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Today's women spend over one third of their lifetimes with menstrual cycles. Regular and healthy periods are what every woman seeks. In response to this perennial concern of women, gynecology and obstetrics comprise over a third of the theory and practice of traditional Chinese medicine.

Joan is a 31-year-old single mother. Her menses began at age thirteen, and she had irregular periods until she was sixteen. Recently, for eight months, her periods began to come early, eight to ten days before the expected time. She experienced heavy bleeding, with a sticky, purplish flow, clots and abdominal pain. Ten prescriptions of Clear Menses Formula with slight variations and acupuncture treatments returned Joan to normal.

Menstrual disorders are varied: olyomenorrhea, polymenorrhea, menorrhagia, metrorrhagia, hypomenorrhea, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menopause, premenstrual syndrome, breast distention, headache, mood swings, fever, diarrhea, vomiting blood, edema, dizziness during menstruation and other symptoms with menstrual cycles are common among women across cultures, across countries and across time.

What is causing my menstrual irregularities and imbalances asks the woman who suffers. Chinese medicine theory has several answers to this question, the most important of which are: emotions, diet; and imbalance or blockage of the internal organs (Zang Fu) and internal energy pathways (meridians). Each of the major internal organs is affected by a specific emotion, and each organ also controls one or more of the energy meridians. For example, the Liver is strongly affected by anger, and the Liver meridian encircles the reproductive organs. The Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of emotions and Blood in our bodies. When there is excessive anger, especially unexpressed anger, the proper functioning of the Liver is damaged. and many problems, including menstrual disorders, eating disorders, and depression can result. Worrying and excessive thinking can impair the proper functioning of the Spleen, which generates the energy (Chi) and Blood that nourish our reproductive organs. Fear is the big killer for our kidney meridian, which contains our vital essence. Vital essence is very damaging to the Kidneys, which holds our vital essence and genetic makeup. Disharmony of Kidneys, Spleen and Liver is therefore one of the key factors in menstrual dysfunction.

Unhealthy diet choices also strongly affect the reproductive system. Over-consumption of cold, raw foods and icy drinks can decrease energy flow, drain energy from the system, and over time will cause the painful blockage of energy flow and the accumulation of cold in the body. Eating a lot of hot and spicy foods, such as red meat, chocolate, coffee, fried foods, hot spices can overheat the Blood and cause the accumulation of Heat in the body. Unregulated emotions also contribute to Heat accumulation. When you look at our eating habits and stress levels in this country, it is easy to understand the prevalence of Heat and Cold pattern menstrual disorders.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the specific details of the menstrual cycle - duration, volume, appearance of flow, etc. - are only the surface phenomena. The underlying causes of menstrual disorders are dysfunction of the internal organs; disharmony of Chi, Blood and Body Fluids; imbalance of the Conception and Governing meridians; and irregularity of Kidney Essence.

In any type of menstrual disorder, blood is critical. For regulating the menstrual cycle, regulating blood is always necessary. Angelica, peony and rehmannia are medicinal plants which nourish the Blood and regulate the menstrual cycle. Angelica tops the list for gynecological problems. The "female ginseng" can tonify the female reproductive system, relieve menstrual pain, regulate the menstrual cycle, reduce premenstrual syndrome and relieve many symptoms of menopause. A research project on Angelica is under way at the University of California at Berkeley.