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Progesterone: strengthening your digestive fire benefits your hormones

Have a feel of your lower abdomen, does it feel cool to touch?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine a Cold Uterus is a common cause of reduced fertility.

From the Western Medicine understanding a Cold Uterus can be associated with low progesterone levels – the warming energies of the body are insufficient to activate ovulation, to support healthy Qi and Blood flow through the pelvis and to ignite the spark of life of early pregnancy.

Your basal body temperature (BBT) should rise almost 1 degree in the luteal phase (second half) of the menstrual cycle due to progesterone. Progesterone is the hormone produced by the ovaries after ovulation and the purpose of this hormone is to support early pregnancy. High progesterone levels cause the body temperature to rise, whereas a low basal body temperature indicates low progesterone, and corresponding issues with ovulation and fertility.

If you’ve been diagnosed with insufficient progesterone or low thyroid function, or luteal phase defect, polycystic ovaries or endometriosis,  or maybe you’re having unexplained fertility issues and you have a cold nose, or cold hands and feet, poor circulation and metabolism/weight issues, you may benefit from understanding the TCM concept of Cold Uterus.

If so, read on… 

I’m going to share how you can use TCM Diet Therapy principles to improve your hormonal health by strengthening your digestive fire.

What causes a Cold Uterus?

There are many causes of a Cold Uterus, but a common one in Australia is Winter sport.

It’s normal in our culture for girls and women to play Winter sports during menstruation. When a woman has her period her body is considered ‘open’; she’s losing blood and according to TCM women should take a break from excessive activity to rest and conserve (sounds good). When women play sport on chill winter days – wearing little more than a bathing suit – pathogenic Cold easily enters the body via the meridians in the legs and settles into the uterus, especially during menstruation.

The nature of Cold is to constrict: Cold slows down the blood circulation causing pelvic congestion. Many teenage girls experience this as painful periods, or it may not be a problem until years later when thinking about pregnancy and fertility issues are discovered.

So what’s this got to do with diet?

A second most common cause of Cold Uterus is diet.

Cold can be introduced into the body from the food and drink you consume. When you choose cold, raw or iced food and drink into your body it has the same effect as a Winter day – the nature of cold is constriction, slowing down circulation and metabolism.

The digestive process can be likened to a fire: healthy digestive function depends on the warming metabolic functions of the body’s Yang Qi (energy). Yang being the warming, activating and transforming energies of the body as opposed to the Yin cooling, moistening and nutritive substances. This makes sense if you think about the terms used to describe metabolism: you burn calories.

Qi (chee) is often translated as ‘energy’. Qi can be thought of as the motive force at the root of every cellular interaction, the energy that drives metabolic functions, that moves the circulation and that promotes the transformation of one substance into another. Qi is the ‘life force’: it animates every physiological function.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine Diet Therapy, the Spleen-Stomach (which includes the pancreas) is the organ system responsible for transforming the food you eat into Qi (energy) and Blood and transporting this energy to be used throughout the body. Good digestion occurs when the Spleen-Stomach Qi can extract the pure substances of food AND can also expel as waste any elements that are not useful.

Because the digestion is the major source of Qi and Qi is the warming, transforming fire energy of metabolism, the Spleen-Stomach System is considered responsible for producing certain hormones, such as thyroid hormone and progesterone that correlate to basal body temperature, as well as for aspects of the circulatory and immune systems that depend on warmth and movement.

Therefore the Spleen-Stomach System plays an important role in the Luteal Phase of the menstrual cycle. This is the 14-day period after ovulation where the corpus luteum releases progesterone. Progesterone raises the body temperature, a bit like an incubator, in order to prepare the endometrial lining of the uterus for the implantation of the fertilized egg.

Likewise, the thyroid hormone regulates metabolism. The chemical reactions of every physiological process within the body need to occur at a certain temperature. If basal body temperature is too low, then metabolism slows down, if basal body temperature is too high, then metabolism may be too fast. To visualize this imagine a pot of water. If you put the water over a high flame (Heat), the water speeds up and starts to bubble vigorously. If you put the water into the fridge (Cold) the water molecules slow down and there is little movement.

Warming and supplementing Spleen-Stomach Qi is considered key to regulating the production of progesterone and thyroid hormones, as well as avoiding introducing Cold into the body.

For these reasons, Yang Qi Deficiency is a very common cause of Cold Uterus and other fertility issues linked to poor circulation through the pelvis.

If your digestive fire is weak, you may already know it.

You might experience food sensitivities, bloating, loose stools, and feel tired and lethargic. You might find it hard to bounce out of bed in the morning and tend to reach for coffee or crave sugar to give you an energy hit to get through the day. Inadequate absorption of nutrients can be a cause fertility issues, especially Zinc, Magnesium and B Vitamins. Poor metabolism leads to inadequate elimination of waste products creating mucus and congestion, referred to as Damp, leading to problems such as cysts or congested fallopian tubes and ‘sticky’ discharges.

Other common digestive imbalances caused by Spleen Qi deficiency include irritable bowel syndrome, anaemia, blood sugar imbalances, candida, nervous indigestion, chronic diarrhea, weight problems, and pain or bloating in the upper abdomen.

Strengthening your digestive fire will be beneficial for your fertile health.

 


Insight without action is useless…

The cardinal rule for strengthening digestive fire is to avoid all cold, raw and frozen/refrigerated food and drink. Re-think that iced drink! 

(Yes, those raw diets that are so popular by Western health gurus are not suited to all body types! Raw diets are very cleansing and purging – suitable for people who are Hot and Excessive but will damage the Yang Qi over time and not suitable for people who are Cold and Deficient)

Choose food that are warming, nourishing and easily digested. Foods that are slow cooked such as soups, risottos and stews are considered particularly beneficial.

 

Harira | Yang Warming Soup

The following soup is an example to give you an idea of food for warming the Yang energies of the body. Packed full of warming spices, slow cooked and with small, easily digested pieces of lamb that warm and fortify the body. The celery is also good for draining Damp (excess fluids). Enjoy!

500g boned lamb

2 tblspn olive oil

1 large brown onion, chopped

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tblsn ground cumin

1 tspn ground cinnamon

2 tspn ground coriander

6 saffron threads

3 celery sticks, chopped

800g tinned tomatoes*

2.5 litres water

1/2 cup of brown lentils*

1/2 cup of chickpeas*

1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped.

*To save time, I use tinned tomatoes, lentils and chickpeas but you can modify and use fresh tomato and dried pulses.

This recipe is even better prepared the day before so the flavours have time to develop.

Cut lamb into 2 cm cubes. Heat oil in large saucepan, cook onion, stirring until soft. Add spices; cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add lamb and celery; cook, stirring until lamb is coated in spice mixture. Add tomato, cook 10 minutes on low, stirring occasionally. Stir in water. Bring to boil. Simmer, covered about 1 1/2 hours or until lamb is tender. Stir in drained lentils and chickpeas. Cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

Just before serving, stir in fresh coriander. Enjoy!

For more information on Traditional Chinese Medicine Diet Therapy or to find out how Chinese Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture can be used to benefit your hormones, contact me.

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