- For over 5,000 years, Chinese Herbal Medicine has helped restore balance to the body as a holistic healing practice.
- Herbs work together as a hierarchy to create the healing effects of an herbal formula.
- Numerous Chinese herbal formulas can be especially beneficial for menstrual symptoms.
Photo credit: @zoeyxingong
In TCM, the balance between Yin and Yang keeps the body healthy, so any imbalance manifests as illnesses and symptoms. TCM doctors then use Pattern Diagnosis to uncover the root cause of that imbalance in the body’s network of substances, organs, and pathways. Now the question is: what treatment options are available for restoring harmony to the body?
For over 5,000 years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has relied upon the healing power of nature’s bounty. Practitioners have accumulated a vast library of herbs and pharmacology that still remains relevant in modern medicine, as years of study and experience have verified the efficacy of these plants. Other forms of TCM treatment have also gained respect throughout history (e.g., acupuncture, acupressure, and gua sha), but one of the many things that makes TCM unique is its lineage of herbal knowledge.
Herbs are always combined into formulas in Chinese Medicine. There are a handful of single herb formulas, but generally all herbal treatments consist of various blends of around 8 to 15 herbs. (TCM also uses animal substances and minerals as medicine, but Elix focuses on the power of plants.) In fact, there are presently over 100,000 kinds of formulas. The herbs work in harmony to balance our bodies from within, and each of them have their dominant or supporting roles:
- Emperor — provides the primary therapeutic effect as the chief herb
- Deputies — elevate or help the chief herb to produce the maximum therapeutic effect
- Assistants — carry multiple roles; deal with accompanying symptoms, balance and help out other herbs’ activities, block any herbs’ toxicity or harsh nature (ex: adding a warm (more Yang) herb to balance the coldness (Yin) of another herb and vice versa)
- Envoys — guide herbs to a particular meridian or organ and help harmonize the whole team of herbs
Formulas may have just one chief and one deputy, include multiple assistants and envoys, or consist of many from each category (up to as much as 40 herbs in one formula!). Such a diverse number of formulas correlates with the multiple possibilities for Pattern Diagnosis.
Herbs are also formulated depending on how they interact with one another. Some are incompatible when put together, causing negative side effects or toxicity. Others can be combined to have an ever greater healing effect. Herbs can also counteract each other’s strength when integrated in certain ways.
Determining the blend of herbs for a formula is just one part of the process. The next step is figuring out what methods lead to the most healing. There is a right way and a wrong way to use herbs; they need to be carefully selected, properly formulated, and made of prime quality. Not all over-the-counter herbal health products can claim good efficacy.
Pills and powders are helpful, but liquid decoction (a practice established thousands of years ago by Chinese practitioner Yi Yin) is the gold standard because it maintains the quality and potency of the herbs.
Read more about why liquid supplements (like decocted ones at Elix) are better.
Chinese Herbal Medicine for Menstrual Relief
PMS and menstrual symptoms point back to patterns of imbalance in the body, so certain herbs are chosen based on their specific abilities to harmonize the reproductive system, affected organs, and pathways. These herbs work in sync to replenish Qi and blood, release them from stagnation, and boost the organs’ energy. For example, useful herbs for menstrual pain include Black Cohosh, an estrogen-mimicking herb, and Jujubee seeds for replenishing blood. Note these well-known formulas that address common patterns of imbalance for menstruation:
- Contains Gui Zhi (Ramulus Cinnamomi), Poria Mushroom, Peach Kernel, Peony Root, and Moutan
Gives energy to blood, releases blood stagnation, helps with heavy bleeding, and treats Fibroids
- Contains Licorice, Angelica sinesis, Chuang Xiong, Gui Zhi, and more
- Helps with cramps and irregular cycles, dispels blood stasis, gives energy to the blood, and removes Cold
- Contains Angelica sinesis (female ginseng), White Peony root, Chuang Xiong, Fu Ling (Poria Mushroom), Bai Zhu, and Water Plantain root
- Regulates blood, nourishes liver blood, harmonizes the liver and spleen, and resolves Dampness
- Contains Angelica sinesis, White Peony root, Chuang Xiong, and Rehmannia root (Chinese foxglove)
Replenishes blood and also helps with painful cramps and irregular cycles
- Contains Rehmannia root, Angelica sinesis, Chuang Xiong, Bupleurum, Licorice, Red Peony root, Niu Xi root, and more
- Especially effective for painful cramps, gives energy to the liver and kidneys, improves flow of liver Qi
At the same time, remember that TCM believes in a holistic approach to treatment — so caring for other aspects of life like diet, exercise, sleep, and mental health is just as important for balanced menstrual health. Eating nourishing foods, taking the right supplements, moving your body regularly, and managing stress can all help us feel our best all month long.
“In addition to herbal supplementation—acupressure massage, eating the colors of the rainbow and using food as medicine are TCM principles that can be incorporated in our daily lives. Other options include finding stillness/quietness with stretching, meditation and/or exercise.” - Dr. Xia Hongsheng, Elix Medical Advisor
Why Herbal Healing Matters
"Synthetic hormones are actually hormone disruptors. They do not necessarily mimic the physiological and the natural hormones that we have coursing through our bodies as a part of our biological processes. So they're actually disrupting our natural hormones." - Dr. Laurena White
“Hormonal birth control is an important tool in our toolbox, but shouldn’t be the only available option for menstruators hoping to balance their cycles and tune into their bodies.” - Lulu Ge, CEO & Founder of Elix
On average, 67 percent of women currently use NSAIDs and other drugs for alleviating pain, including relief from menstrual symptoms. However, these medicines are known to have uncomfortable side effects like heartburn, digestive issues, and even ulcers. Oral contraceptive pills have also been prescribed to help with menstrual symptoms, but again, there are multiple side effects (e.g., nausea, low libidio, acne, bloating, clots, and more) that can seriously disrupt everyday life. We need more access to medicine that does not create additional, often problematic symptoms.
Herbal healing has carved out a unique niche for itself because not only has it been proven to work over thousands of years, it focuses on healing the root cause of symptoms in a natural way. In fact, herbal healing has gained more respect and traction over the years, and numerous studies back up the effectiveness of herbs in treating menstrual pain, especially cramps — the most overwhelmingly common menstrual symptom. Herbal healing can provide potent, natural pain relief that lessens reliance on drugs, minimizes side effects, and restores internal harmony.
The herbs used at Elix have been carefully researched and are clinically proven to help heal the root cause of common menstrual symptoms. Each herb is chosen to target your specific needs, addressing a diverse range of menstrual symptoms:Endometriosis, PCOS, and Fibroids.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Liem Le.
Meet our entire list of herbs here and take the Elix Health Assessment to learn what healing botanicals can help you on your menstrual wellness journey.
Dr. Liem Le is a Doctor of Chinese Medicine, Functional Medicine Practitioner, and Nutritionist Integrative Medicine Department at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. He is a part of the teaching staff for the Masters program for the Functional Medicine and Human Nutrition program at University of Western States. Dr. Le is currently working on his fellowship in Integrative Medicine with the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine via a scholarship from the White House to complete the initiative.