Essential Takeaways: 

  • Cramps are the red flag your body is waving to signal that something is not functioning optimally in the body, something is out of balance and needs attention. 
     
  • They are there to tell us that there’s an underlying imbalance that needs attention, something is not functioning as efficiently and effectively as it could. When our body is balanced, and given the attention and care it deserves, it functions properly without these debilitating symptoms. 
     
  • One of the unique traits of TCM is pattern diagnosis, these are the patterns of imbalance that affect the fundamental functioning of our body, the root causes of symptoms like cramps.

Cramps, the main debilitating symptom many of us experience with every menstrual cycle. We’re taught to suck it up and just deal with it, it’s an inevitable part of being a menstruating person, right? Well, that’s not quite so, and Elix’s personalized Cycle Balance formulations were created to bust this myth that we simply have to deal with menstrual cramps and they are just a part of our life. They certainly don’t have to be!

Symptoms, like cramps, are just our body’s way of waving the red flag, signaling that something is not quite right in the body. They are there to tell us that there’s an underlying imbalance that needs attention, something is not functioning as efficiently and effectively as it could. When our body is balanced, and given the attention and care it deserves, it functions properly without these debilitating symptoms. We’ll explore some common patterns of imbalance that can lead to cramps from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view and what we can do to support these imbalances. But first let's explore what cramps are from a Western perspective.

What are cramps?

Cramps are associated with an increased production of prostaglandins, chemicals involved with inflammation and released by the uterus that stimulate uterine muscle contractions and cause painful cramps (1, 2). Studies have shown that people with menstrual cramps produce more prostaglandins than people without cramps (3). So boiling it down to the simplest terms, our cramps are the result of our body releasing more inflammatory chemicals, causing our uterine muscles to squeeze too much, resulting in painful cramps. There are many things that can lead to the increase in prostaglandins, the wisdom of TCM will help us uncover some of these reasons.   

How TCM views cramps

One of the unique traits of TCM is pattern diagnosis, these are the patterns of imbalance that affect the fundamental functioning of our body, the root causes of symptoms like cramps. Cramps are the red flag your body is waving to signal that something is not functioning optimally in the body, something is out of balance and needs attention. Our pattern diagnosis is the why behind our symptoms.  

Many of us are going to exhibit a combination of patterns of imbalance, with some more dominant than others. Elix’s online health assessment works to uncover your unique pattern diagnosis leading to symptoms like cramps. Below are a few of the main patterns of imbalance that can contribute to cramps:

  • Qi and Blood Deficiency: Qi is our vital lifeforce, the energy that keeps us alive and going. It also is a major component in TCM Blood production, so we need enough quality Qi to produce enough Blood. When our Qi and Blood is lacking there isn’t enough Qi, energy or power, to push out the Blood resulting in aching cramps. Further if there isn’t enough Blood then our uterine contractions have nothing to push out, again resulting in aching cramps. 
  • Heat: Heat from a TCM point of view corresponds beautifully to the western idea of inflammation. The more heat we have in our body the more inflammation (and prostaglandin release), leading to more intense cramps. 
  • Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis: In order to have a symptom free menstrual cycle we need our Qi and Blood flowing smoothly. When our Qi and Blood become stuck it causes a physiological traffic jam in our body, and when our uterus contracts to release menstrual blood it's unable to move the blood out because it’s stuck. This blockage leads to sharp painful cramps. 

Tea for Period Cramps

The goal of TCM herbal blends is to help support these underlying imbalances, so your body functions better and symptoms fade away. Our online health assessment works to uncover your pattern diagnosis, the root causes of imbalance causing your cramps. And based on your pattern diagnosis herbs are picked, based on research and tens of hundreds of years of use, based on the synergic effect they have in supporting your root causes of imbalance. The goal of Cycle Balance is not playing symptom whack-a-mole, merely putting a bandaid on symptoms, but supporting your body at a foundational level so it functions better and symptoms don’t appear.   

Here are just a few of the herbs used in Cycle Balance formulas that support each pattern of imbalance discussed above:

  • Qi and Blood Deficiency:
  • Bai Zhu (Atractylodes): This powerhouse herb is used in many TCM formulations for its ability to boost our Spleen Qi (aka our digestion) which is needed for production of quality Qi and Blood. Research shows it has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiaging, antitumor, hypoglycemic, analgesic, and both diuretic and antidiuretic properties. It also supports gastrointestinal regulation, regulates uterine smooth muscle, and affects our nervous and immune systems (4).   
  • Fu Ling (Poria): Poria has been used for over two thousand years for its ability to support the Spleen organ system (our digestion), drain dampness, and quiet the heart. Studies show it has anti-inflammatory, antitumor, anti-aging, antidiabetic, immunomodulation, anti-hypertensive, and anti-hepatitis properties (5).   
  • Heat:
    • Yi Mu Cao (Motherwort): Widely used for gynecological conditions, especially ones involving heat (aka inflammation), motherwort moves stagnant blood, clears heat, and reduces swelling. From a Western point of view it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, uterine regulating, anticancer, anti-fibrotic, neuroprotective, and cardioprotective properties (6).  
    • Zhi Zi (Gardenia Pod): Gardenia is used to clear heat, drain dampness, and eliminate irritability. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, and antidepressant properties, as well as benefit the nervous, cardiovascular, and digestive systems (7). 
  • Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis:
    • Yan Huo Suo (Corydalis): Long used for its pain relieving qualities, it has been shown to have analgesic, antitumor, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant effects (8). In TCM it’s used to move stagnant Blood and Qi as well as alleviate pain.   
    • Xiang Fu (Cyperus Rotundus): Known as the “holy medicine” for menstrual issues it is shown to have antidepressant, hypoglycemic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and analgesic effects (9). From a TCM point of view it helps relieve Qi stagnation as well as alleviate pain.   

    Pressure Points for Menstrual Cramps 

    You might be asking, “What else can I do in addition to taking Cycle Balance to help my menstrual cramps?” Certain acupressure points have been shown to alleviate painful cramps when used regularly the days leading up to your cycle (10). Rubbing these tender points with medium pressure in a circular motion for one minute twice a day (when you take your Elix Cycle Balance) the 5-7 days leading up to your cycle can help alleviate pain.
    Acupressure points for menstrual pain:

    • Large Intestine 4 (LI 4) - This is the muscle between your thumb and index finger
    • Spleen 6 (SP 6) - This point is located on the inside of your leg, 5 finger lengths above your medial malleolus (ankle bone). To find this point, sit with one leg in the butterfly position and place the opposite hand with fingers together on your ankle bone (pinky edge) and the point will be right about where the edge of your thumb lands, behind the tibia. 
    • Liver 3 (LV 3): This point is located between the big toe and the second toe about ¾ of an inch from the base of the toes, at the junction of the bones of these two toes. 

    Herbs for Menstrual Cramps

    Cramps are not an inevitable part of having a period, whether you have cramps after stopping birth control or have suffered from debilitating cramps your whole menstruating life, Elix Cycle Balance is here for you! If you’re looking for natural remedies for period cramps start your Elix journey to menstrual wellness by taking our online health assessment. It’s time to say bye-bye to cramps! 

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