For women, the world of health and supplements can perhaps feel overwhelming… Every week there is a new extreme diet that nobody’s ever heard of, a new twenty step detox protocol, or a new supplement that is supposed to immediately work miracles in the body.
But if you dig past the fancy marketing, you’ll find that most health and fitness trends have something in common: they often take a harsh, intense approach to achieving very big changes in unrealistically short spans of time. Whether this means a diet where you don’t eat anything for multiple days, or a supplement with 12 different ingredients that you can’t pronounce (let alone find research about), this trendy approach of trying to rush big results at all costs can often leave you feeling worse than when you began.
That’s why if your end goal is not only achieving physical health, but consistently feeling calm, centered, and well-nourished throughout your day, I often recommend tonic herbs like Gynostemma or my mushroom extracts as a way to gently tone the body and support the mind over time. But before we even talk about herbs and supplements, I think it would be helpful to examine women’s health, and particularly the role of healthy blood, from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine. We’ll also discuss some small, often overlooked lifestyle changes that everyone can use to achieve big results.
Women’s Health - A Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective
Blood - The Foundation of Health
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, blood is of vital importance for maintaining a healthy body, as it is responsible for circulation of nutrients and for proper nourishment of the organ systems. The nutrient-content and circulation of one’s blood determines the health of the skin, eyes, nails, hair, and internal organs. Healthy blood is expressed externally in bright eyes, strong nails, hair that is full and thick, and healthy skin that isn’t dry or flakey. In just the same way that healthy blood tones and beautifies the external parts of the body, it also supports the health and function of the body’s muscles and organ systems, keeping the body moist and vital internally.
When the blood is not well nourished, individuals can develop blood deficiency, which often results in symptoms like:
- Menstrual irregularity, absence of menstrual period
- Ungrounded and excessive emotions
- Failure to heal musculo-skeletal injuries
- Vision problems
- Poor memory
- Anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue
- Numbness / coldness in the hands and feet
- Leg cramps, restless legs
- Dry skin and other skin problems
Importance of Blood for Women in Particular
Menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, and childbirth are all bodily processes unique to women. Blood is the basis that allows for all of these physiological actions to take place, and so it should come as no surprise that from a TCM perspective, women’s physiology is seen as even more dependent on healthy blood than that of men. Because of the periodic loss of blood through menstruation, it is essential that women keep the blood sufficiently nourished. In the next sections, we’ll discuss exactly how to do this.
Building Healthy Blood | Small Lifestyle Changes for a Big Difference
Incorporating Top Blood-building Foods
The best way to build the blood is by eating a diet that draws from a variety of whole foods, preferably eaten warm or hot. Insufficient protein consumption, or eating mostly cold or raw food can weaken the digestive and circulatory system over time. According to TCM, consuming adequate animal protein is one of the easiest ways to nourish the blood.***
Some of the best blood-building foods are:
- Red meats (bison, pork, lamb, beef… particularly liver or bone marrow.)
- Bone based stocks and soups
- Seafood (mackerel, tuna, sardines, oysters, seaweed, etc)
- Leafy greens
- Beets, squash, potatoes, carrots, yams, onions, mushrooms
- Cooked whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Dates, figs, blueberries, grapes, cherries, goji berries
- Fresh ginger, other spices/herbs
- Fermented, organic non-GMO soy products (tempeh, miso)
***this is not to say that it’s impossible to have healthy blood as a vegan or vegetarian… the key is still to eat adequate protein within your dietary framework and belief system.
I mentioned previously that from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, women are governed by blood, and the primary role of food is to strengthen and nourish the blood, so that it can in turn properly nourish the organ systems of the body. This is why even though intermittent fasting is all the rage, consistently eating regular meals is very important. Breakfast in particular has been shown to be critical for helping to keep your body in healthy circadian rhythms and setting the tone of the day. Eating excessive amounts, eating at irregular times, and eating too fast are all considered unfavorable habits in TCM. Do your best to eat meals with lots of whole, blood-building foods at regular intervals throughout your day.
Many people think of health food as cold, damp, and tasteless.... Something you eat out of plastic tupperware straight out of the fridge. In Chinese Medicine, this type of food is actually seen as the opposite of healthy. Over-consumption of raw food, frozen food, or pop health foods that are cold/room-temperature (salads, smoothies) can cause the blood to become malnourished over time. Most women would stand to benefit from consuming more warm and hot foods, particularly if you are struggling with poor circulation or cold hands and feet.
I mentioned earlier that eating regular meals and eating breakfast are crucial for establishing healthy circadian rhythms. Sleep also plays a huge role in this, and I believe most people would see a massive benefit if they simply went to bed and woke up around the same time each day—preferably falling asleep before 11PM and waking up before 9AM.
Tonic Herbs to Support Your Lifestyle
After you’ve incorporated the lifestyle changes above, you’ll be in a great position to benefit from the use of tonic herbs. Tonic herbs or adaptogens are herbs that, when taken regularly for long periods of time, help to balance and support the body, typically resulting in less stress, better immune defense, more energy, better digestion, improvements in mood, and much more. My top tonic herb choices for women are as follows:
Gynostemma / Jiaogulan
Gynostemma is a perfect example of how versatile adaptogens can be. If you need a mid-day or early morning boost, it can provide you the energy you need. At the same time, if you’re looking to de-stress and calm down before bed, it can help melt the anxieties of the day away. Hyperion’s Gynostemma Tea is a delicious tea you can drink daily. It contains 82-88 different adaptogenic chemicals called saponins, making it a supreme tonic similar to ginseng without breaking the bank.
Gynostemma’s benefits may include:
- A respiratory tonic
- Digestive aid
- Protection and support of the normal functioning of the liver and cardiovascular systems
- Counteracts the effects of Nuclear Factor Kappa B
- Stimulates the production of the body’s most powerful endogenous antioxidant, SOD or Super Oxide Dismutase.
- Easy to use and tastes great
Medicinal Mushroom Extracts
Medicinal mushroom extracts have a gentle effect on the body and over time they open the door to a lot of healing. These are mushrooms like Chaga, Lion’s Mane, Reishi, and Cordyceps. You can’t go wrong choosing any of them, but the benefits they each offer are slightly different. In general, Chaga is the best-tolerated and most gentle, and likely provides the best immune and detox benefits. Lion’s Mane’s claim to fame is its rejuvenating effects on the nervous system and brain. Reishi is centering and has a noticeably calming effect on the mind and body. Cordyceps boosts energy without being overstimulating, and is an amazing athletic tonic. For more information on these benefits, here’s a video I made on the differences between my medicinal mushrooms.
Even though the health world can be overwhelming with all of its extreme diet and lifestyle advice, making small changes like eating regular, warm meals, sleeping well, and incorporating healthy herbs on a daily basis, can bring massive change into your life in a way that is healthy, balanced, and enjoyable.