Recently, we were blessed to care for mamma of Chinese descent, who has training in Chinese Medicine. Married to an English man, her translator shared concern that this mamma’s needs would not be well met. She asked about fresh rice, ginger and eggs immediately postpartum. “How are you going to assure she gets what she needs in the several weeks to come?” asks the translator?
These experiences are intimidating, in that we seek to respect every wish of the client but are quite naive to her needs. What an honor to be asked to share in this event though, and to be trusted to respect their cultural traditions and beliefs! Fresh rice was prepared, ginger was grated and eggs were whipped. Mom had all her needs met, including preparation of her placenta for consumption.
Chinese Medicine Fundamentals
Developed more than 2,000 years ago, Chinese medicine is based on natural phenomenons such as heaven and earth, cycles of growth and decline, the seasons, movement and stillness, and every observable process seen in our world, both animate and inanimate (McGee, 2010). One of the fundamental ideas, which many are aware, is the theory of yin and yang. These are opposite qualities in that Yin represents form, substance, stillness, moisture, darkness, the interior, and coolness, while yang represents energy, activity, transformation, heat, the exterior, brightness, and dryness. The two can consume one another, in that yin’s moisture can extinguish yang’s heat, or yang’s activity can transform yin’s stillness and inertia (McGee, 2010).
Chinese medicine translates these concepts into the body viewing our form and substance as yin, and the body processes are yang. Therefore, the uterus would be yin, and the movement of the egg being released from the ovary as yang. While opposites and consumptive of one another, yin and yang can destroy each other or become one another (McGee, 2010).
Another fundamental theory is the concept of vital substances, with the most significant being qi (“chee”), blood, and essence. Qi is a vital energy and has a yang nature in its movement, its warmth, and is transforming nature. Blood is dark and fluid, thus more yin, and serves as a substantial nourishment of both body and mind. Essence is a fundamental, highly refined substance, with both yin and yang qualities. It governs growth and reproduction, and declines with age. The body functions and lives through the presence and activities of these substances (McGee, 2010, p 102).
Chinese medicine also theorizes that the body is composed of a complex web of channels, which is the basis of acupuncture. Needles are utilized to adjust the function and balance of the body, using the fine needles or with acupressure, manual stimulation (McGee, 2010, p 102).
To be healthy, fertile, and energetic, women need not only an adequate quantity of qi, blood, and essence, but also the proper cyclic movements of these as well. ~McGee, 2010, p 103
The relationship and harmony of yin and yang underscores every aspect of women’s health within Chinese Medicine. An easy and predictable monthly cycle depends on the balance of energy and restfulness. Qi moves the blood in the monthly cycle, filing and then emptying the channels, and then essence maintains the ovaries and fertility. The proper biphasic curve of the monthly basal body temperature is again, a balance.
Chinese medicine, without the modern concepts of hormones and biochemistry, describes women’s health with clarity and logical consistency ~McGee, 2010, p 103
Practitioners attempt to discern where the balance has been disrupted and then prescribe treatments that restore the woman to a rightful balance using acupuncture, herbal remedies, and lifestyle recommendations. The assessment is quite complex and addresses premenstrual syndrome, irregular cycles, polycystic ovarian syndrome, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, vaginal infections, frequent miscarriage, infertility, menopause, and many others. Regular acupuncture and herbal medicine may be utilized in some women for many weeks in effort to optimize health and achieve long term change. However, many can also be treated with monthly acupuncture, a small dose of herbs or even, more or less simply, diet and lifestyle changes.
Current Day Assessment
Western research of Chinese medicine is still in early development. One of the strengths certainly, of Chinese medicine is that its nature is very individualized. Tailoring treatment and coordinating a research project with any specificity is therefore, challenged. Randomized control trials are exceedingly difficult. While hundreds of Chinese journals publish a plethora of articles, high quality data is largely lacking. This does not mean the research isn’t without merit. In fact, it is intriguing and demands further exploration.
Acupuncture has a larger body of evidence, and is where the bulk of evidence exists in women’s health, more-so than even herbal medicine. Dysmenorrhea and infertility in particular have the greatest support in today’s literature, especially in conjunction with IVF (McGee, 2010).
Women is little nature, a child of heaven and earth, a product of cosmic forces. ~Dr. Ngyuen Van Nghi
Chinese medicine recognizes that women, with monthly expression of these natural cycles, are indeed human displays of created, cosmic forces. The belief is that the physical, emotional, biochemical, and hormonal realities women endure are connected to heaven and earth, yin and yang, and the ebb and flow of the tides and moons. Chinese medicine has a long history, but requires further research to test its reputation as an effective therapy for women’s health.
McGee, L. (2010). Traditional Chinese Medicine. Integrative Women’s Health, Maize & Low Dog. Oxford University Press: New York.