In last week’s blog and podcast, I gave you a whistlestop tour of how root cause medicine is such an elegant way to address menstrual cycle issues. In this week’s blog, I’m going to explore the other side of the coin; the energetic system called vitalism. Combining root cause medicine with vitalism has become a hallmark of how I treat menstrual cycle issues.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll have heard me say many a time that a healthy menstrual cycle is a byproduct of good health. It cannot be seen isolated from the rest of your health nor your constitution.
Vitalism goes beyond “this herb or this drug for that disease”. It looks at your constitution as a whole and what your current imbalances are. Using the concept and language of the six tissue states provides an elemental language that we can use to understand the common threads between your body and your menstrual cycle. The language of nature is always the easiest to understand!
Vitalism uses lifestyle changes, food and plant medicines to help that energetic imbalance come back into alignment. In today’s blog post, I would love to show you how vitalism is such a powerful system to treat menstrual cycle issues and give you clues as to what your unique constitution may be.
Vitalism & The 6 Tissues States
Excitation // Irritation
Excitation-irritation is the tissue state associated with the fire element. In Ayurveda, it’s equal to excess pitta, and in Chinese Medicine, it’s Yang excess.
It’s a state where there’s an exaggeration of function and overstimulation resulting in irritability, excess inflammation, allergic responses and autoimmunity.
It can be a common byproduct of being in stress overdrive before exhaustion. Menstrual cycle patterns of disharmony include:
- Premenstrual anxiety and irritability
- Having menstrual migraines and headaches that benefit from anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen)
- Premenstrual diarrhea
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Sharp shooting menstrual pain that is better for cold packs (vs a hot water bottle)
- Bright red menstrual blood
These heat signs indicate remedies to help recorrect these imbalances are cooling, anti-inflammatory plants.
Coolants & Anti-Inflammatories
Emphasise sour and bitter flavour.
- Nervines: Rose, Lemon balm, Passiflora, Hops, St John’s Wort, Chamomile, Lavender, Vervain
- Circulation: Yarrow, Linden
- Adaptogens: Withania, Shatavari, Reishi
- Uterine & Ovarian Tonics: Raspberry, Motherwort, Paeony
- Anodynes: Pulsatilla, Jamaican Dogwood, Feverfew, Poppies (Corydalis, Californian Poppy)
Cold // Depression
The opposite of excitation-irritation is cold-depression; a deficiency of fire that’s associated with the earth element. In Ayurveda this is excess Kapha; and in Traditional Chinese medicine, it’s s Yang deficiency.
Cold-depression represents under stimulation within the body, which can lead to feeling slow and sluggish. Symptoms of cold and depression are constipation, skin blemishes, infections that linger, gut imbalances, fatigue, exhaustion, poor circulation, hypothyroidism, depression, low mood and brain fog.
In the menstrual cycle this imbalance can show up as:
- Thick, oozing, dark or clotted blood
- Cold-depression imbalance is also associated with no periods
- Dull, dragging, aching pain that
- Increased sluggishness and sleepiness around menstruation
- Emotions of depression
- Increased fatigue and lethargy
The types of plants and foods, we want are warming, stimulating and aromatic. We want to wake up the vital force of the body and help circulate it around the body. Besides herbal medicines, eating more warming foods, and getting into an exercise routine to stoke the energy in the body is essential.
Circulatory Stimulants, Diffusives & Aromatics
*Aromatics & Volatile Oils Pungent. Aromatic bitters. *
- Circulation: Juniper. Rosemary Cayenne. Prickly Ash. Pepper. Turmeric. Ginger. Cinnamon. Cardamom. Garlic. Anise seed.
- Reproductive: Sage, Artemisias, Dong Quai, Vitex, Blue cohosh. Southernwood, Cinnamon, Damiana, Ginger.
- Immune system: Rosemary, Sage, Echinacea, Calendula, Garlic, Ginger, Thuja, Pine
- GI: Fennel, Angelica, Inula, Artemisias. Mugwort, Bitter orange. Calamus.
Tension // Constriction
Tension-constriction is associated with the ether element: when there is a lack of space in the body. n Ayurveda this is excess Vata and in traditional Chinese medicine is seen as qi deficiency.
The best way to understand the tension-constriction tissue state is what is classically called “nerves”. It’s when the nervous system has been on overdrive for an extended period of time, and the depletion is showing up in the body as everything contracting. An imbalance of the tension tissue state isn’t only physical tension; it includes psychological tension too.
Hallmarks of tension-constriction are bloating and flatulence but relieved after passing gas, spasms, cramping that has a sudden onset and changes quickly, and alternating diarrhea and constipation.
Tip: If you go to a mirror and stick your tongue out and notice that it quivers, this is a sign that this tissue state is likely out of balance for you.
In the menstrual cycle, tension constricts of the uterine muscle, which prevents proper and easy blood flow. This can show up in your body as:
- Menstrual cramping that is spasmodic and comes in waves
- Having a referral of pain throughout the back legs and muscles
- Blood is slow to come and lasts a long time
- Spotting before or after your flow.
Balancing Herbes and practices for excess tension are relaxing and antispasmodic.
Relaxants & Antispasmodics
Emphasise acrid flavour.
- Nervous system: Catnip, Kava kava
- Reproductive system: Wild yam, Black cohosh. Black haw, Cramp bark, Paeony, Peppermint – cold then hot.
- Muscles (smooth & skeletal): Wild yam, Valerian, Black cohosh, Cramp bark, Lobelia, Withania
- GI: Agrimony, Wild yam, Chelidonium. Blue flag. Peppermint – cold then hot.
It’s essential to look at any electrolyte imbalances here also; the biggest one being magnesium and calcium. Taking a high-quality magnesium supplement can be useful to re-correct this disharmony.
Damp // Relaxation
The damp-relaxation state is where there isn’t enough tone in the body. Excess dampness or relaxation within the tissues can lead to weakness and a state of prolapse in the body.
It can be excess loss of fluids of any kind, and it’s a state that needs electrolytes and astringents. Symptoms that point to an imbalance of damp-relaxation include frequent urination, excess sweating, multiple bowel movements a day that is loose and prolapsed tissues.
In the menstrual cycle, dampness shows up as:
- A long or heavy flow
- Night sweats
- Blood that is pale and mucousy
- Tension-pain can be due to loss of electrolytes.
To balance damp-relaxation, we need to use astringents and tension and constriction make sure that you have enough electrolytes on board for nerve and muscle functioning.
Astringent Flavour. Tannin rich herbs.
- Cooling: Lady’s mantle, Raspberry
- Neutral: Yarrow, Mitchella
- Warming: Cinnamon, Shepherd’s purse, Tienchi ginseng, Trillium
Dry // Atrophy
Dry-atrophy is the state of imbalance of the air element. In Ayurveda, this is seen as excess Vata, and in Chinese Medicine, it’s Yin Deficiency.
Dry-atrophy can be a result of prolonged tension or nervous exhaustion. There is a state of undernourishment or poor assimilation; it’s connected to gut imbalances, food triggers and nutrient insufficiencies in the root cause model. Symptoms of dry-atrophy can be skin conditions that are dry in nature, such as eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and cracked lips.
In the menstrual cycle, there can be:
- Scanty flow that is dark
- Increased constipation before or at the beginning of menstruation
- If you track your fertile signs, you may note that not experiencing many days of fertile mucus.
To bring balance, it’s vital to nourish and hydrate! Getting good quality nutritional oils in every meal, ensuring excellent quality water, including herbs in your self-care routine that are rich in soothing and nutritive qualities.
Nutritive & Tonics
Mucilage and emollient containing herbs. Sweet flavour.
- Nervous system: Withania, Oats, Shatavari
- Reproductive system: Dong Quai, False unicorn root, Licorice. Shatavari, Mitchella, Tribulus, Fenugreek, Rehmannia
- Skin: Burdock, Oregon Grape root, Flax/Hemp/Fish oils, Marshmallow
- Immune: Rehmannia, Codonopsis, Licorice, Withania, Astragalus
- Nutritive: Seaweed, Alfalfa, Red clover
Damp // Stagnation
Damp-stagnation is the tissue state of excess water that is unable to flow easily around the body. It’s known as the hangover state, and it’s feeling of sluggishness hallmarks it. In Ayurveda, this is excess Kapha, and in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s damp retention and yin excess.
This type of stagnation occurs when the excess fluid has collected inside the tissues and has not been properly eliminated. In our root cause model, it’s linked with toxin overload. Your elimination channels include your liver, skin, bowels, urinary system, lungs and lymph – and in damp-stagnation, these organs are not processing wastes smoothly.
Signs that this state is out of balance is a feeling of dullness, excess mucus and swollen glands. You may also be experiencing digestive imbalances, chronic skin eruptions, such as acne or eczema, low immune resistance, and taking a long time to recover.
In the menstrual cycle, there can be:
- Estrogen dominance picture
- Heavy menstrual flow that is clotty and dark
- Premenstrual acne flare-ups
- Uterine fibroids
- Significant water retention premenstrually
- Menstrual pain that is achy and dull.
Rebalancing a damp-stagnation state requires prioritising foods that support detoxification and using herbs that support channels of elimination (these are called alteratives).
Foods that Support Detoxification:
- Reduce your exposure to plastics
- Replace all body and household products with natural alternatives
- Eat 1–2 tablespoons of flaxseeds daily
- Incorporate turmeric in your drinks and cooking
- Love up on broccoli family veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage
- Eat only whole, organic, non-GMO soy products in traditional forms, such as boiled edamame, tofu, tempeh and miso
- Enjoy dandelion root coffees
- Have only two to four alcoholic drinks a week.
- Drying: Dandelion, Nettle, Calendula,
- Moistening: Burdock Kelp, Oregon Grape, Red clover, Violet
- Neutral: Figwort, Schisandra, Milk thistle
- Cooling: Yellow dock (damp heat), Clivers, Blue flag, Echinacea, Chickweed, Poke Root
- Warming: Garlic, Fenugreek, Calendula
A Healing Trininy: Vitalism + Root Cause Medicine + Fertility Awareness Charting
Combining vitalism + root cause medicine + fertility awareness charting = powerful triad for tending to your menstrual health.
These tradition systems of healing and body awareness provide you with an intuitive language…the language of nature.
If you’d like to explore the phases of your menstrual cycle, please download my free ebook and charting resources. And if you want to dive deeper into root cause medicine and vitalism, please join my Moon School course, which is opening soon. Learn more over here!
Resources & References:
Bergner, P., Hufford, D., & DerMarderosian, A. (1998). Country doctor’s book of folk remedies & healing wisdom. Publications International.
Michael Moore—SW School of Botanical Medicine Home Page. (n.d.). Retrieved June 25, 2019, from http://www.swsbm.com/HOMEPAGE/HomePage.html
Popham, S. (2019). Evolutionary herbalism: Science, spirituality, and medicine from the heart of nature. North Atlantic Books.
School of Evolutionary Herbalism. (n.d.). Retrieved June 25, 2019, from https://www.evolutionaryherbalism.com/
Van der Zee, B. (1997). Green pharmacy: The history and evolution of western herbal medicine. Healing Arts Press.
Wood, M. (2004). The practice of traditional western herbalism: Basic doctrine, energetics, and classification. North Atlantic Books.
Wood, M. (2008). The earthwise herbal: A complete guide to Old World medicinal plants. North Atlantic Books.
Wood, M., & Ryan, D. (2016). The earthwise herbal repertory: The definitive practitioner’s guide. North Atlantic Books.
Wood, M., & Wood, M. (2000). Vitalism: The history of herbalism, homeopathy, and flower essences (2nd ed.). North Atlantic Books.