In this first part of this article, I will attempt to share the Chinese medicine model that defines menstruation, so that in light of that understanding, disorders such as PMS, dysmenorrhea, infertility and others, can be understood. And, equally important, the treatment process to address these conditions can be appreciated.
In organizing my thoughts for the first part of this article, I’ve chosen to first present to you the organs, channels, and substances that according to Chinese medicine are directly related to the female reproductive system. In the second part, we’ll see how the synergies between these systems produce the arrival of menarche, the cyclical occurrence of menstruation, the arrival menopause, and .
The reader should understand that when we speak of an “organ” in Chinese medicine, or when addressing the Blood,we are not necessarily speaking of the same organs, or blood, as defined in Western medicine. Chinese medicine addresses ‘organs” and Blood, as systems, and not as an individual, tangible mass of tissue. Organ systems in Chinese medicine include functions that are not recognized within the current medical knowledge of anatomy and physiology. For example, in Chinese medicine, the Heart houses the mind, while the nails are an extension of sinews which depend on abundant and free flowing Liver Blood. The Liver itself opens into the eyes.
In order to differentiate between the Chinese and Western medical system when writing about organs and Blood, it is customary for authors to capitalize the Chinese organs names. We’ll reserve the lower case naming convention when speaking of the actual morphology or form and structure of the body’s organs. I will also start using CM for Chinese medicine and WM for Western medicine.
Later we’ll see how these individual parts, collectively contribute to the arrival, and subsequent monthly occurrence of the woman’s cycle. of the Celestial Waters, or Tian Gui 天癸.
The Organ System in Chinese Medicine & its Role in Menstruation
As in WM, CM organs do not function in isolation. Organ systems are dependent on the integrity of the other organs for a smooth flow of Qi, or life force that keeps us alive. There are some organs however,that due to their role in the production, management, and distribution of Blood, play a pivotal role in the female cycle, and these we’ll discuss in more detail.
- The Heart
- The Heart rules the Blood and Blood Vessels.
- The Heart rules the Spirit
- The Liver
- The Liver stores the Blood.
- The Liver maintains the Smooth Flow of Qi
- The Liver rules flowing and spreading.
- The Spleen
- The Spleen governs the Blood
- The Spleen rules ascending pure essence. This function is important in the production of Blood, and as we shall see, it plays a major role in menstruation and in the treatment of infertility.
- The Kidneys
- The kidneys store essence
- The Uterus 子宮
- The Uterus is also called the “child’s palace” (zigong 子宮), and is one of 6 organs known in CM as “curious organs”. The others being the Bones, Marrow, Blood Vessels, Gall Bladder,and the Brain. It is the place from where other major channels involved in reproduction originate.
The Energetic Channel System and its Role in Menstruation
Besides the above organs, there’s a pathway system that plays an integral role in both the male and female reproductive physiology and relevant to menstruation. Known as Qi Jing Ba Mai – “Eight Curious Vessels” (奇經八脈). The network’s function include the regulation of flow between the acupuncture channels and their respective organs, the balance of vital energy between the upper and lower parts of the body, and much more. The topic will be covered in more detail in future articles.
Below we’ll give a brief introduction to 4 of these channels that are directly related to menstruation.
- The Chong Mai 衝脉
- The Chong Mai or Penetrating Vessel originates in the Uterus and
- The Ren Mai 任脉
- The Ren Mai or Conception Vessel.
- The Du Mai 督脈
- The Du Mai or Governing Vessel
- The Dai Mai 带脉
- The Dai Mai or The Belt Vessel
In Chinese medicine, the body is viewed as a microcosm of a larger model – the earth. Just as our existence on this planet is dependent on substances vital for the survival of our species, such as air, water, food, and heat, the human body relies on substances that will keep it moist, warm, nourished and active. These are called the Vital substances and are the raw materials from which all physiological processes happen including menstruation.
We should keep in mind, that each of the Vital Substances do not work in isolation. There’s a co-dependent relationship between them, and a delicate balance of interaction between these substances is needed for good health to ensue.
- Qi 氣
- Books have been written on the subject of Qi, pronounced “chi”, and it would be beyond the scope of this article to explain its meaning. My current understanding is that Qi is the life force that animates all living creatures as we know them in our planet. In other words, without it, there’s no life.
- Jing 精
- Jing means “essence”. It is one of the Three Treasures of Chinese medicine with the other two being Qi (氣) and Shen (神)-Spirit. A difficult concept to fully describe in a few words. But we can think of Jing as the genetic potential that an individual has at birth. Jing can be classified into two forms: Pre-heaven Jing, or the essence we are born from our parents, or Post-heaven Jing – the Jing we nurture with food and wholesome lifestyle.
- Jin Ye 津液
- Jin Ye stands for body fluids
- Blood 血
- The Blood
- Tian Gui 天癸
- Tian Gui is closely related to “Blood and Essence”