual complaints can be traced to a problem either in the quality of blood or in its circulation - or both. Pre-menstrual cramping, low back or low abdominal pain, breast lumps and irritability usually stem from a stagnation of qi which fails to move blood smoothly, not unlike a big traffic jam that results from a sudden influx of traffic on a small road. This stagnation can lead to internal heat, from a failure of blood’s ability to cool the body. This heat can lead to symptoms such as agitation, insomnia, acne, and increased sweating. The diversion of a large quantity of blood to the uterus that occurs during this time can also create a temporary weakness of the blood elsewhere in the body, one result of which can be mood swings and depression, which the Chinese see as the blood’s inability “to house the spirit,” or to allow for emotional equilibrium.

Treating gynecological problems with acupuncture and herbal medicine involves a kind of re-training of the body to do what it knows how to do, but has somehow forgotten due to the challenges of daily life or of an illness. The digestion may have become sluggish, due to an inappropriate diet or eating on the run all the time. Circulation may be impaired from living under chronic stress. The Liver, which normally is responsible for processing and detoxifying all medications & hormones, as well as ensuring the smooth flow of qi throughout the body, can easily become overtaxed from tension, over-use of medications or exposure to environmental toxins. All these factors can contribute to a gradual weakening of a person’s qi. To get back on track, organs that are weak need to be supported and blocked energy needs to be eased to allow the body to return to its once-familiar balance.

In modern practice of Chinese medicine, some practitioners now use both traditional Chinese diagnostic methods combined with western medical information to understand the nature of the problem more precisely. Charting of a woman’s basal body temperature (BBT) throughout her cycle is an example of the latter. It can provide an acupuncturist/ herbalist with a better understanding of any hormonal imbalances that may be involved, even when no such imbalances are detected in blood tests.

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Treating Children with Acupuncture

Immunity: The View From Chinese Medicine

Government Panel Endorses Acupuncture

Acupuncture in America: A Short History

International Studies Show Acupuncture as Effective as Drugs for Depression and Anxiety

Studies Support Use of Acupuncture in Respiratory and Gastrointestinal Disorders

American Medical Association Studies Chinese Medicine

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