Late Summer & Your Period: According to Chinese Medicine

Essential Takeaways: 

  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views late summer as the 5th season, it represents the midpoint of the year, a transition point between the warm active Yang seasons of spring and summer, to the cooler and restful Yin seasons of fall and winter. It also represents the transitional time between each season. 
     
  • Late summer is associated with the spleen organ system, our center, and the foundation of our digestion, a key organ system involved in the production of Qi and blood. Our menstrual cycle relies on the health of our Spleen organ system. 
     
  • As with every season, Elix's individualized Cycle Balance formulas can help you thrive during the late summer season by supporting your underlying root causes of imbalance, helping your body function better at a foundational level. 

Observation of the innate cycles of nature guides much of the theory behind Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Each season has its own personality and characteristics that influence our bodies and can clue us in on what activities we should place emphasis on. TCM teaches us how to live in harmony with each season and ourselves, based on these seasonal associations.

 Although not traditionally considered a season from a western point of view, late summer, known as the fifth season, is a pivotal season in TCM. Late summer spans the last month of summer, from late August to late September. It’s the midpoint of the Chinese New Year, a transition point from active Yang growth periods of spring and summer to the Yin introspective and restful time of fall and winter. Known as the interchange of all seasons, it is also the neutral buffer between each season, influencing the 7 days before and after each equinox and solstice. It is the center, the foundation, which all other seasons balance and rotate around.

It is a time to start to slow down and reflect on and process the activity and bounty of summer. The fifth season is like hitting the reset button, a time to recenter and get back to the basics, preparing for the upcoming cooler months. It’s a time to decrease the intensity of our activity, allowing more space for rest and recovery. We can start incorporating more simple and warming foods into our routine.

Late Summer Associations

 Organ System  Spleen
Element Earth
Menstrual Cycle Phase  Transition between each phase
Climate Factor Dampness
Emotion Worry—Pensiveness 
Color Yellow
Taste Sweet

 

Late Summer and the Spleen Organ System

TCM sees the body as a dynamic energy system, based on a theory that all of the body’s organ systems mutually support each other, so a dysfunction in one organ system has an impact on the functioning of other organ systems. Each organ system is more than its physical function, it has its own personality having an influence over specific emotions, activities, tissues, and environmental factors. 

Late summer is associated with the Spleen organ system, our center, which correlates to our digestive system from a western point of view. From a TCM viewpoint it governs transformation and transportation (aka our digestion), controls the ascending of Qi (preventing prolapse of organs like our bladder and uterus), controls blood by keeping it in our vessels, and influences our muscles and 4 limbs. It’s the central organ in the production of our Qi (the invisible vital energetic force that sustains life) and Blood. Our Spleen organ system pulls out the energy from the food we eat and transforms it into usable Qi, our energy. It’s integral to all facets of our health and well-being, including our menstrual health. 

This organ system plays a central role in our overall and menstrual health due to its role in Qi and Blood production. If our Spleen organ system is not functioning optimally we will not produce the energy our body needs to function optimally. And since TCM sees everything as connected, if our Spleen is deficient this will have an impact on the functioning of all other organ systems. There is so much modern research showing how our digestion has an impact on our overall health, from our mental health (1) to our hormonal health, even contributing to chronic menstrual conditions like endometriosis and PCOS (2).

People with a balanced Spleen organ system will have a sense of satisfaction with life, living life in gratitude. They will feel centered and stable, having the ability to move through life's transitions smoothly. They will not need to look outside themselves to feel complete, to feel like they are enough. These people are empathetic and nurturing, the ultimate “mother” figure. Someone with a balanced Spleen organ system will have strong digestion, feel energized after eating, have good muscle tone, and set appropriate boundaries. People with an imbalanced Spleen organ system will be filled with worry and overthinking, constantly looking outside themselves for their sense of worth. They might nurture those around them with a disregard to their own wellbeing, unable to set healthy boundaries. 

Physical symptoms of someone with an imbalanced Spleen organ system include: poor digestion, fatigue after eating, pale complexion, fatigue, depression, bloating, weakness in the limbs, tendency to weight gain, shortness of breath, or dizziness. In relation to the menstrual cycle an imbalance in this organ system can lead to: heavy bleeding (especially of thin, pale blood), irregular periods, amenorrhea, or a lack of ovulation. A faulty diet, excessive worry, or a lack of exercise can all lead to an imbalance in the Spleen organ system. 

Element

Late summer is associated with the Earth element, seen as the center. It is the element we are always returning to for re-centering and balance between each season, it is our foundation. Our nourishment comes from the earth, both nourishment from food and drink and nourishment for our spirits with its grounding force.  

Menstrual Cycle Phase

The Earth element does not represent a specific phase of our menstrual cycle, but instead it influences the transition between each phase of our cycle. Just as we are always returning to the Earth element between seasons, we rely on the energy or our center (the Spleen organ system and earth element) when transitioning between each of the four phases of our cycle. You can see the importance of this element as the center, what we are always coming back to - it’s our foundation. If our Spleen organ system is weak, our menstrual cycle will show signs of this because of the influence on Qi and Blood. Support your foundation by getting your personalized Cycle Balance formulation, which will help balance the root causes of imbalance contributing to your menstrual symptoms.

Climate Factor

TCM recognizes that the external climate can affect our internal balance. Late summer is dominated by dampness or humidity. It’s hot, sticky, and muggy during this time of the year. We tend to feel heavier, weak, and bogged down physically in humid weather, worse in people with an imbalance with the Spleen organ system.

This affects the functioning of our Spleen organ system, creating more internal phlegm-dampness (think of this like a cold type of inflammation, an accumulation of internal mucus), which can impact our cycle in a few ways. First it can inhibit or delay ovulation because this internal buildup of mucus can block ovulation from occurring on time or at all. Second, it can impact our actual period in the same way by delaying or blocking our periods altogether. At Elix we use a detailed online health assessment to determine your unique root causes of imbalance to create a personalized Cycle Balance formula that supports your individual needs, so if you have an accumulation of phlegm-dampness in your body your formulation will contain herbs that help support your body to clear this accumulation as well as support your Spleen organ system so it won’t be produced in the first place.

Emotion

The emotion associated with the Spleen organ system is worry or pensiveness. People with an imbalance in this system will ruminate excessively and won’t be able to process their emotions effectively. This round and round thinking will affect the Spleen’s function, it will further weaken digestion and the ability of the Spleen to produce quality Qi and Blood.

Color

Yellow is the color associated with the Spleen organ system, so any food that is yellow or orange will support this organ system.

Taste 

Sweet flavors support the Spleen organ system, so any foods that are sweet in nature will be good to eat if your Spleen needs more support. This doesn’t mean filling up on candy and baked goods, the sweet flavor TCM means is from things like carrots and sweet potatoes, whole foods with an inherent sweet flavor. 

TCM Dietary Wisdom: Foods that support us through the late summer season

Nourishment is an integral part of keeping our Spleen organ system happy. What we put into our bodies largely impacts the health of our digestion and the quality of our Qi and Blood. The 

Spleen organ system likes to keep it simple, concentrating the diet on well cooked, easy to digest, warming foods. Simple meals with few ingredients, made from whole foods, and chewed well comfort our Spleen organ system. To keep our digestion moving smoothly we want to reduce our consumption of cold, raw, greasy, heavy and hard to digest foods. These foods take more energy to digest and can cause more stagnation to build up, possibly leading to phlegm-dampness and poor quality Qi and Blood production. This is why from a TCM point of view, we want to avoid the intake of iced and cold beverages as much as possible - cold leads to internal stagnation, which leads to more symptoms. We want to keep it as easy as possible for our Spleen organ system. 

 If your digestion is weak concentrate on eating small simple frequent meals of well-cooked easy to digest foods. Congees, like this pumpkin tahini congee, are great to help nourish our Spleen organ system. Below is a list of some of the foods that support this essential organ system.

  • Grains: millet, mochi, rye, amaranth, non-glutinous rice, glutinous (sweet) rice, quinoa, oats, sorghum
  • Vegetables: squash, yams, carrots, parsnips, celery, lettuce, pumpkin, turnip, kohlrabi, cabbage, potato, shiitake mushrooms, string beans, any yellow or orange vegetables 
  • Fruits: cantaloupe, apple, watermelon, banana, mango, fig, papaya, Chinese date (red or black), longan berry, grapes, coconut, peach 
  • Protein: adzuki beans, chicken, lentils, fava beans, soy beans, peas, carp, catfish, beef 
  • Culinary Herbs / Spices: chrysanthemum tea, chamomile tea, scallion, clove, cumin, dill seed, fennel seeds, ginger, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, turmeric, garlic, pepper, coriander, nettle, cinnamon bark

Late summer (and the transition between each season) is a time many cultures focus on purification of the body and soul through fasting. If your body is strong enough you can consider doing short fasts (1-3 days) during these times of the year. (A single grain fast in the fall and winter and a vegetable and fruit fast in the spring and summer.) You can also consider fasting from digital consumption, putting screens away during this fasting time.  

How we choose to digest our emotions also plays a large role in the health of our digestion, the emotional and physical are very much connected in TCM. If we are constantly fixating on our thoughts, not chewing them up effectively, letting them go round and round, our Spleen organ system will be negatively affected. Worrying and rumination, basically thinking too much, will weaken our digestion leading to less quality Qi and Blood. This is one reason why TCM recommends eating without distractions, without any scrolling or screens on. 

If you’re someone who needs extra support with digesting food and emotions, consider adding our one-size fits all nourishing formula Daily Harmony into your routine. Daily Harmony works alongside Cycle Balance to give your body the extra support it needs to help digest your food and stress more effectively.  

Late Summer and Our Period

If our Spleen organ system is imbalanced our period can be more affected during the late summer as well as during each transition between seasons. This could result in a more irregular cycle with our menses coming earlier, later, or become absent. Since our Spleen organ system is one of the primary sources of Qi and Blood, if it's weak there won’t be enough energy to create or promote the movement of blood so our cycle can become delayed or absent altogether during this time. Or our period could come early since our Spleen controls our blood by keeping it in our vessels; if the Spleen organ system doesn’t have the energy to contain the blood our menses might arrive early or it might be especially heavy.

Another possible sign of a Spleen organ system imbalance, which can be more pronounced during these timeframes, is an increase in discharge (leukorrhea). This is due to the Spleen organ systems function of transforming and transporting food. When this is impaired, instead of transforming food into usable Qi, food sits there and it turns into phlegm-dampness. This is like a cold type of inflammation; imagine a buildup of internal mucus that can manifest as acne, cysts, masses, weight gain, or an increase in discharge. This discharge is different from our healthy cervical mucus that signifies ovulation. A build-up of too much phlegm-dampness could inhibit the movement from the Yin (follicular) to the Yang (luteal) phase of our cycle, blocking ovulation.  

Tips for Living in Balance with Late Summer

We can use the wisdom of TCM to help us adjust our lifestyle to live in harmony with late summer (and the transition time between each season), helping our Spleen organ system stay strong, keeping our Qi and Blood healthy and vibrant. 

  • Connection: Connect with the grounding nature of earth by getting outside and going barefoot for a bit, allowing yourself to connect with the earth, feeling its support 
  • Recovery: Get serious about creating boundaries with others, making sure you are prioritizing your own well-being
  • Stress Response: It’s a great time to focus on centering activities that help us digest our emotions, like meditation or deep breathing
  • Movement: Keep your body moving, go for an easy after meal walk, which can help stimulate our Spleen organ system
  • Nourishment: Focus on chewing your food more, eating well cooked simple meals with few ingredients
  • Environment: Adapt to the climate, with the humid hot days of late summer and the shift starting from Yang activity to Yin rest starting, think about starting to slow down, move a little slower and make sure you are keeping hydrated

 As with every season, Elix’s individualized Cycle Balance formulas can help you thrive during the 5th season and all year long by supporting your underlying root causes of imbalance, helping your body function better at the foundational level. Get started with Elix today by filling-out the online health assessment to receive your own personalized hormone supporting herbal formula! 

Sources

  1. Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S. Gut Microbiota’s Effect on Mental Health: The Gut-Brain Axis. Clinics and Practice. 2017; 7(4):987. https://doi.org/10.4081/cp.2017.987
  2. Elkafas, H., Walls, M., Al-Hendy, A., & Ismail, N. (2022). Gut and genital tract microbiomes: Dysbiosis and link to gynecological disorders. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, 12, 1059825.
  3. Giovanni Maciocia - The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists   
  4. Paul Pitchford - Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition

This article was reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Fine.

Dr. Elizabeth Fine is currently the Dean of Clinical Education at Emperor’s College, the #2 ranked colleges for TCM. She has been practicing Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine for over 20 years, with a specialization in women’s reproductive health.

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