Food is medicine. Every food effects the body in a very specific way.
The menstrual cycle can be divided into two phases:
- Cycle Days 1-14 (Follicular Phase)
- Cycle Days 15-28 (Luteal Phase)
The Follicular Phase – Cycle Days 1-14
The follicular phase is more “Yin” in nature. This means it is more cooling and nurturing. During the follicular phase, temperatures should be below 97.5° to allow for follicular development and increasing estrogen levels. If temperatures become too high, cervical discharge will dry up, the uterine lining will not be sufficient for implantation, and egg quality can be expected to be poor with eggs having a more dense and impenetrable nova. Higher follicular temperatures also correlate with elevated FSH levels. When we can lower the basal temperatures, we usually see an improvement in cervical discharge, FSH levels, and egg quality.
Some indications of low Yin energy are: shortened menstrual cycles, scanty cervical mucus, vaginal dryness, night sweats, hot flashes, and weakness in the low back or knees.
During this phase, it is important to eat foods from the yin (cooling) category and avoid foods from the yang (warming) category. Foods that support healthy follicular phase temperatures are cooling in nature:
- Apples, asparagus, bananas, barley, bean sprouts, beets, black beans, blackberries, blueberries, chlorella, chickpeas, clams, cuttlefish, duck, eggplant, eggs, honey, grapes, kidney beans, jellyfish, lemon, malt, mango, melon, milk, mulberries, organ meats, oysters, peas, pears, pineapples, pomegranate, pork, rabbit, raspberries, rice, seaweed, shellfish, spirulina, string beans, tomato, watermelon, yams.
The follicular phase is also an important time to nourish blood. In Chinese medicine, blood is the foundation for conception and pregnancy. Because women menstruate and lose blood every month, it is essential that this precious resource be carefully replenished. In today’s society, characterized by busy schedules, deadlines, and stress, we don’t always have the time or luxury to rest or rebuild our blood between each cycle.
Consequently, Blood Deficiency is ubiquitous among 21st women and is a contributing (if not primary) factor in nearly all fertility cases. The diagnosis of Blood Deficiency may accompany a western diagnosis of anemia, but it can also present sub-clinically even without being anemic.
When we say Blood Deficiency in Chinese medicine, we mean that the blood is not dense enough, and that there are an inadequate number of red blood cells that carry nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. This can lead to a number of problems including Stagnation of Blood that causes pain and impedes the sufficient formation of a uterine lining to support embryo implantation. Blood Deficiency can lead to symptoms such as scant menstrual blood, amenorrhea, premenstrual dizziness, hair loss, and dry skin.
Foods that nourish the blood:
- Adzuki bean, apricot, beef, beetroot, black beans, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, bone marrow, eggs, cuttlefish, dark leafy greens, date, dandelion, fig, grape, kidney bean, lamb, liver, hormone-free meat and liver, microalgae, molasses, nettle, octopus, oyster, parsley, raisins, raspberry, sardine, spinach, spirulina, sweet rice, and watercress.
Foods that deplete the blood:
- Ice cream, dairy products, excessive tofu and soy products, excessive spicy foods and seasonings, oily or greasy foods, raw foods, salads, iced drinks, refined sugars, flours, processed foods, soda, and carbonated beverages.
The Ovulatory Phase
If yin and blood have reached optimum levels, ovulation will be seamless. If energy is stagnant, the ovulatory phase can lead to symptoms of breast tenderness, a dull ache in the low abdomen, prolonged luteinizing hormone (LH) surge, stair-stepped basal body temperature charts, and irritability, during the time of ovulation.
Foods that can facilitate movement of stagnant energy are invigorating in nature:
- Basil, caraway, cardamom, carrot, cayenne, chive, clove, coriander, dill seed, garlic, marjoram, mustard leaf, orange peel, peppermint, radish, rosemary, spearmint, star anise, tangerine peel, thyme, and turmeric.
The Luteal Phase – Cycle Days 15-28
During the luteal phase, temperatures should consistently be above 98.3° to sustain healthy progesterone levels. Progesterone has warming properties and is responsible for preparing the endometrial lining for implantation. In Chinese Medicine, this is the time of Kidney yang energy. A deficiency in Kidney yang can lead to symptoms of low back pain, low libido, nocturia, and coldness in general.
All food should be cooked during this phase, even fruit. Your body is trying to raise its temperature so that it can produce abundant progesterone. The body has a fixed amount of metabolic resources. In order to break foods down into usable nutrients, those foods must be digested or “cooked” within the body. This process requires metabolic heat. If you eat cold or cooling foods, or raw foods like fruits, you are diverting some of the body’s precious metabolic resources toward digestion and way from the metabolic priority of raising the body temperature.
It is very important to stay warm during the luteal phase especially during the winter months.
Wear socks, keep your abdomen and low back warm, and don’t go outside with wet hair. Getting cold steals energy from your basal temperatures.
During this phase it is important to eat foods from the yang (warming) category and avoid foods from the yin (cooling) category. Foods that support healthy ovulatory phase temperatures are warming in nature:
- Anchovies, adzuki beans, anise, basil, beets, black beans, black pepper, buckwheat, caraway, cayenne, chai tea, cherries, chestnut, chicken, chives, cinnamon bark, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry, dates, dill, fennel, fenugreek seed, garlic, dried ginger, kidney, lamb, leeks, lentils, lobster, mussels, mustard leaf, mutton, nutmeg, oats, onions, oysters, peach, pine nuts, pistachio, quinoa, raspberry, rosemary, sage, scallions, shrimp, spelt, star anise, sweet brown rice, thyme, trout, turnip, walnuts.
Stagnant Liver Energy
In Chinese medicine the Liver is important in regulating reproduction, menstruation, and hormones. The Liver regulates the smooth flow of blood and energy throughout the body, including menstruation. If there is stagnation or lack of smooth flow, the uterus will not be adequately supplied with energy and blood, and may then be associated with cramping and pain. If the Liver is not functioning properly, hormones may not be processed sufficiently making the uterus an unfavorable environment for implantation. Some symptoms associated with this stagnation of the Liver are, PMS, depression, anger, sadness, weepiness headaches, breast pain, cramps, irritability, headaches, migraines, and breast tenderness at ovulation. Foods that can help facilitate the free flow of Liver energy are the same as those mentioned in the Ovulatory phases to move stagnant energy.