Winter & Your Period: According to Chinese Medicine

Essential Takeaways: 

  • It's not uncommon to notice changes to your menstrual cycle or menstrual symptoms in winter. Many Elix community members report increased period pain, longer cycles, and more severe PMS during winter months. 
  • Less daylight, cold weather, weakened immunity, and stress are winter-related factors that are known to affect menstrual cycles in both Western and Eastern medicine. 
  • Winter doesn't have to mean worse symptoms. Cycle Balance and the Elix Wellness Line are simple and effective ways to support your reproductive system, immune system, and whole-body health in every season. 

Does your period seem to worsen in winter? You’re not imagining it – and you’re not alone! So many of you in the Elix community have shared that your worst periods tend to happen in the colder winter months.

So, what’s with winter? According to both TCM and biomedicine, winter does affect the frequency and severity of cycle-related symptoms. Let’s find out how, and what you can do to restore your period comfort (and joy).

How Does Winter Affect Your Period? 

From colds and flu to the winter blues, winter is blamed for a whole host of health issues. But until recently, menstrual symptoms weren’t on that list. Still, many of us experience significant changes in our cycles when the temperature drops. What’s the difference?

1. Less daylight leads to longer cycles 

Did you know that your circadian rhythm has an impact on your hormone balance, and therefore the length of your period? Studies show that increased exposure to sunlight leads to an increase in follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), the hormone that prepares the egg to be released during ovulation. The higher levels of FSH lead to faster egg development, fewer days to reach ovulation, and therefore a shorter cycle overall. In winter this reverses; less daylight leads to slower ovulation and lengthened cycles.

2. Weakened immunity affects the uterine lining

No matter how robust your immune system is, winter can leave you feeling vulnerable. Drops in temperature, extreme weather, increased stress, and less access to vitamin D all take a toll on our immune systems. Getting sick can impact your menstrual cycle, as your body focuses all its resources on helping you recover.

More specifically, a weak immune system can affect your uterus as the endometrium (uterine lining) is an immune-responsive tissue. When your immune system is weakened or in high-alert mode, it can cause changes in the endometrium such as unexpected spotting, changes in blood quantity, or changes in your cycle length.

 3. Increased stress can cause hormone imbalances

Let’s face it – winter can be a tough time for some of us. With the holidays, end-of-year hustle, New Year pressures, and seasonal mood changes, stress can be hard to escape. Unfortunately, these high stress levels signal to the body that now is not the best time to reproduce. As a result, the brain stops producing hormones that promote ovulation (FSH and LH). Ovulation is delayed, and our cycles slow (or stop completely). And as with all hormone imbalances, we are more likely to experience an increase in cycle-related symptoms

 4. Lack of vitamin D leads to increased PMS

Not only does a lack of sunshine and time in the great outdoors make us feel less cheery, but it could also lead to vitamin D deficiency. As vitamin D drops, we are more likely to struggle with mood balance. Less circulating vitamin D also means we store less calcium – a necessary mineral for fighting PMS symptoms like fatigue, appetite changes, and depression.

Winter & Your Period: A TCM Perspective 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), your local environment and seasonal changes can have a significant impact on your health. For true menstrual and whole-body wellness, living in tune with the seasons (and their transitions) is step one. 

That being said, winter is not the same everywhere! We all experience different winters based on where we are located and our personal body constitutions. Adjust your diet and lifestyle habits to what winter is like where you live. For our purposes, we’ll consider winter in places where there is a distinct seasonal shift. 

In TCM, winter is seen as cold, dark, and yin. It is a time to rest from the previous year and restore our energy in preparation for the active spring ahead. 

There are a few concepts in TCM that can help explain why we notice changes in our cycles during winter:

 1. Cold 

Whether you love or loathe winter weather, TCM sees extreme cold as a cause of imbalance. The frigid air doesn’t just chill your outsides; it can impact your internal body, too. In the body, cold constricts the blood vessels and slows circulation. The result? Increased period pain, thicker clots, and longer menstrual cycles.

2. Yin

Everything is a balance (or imbalance) of yin and yang. While yang is hot, active, and light, yin is dark, still, and heavy. In winter, we are in the most yin time of year – a time when rest, quiet, and introspection are favored over long days of energetic activity. In our modern lives, however, winter can be just as boisterous and busy as any other time of year. When we don’t slow down to adapt to this yin energy of the season, we risk “burning” out. And with that comes an increase in stress, anxiety, mood swings, fatigue, and irregular menstrual cycles.

3. The kidney system

Each season in TCM has a corresponding organ system. Beyond just the organ itself, TCM systems also include other related organs, energetic channels, senses, emotions, and more.

Winter’s main organ system is the Kidney. The Kidney controls urinary functions just as it does in Western medicine. But in TCM, the Kidney also manages things like stress resilience, energy, the lower back, hormone balance, and fertility. The Kidney is particularly vulnerable to imbalances in winter, making menstrual irregularities, low back pain, exhaustion, and anxiety more common.

4. The winter phase 

TCM sees almost every aspect of life as transitional, just like the seasons. From the cycle of the day to the cycle of our lifetime, there is a distinct spring, summer, autumn, and winter to experience. Even our menstrual cycles have a “winter” phase: your bleeding days. During winter, it is even more important to rest and nurture yourself while on your period. Take this time to connect with your body and the yin energy of the season and your own body.

Meet the TCM Herbs for Winter

 There are many different Chinese herbs and formulas for winter wellness, but a few key players take center stage. Here are some of the most treasured herbs to support immunity and menstrual health in winter:

  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon bark, or Rou Gui, is a warming herb that disperses cold, warms the body, and unblocks areas of blood and qi stagnation. It’s a powerful natural pain reliever, especially for menstrual cramps triggered by the cold of winter.
  • Red Ginseng: Also called Red Shen or Hong Shen, this herb is a deeply tonifying and adaptogenic herb. It is best known for improving energy levels, but it can also calm the mind to ease PMS mood swings and stress. Red Ginseng is steamed prior to drying, giving it even more nourishing and warming properties to support us in winter.
  • Safflower: This vibrantly beautiful flower is also known as Hong Hua in Chinese medicine. Safflower is one of the key herbs used in many TCM formulas to regulate the menstrual cycle, encourage blood flow, and alleviate period pain. It can be particularly helpful to boost circulation due to cold or blood stasis.
  • Ginger: More than just a warming spice, ginger is a commonly used herb in both Chinese herbal formulas and TCM dietary therapy. It contains powerful antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that support your body’s natural immune response. The dried form of ginger (Gan Jiang) is particularly warming and helps alleviate pain, bloating, and chills.

Winter Wellness Tips for a Healthier Period

Cold weather, lack of sunshine, stress…Eastern and Western medicine agree that these winter challenges affect our menstrual cycles. So what can you do to restore the balance?

1. Find your Cycle Balance 

The key to improving your menstrual health in any season is tailored, targeted support. Whether you want to address seasonal symptoms or simply want to support your body naturally, clinically-proven Cycle Balance can help.

Cycle Balance starts with listening to your body. After completing a health assessment to capture the bigger picture of your mind-body-menstrual health, your personalized Cycle Balance formula uses the power of medicinal herbs to support your menstrual symptoms by treating underlying imbalances. Depending on your results and constitution, you may even find some of the winter wellness herbs above in your unique Cycle Balance formula!

Click here to take the Health Assessment and discover your Cycle Balance.

2. Eat for the season

Cold foods and beverages can trigger menstrual symptoms, just like cold weather can. Avoid eating too many cold, frozen, or raw foods as these will transfer cold from the digestive system to your reproductive system. Instead, nourish your body with warming foods (like soup and congees) and teas throughout the colder months to ward against internal cold and keep your body warm.  

 But it’s not just about the temperature or nature of the food you eat. It’s also important to eat a well-rounded diet to get all the vitamins and minerals your reproductive and immune systems need in winter. 

 For example, boosting your meals with vitamin C-rich foods can help support a healthy immune system and more comfortable periods. Add foods like sweet red peppers, kiwi, citrus fruits, broccoli, and tomatoes to your daily diet.

 Need some kitchen inspo? Our Immunity Boosting Chicken Chickpea Noodle Soup is an Elix team favorite for a go-to winter recipe. Not only is it delicious, but it enhances immunity and warms you up from the inside out. 

 You can also celebrate the season with an Antioxidant-Rich Beet Mocktail or Adaptogenic Citrus Cardamom Sparkler. Or cozy up with an Adaptogenic Hot Chocolate or Pumpkin Spiced Sweet Potato Latte.

3. Try a warm compress

Belly pain, begone! A warming compress is a relaxing way to banish cramping, abdominal pain, and digestive distress during your period. If you struggle with period pain, you may already be reaching for a hot water bottle or heating pad a few days of the month. But if you want to take it to the next level, consider a castor oil compress.

Castor oil compresses, or “packs,” offer a warm and relaxing way to encourage blood circulation through the lower abdomen. Studies suggest that they may also improve digestion and relieve uterine pain.

Heads up, these packs are notoriously messy. Wear clothes and use towels that you don’t mind getting oily while you enjoy your compress.

4. De-stress with yin activities 

While you may not be able to completely hibernate in winter, this is a time to enjoy more restful activities. Yes, that’s permission to sleep in (a little)!

Aside from obvious rest, enjoy other activities that are on the gentle, introspective, or quiet side. Trade a few HIIT classes for yin yoga, swap doom scrolling with journaling and end your day with meditation. This not only helps your body tune into the yin energy of winter but helps relieve the stress and anxiety that contribute to PMS.

5. Boost your overall health with the Elix Wellness Line

When your body is in balance, your menstrual health will follow suit. Ensure that you’re functioning well on all levels with the Elix Wellness Line:

  • Daily Harmony: Get the support you need to feel your best every day with Daily Harmony – a clinical-strength, organic blend of hormone-balancing TCM herbs and adaptogens. While this formula is a great choice for anyone, it will be particularly helpful if your menstrual (or other health) symptoms worsen when you’re feeling overwhelmed. That’s because herbs in this formula (like astragalus, atractylodes, and Reishi) work to reduce the negative effects of stress and anxiety, which often lie at the root of these symptoms.
  • Ginger Aide: A potent dose of organic ginger is just what the doctor ordered for cold winter days. While you may know to take ginger for an upset stomach, Chinese medicine uses it for a wide range of conditions. Ginger, or gan jiang, is often used to warm the body to address cold-related pain (like period cramps) and improve immunity. Ginger Aide concentrates the many benefits of ginger into a powerful preventative daily tonic.
  • Get Well: Get Well is your rescue remedy when those early signs of a cold or flu set in. In this formula, you’ll find warming ginger and cinnamon to boost your immunity and energy, while herbs like skullcap and mint help fight inflammation so you can feel better faster.
  • Stay Well: Feeling good and want to stay that way? Stay Well is a daily tonic formula that supports your health on all fronts. Mint and ginger extracts offer balanced support for your everyday immune health, Astragalus helps build long-lasting resilience and energy, Chaga supports your gut health, and Reishi helps you take on each day with calm focus.

Tune into Winter for a Healthier Period

TCM teaches us that when we live in tune with the seasons, we also live in tune with our bodies. While winter may usually mark the most painful or frustrating time of year for your menstrual health, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Along with Cycle Balance, embracing winter wellness from a TCM perspective can help put you on the path to a healthier period all year long.

Clinically proven to improve period & hormone health

Your cycle is uniquely yours, and your Elix treatment is no different. All you need to do is answer a few questions to help us determine what your body needs to rebalance and heal.