April 28, 2021
How Period Tracking Works (And the Chinese Medicine Perspective)
Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College (AIMC), Berkeley, recently had the amazing opportunity to learn about menstrual tracking with our student, Ally Magill! Period tracking can be an effective form of family planning as well as an important tool to discover possible health issues. If you are interested in learning more about tracking your period, Ally covers the what, why, and how of it in her presentation:
Watch Ally’s video above, or keep reading to learn key takeaways, as well as gain a Chinese medicinal perspective on it!
What is Period Tracking?
Period tracking is the process of discovering your unique ovulation cycle by keeping tabs on key indicators like body temperature, hormone levels, and menstruation. Understanding your cycle has several benefits, and is a popular birth control method or for folks who want to expand their families. During your period, your body goes through several phases that we can track.
Understanding Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
The menstrual cycle is a key component of female reproduction. For 14 to 40 days, the uterine lining builds, an egg will leave the ovary, travel through the fallopian tubes, and either become fertilized or leave the body through the vagina during menstruation.
There are three main phases of your menstrual cycle or period:
- The Follicular Phase: the time between the first day of your period and ovulation. Estrogen spikes and the body prepares for an egg to leave the ovary.
- The Ovulatory Phase: mid-cycle, LH levels peak, and an egg travels through the fallopian tubes toward the uterus. If met by a sperm during this phase, a pregnancy will most likely result.
- The Luteal Phase: progesterone levels rise to maintain the uterine lining in case of pregnancy. If pregnancy does not result, the uterine lining sheds and menstruation begins.
During these three phases, a few hormones play key roles in preparing the body for ovulation and possible pregnancy:
- Estrogen: stimulates the thickening of the uterine lining at the beginning of your cycle.
- LH (Luteinizing Hormone): signals the body to release an egg from the ovary.
- Progesterone: maintains the uterine lining if pregnancy occurs, and coincides with your body’s basal temperature.
Not everyone will experience the same hormone levels at the same time during their cycles. This is because everyone’s body passes through these three phases at its own pace. Some women may find they have a shorter or longer follicular phase, or an early or late ovulation.
Differing from the average cycle is perfectly normal, but if you have concerns about possible underlying health issues, ask a medical professional. At AIMC, we currently offer free telehealth appointments where you can get medical advice and herbal prescriptions tailored to you!
Why Track Your Cycle?
Because every person’s period is different, tracking your cycle specifically is an important way to understand your body. We recommend tracking your cycle for several reasons:
- Self-Knowledge and Autonomy
- Natural Family Planning
- Increasing Fertility
- Birth Control
- Diagnosis and Tracking of Western and Eastern Health Concerns
Knowing what is regular for your body can give you powerful self-knowledge and autonomy. If something changes, you will be aware and able to seek medical advice quickly and efficiently.
When it comes to natural family planning, tracking your cycle is much more accurate than relying on the rhythm method. The rhythm method uses cycle start and end dates to estimate ovulation based on the average period. However, if you ovulate earlier or later than the average, the rhythm method may prove itself ineffective. Whether your goal is to increase or decrease your chances of pregnancy, we recommend tracking your period in full.
Irregularities in your period can also alert you to possible health concerns. For example, LH typically peaks once in your cycle. If you find your LH peaking multiple times, this could be an indicator of Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
Tracking your period can alert you to both Western and Eastern health concerns. At AIMC, you may find your practitioner asking you about your period to understand what patterns are presenting from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective. Here are just a few health concerns tracking your period may help diagnose:
|Western Health Concerns||Eastern Health Concerns|
|Blood Disorder||Qi Stagnation|
|Hypothalamic Issues||Yin Deficiency|
|Thyroid Issues||Yang Deficiency|
|Pituitary Issues||Blood Deficiency|
Now that we understand what period tracking is and why it’s a good idea, let’s move on to understanding how to track it accurately.
How to Accurately Track Your Cycle
Tracking your cycle accurately involves much more than just the start and end dates of your periods, although that is a good start. In order to get a good view of how your cycle operates, we can track:
- Basal Body Temperature
- Cervical Fluid/ Mucus
- Cervical Position
- LH Levels
- Mood and Energy Levels
- Menstrual Flow (Length, Color, Consistency)
You can track these important factors manually or with an app. Just be sure to find what works for you and stay consistent. If you use an app, try to find one that allows you to track more than just the start and end dates of your periods. Otherwise, they are just guessing based on the rhythm method. You can find reviews of different period-tracking apps on this website.
Basal Body Temperature
To check your basal body temperature, use a thermometer that goes at least to the tenths (98.6) and take your temperature five days a week when you wake up. Be sure to use the same thermometer and check at approximately the same time each day. Alcohol, illness, time of day, and differing thermometers can all cause your temperature to change.
The important thing here is not necessarily to get an exact temperature read but to see how temperature changes. Your basal body temperature coincides with progesterone levels in the body, which can help us understand when your cycle is in the luteal phase.
If you have an inconsistent sleep schedule and find it difficult to check your temperature at the same time each day, you can use the Tempdrop thermometer. This thermometer can be worn on the arm and will track your temperature changes throughout each day to give you an accurate reading of your body’s temperature patterns.
Cervical Fluid/ Mucus
Cervical fluid presents differently at different parts of your period. Sometimes it may be more sticky or wet, cloudy or clear. To check your cervical fluid, insert a finger vaginally to swab the cervix (the cervix feels similar to the tip of your nose). Make note of whether the fluid on your finger is dry, wet, sticky, cloudy, clear, or other. This information can help your practitioner understand what is happening in your body and what remedies may help increase fertility.
Your cervix will change positions throughout your menstrual cycle. Sometimes it will be higher and sometimes it will be lower. You can check your cervical position by inserting a finger vaginally until it reaches the cervix and making note of how far your finger is inserted. You can use your knuckles for reference points.
LH levels will tell us when your body ovulates. You can buy test strips to check your LH levels daily. Take a picture of the strip results immediately after they develop, and save these pictures somewhere you can reference. Strips can change color over time, and taking a photo will help your tracking be more accurate. The more faded the strip, the lower your LH levels are.
Mood and Energy Levels
It is completely normal for your mood and energy levels to change depending on where you are in your cycle. If you find you are especially tired one day, or feeling energized and ready to go the next, make note of this. Understanding how your moods develop can help your practitioner find patterns and make prescriptions that can help.
Menstrual Flow (Length, Color, Consistency)
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If you’ve ever wondered why your practitioner asks about the color or consistency of your menstruation, it’s because these signs can reveal possible health concerns. Dark red flow can indicate qi stagnation, and bright red may indicate heat or a high basal body temperature. Try to make notes of what you notice about your flow so you can pass these helpful clues along to your practitioner.
Chinese Medicine and Your Menstrual Cycle
Your Chinese Medicine practitioner can take all of this information into account when they design a treatment plan that is customized for you. Key aspects of the menstrual cycle provide special insights into what’s going on with the yin & yang of the body and the “5 vital substances”:
Ordinarily, your practitioner is relying on their skills of observation of your tongue, the feel of your pulse, and the thoroughness of their intake to craft a diagnosis of the “patterns of disharmony” you’re experiencing. For people who menstruate, the data they can gather about the menstrual cycle provides depth, verification, and nuance to this diagnosis and the treatment plan.
Your practitioner may prescribe different herbal medicine formulas for the luteal and follicular phases of your cycle, or employ different acupuncture techniques & points during the different phases of the cycle. The general rule is to tonify & nourish qi and blood during the first half of the cycle, and to move and build qi & yang during the second half of the cycle. When we know specific details about your cycle, we can be even more accurate in our individual treatments for you.
If you’re seeking acupuncture or herbal medicine for menstrual support, there are some things to keep in mind: as a rule, hormonal cycles like those that guide your menses can take about 3 months to profoundly shift—but many folks experience relief from menstrual symptoms as soon as they start treatment! Like going to the gym or sleeping, acupuncture & herbal medicine have the best effects when done regularly as part of a self-care routine. The best time to prevent PMS and cramps is several months before they happen, the second best time is the week before, and the third best is as they’re already happening! Chinese medicine can provide relief and support in all of these scenarios, so be sure to try it for yourself.
Book Your Telehealth Appointment
If keeping track and making sense of all these important indicators by yourself feels overwhelming, feel free to book a telehealth appointment in our clinic! Our practitioners can help you understand what is most important for you to track and what your results mean. They can also create tailor-made herbal medicine prescriptions based on your presentation, or recommend other remedies. Our school is offering free telehealth appointments and you can book your appointment here.
Study at AIMC
Are you interested in promoting health and wellness through becoming a licensed acupuncturist or herbalist? At Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College (AIMC), Berkeley, we offer a unique opportunity to integrate the best of both Eastern and Western medicines.
We teach our students to prioritize a holistic view of health rather than prescribing route medicines based solely on symptoms. We offer both a master’s and a doctorate program to prepare you to enter the world of Chinese Medicine and begin your practice.
If you’re interested in learning more about our school, contact us online or call our admissions team at 510.224.3178. We also offer small group informational sessions you can join regularly. We can’t wait to meet you and help you master the art of integrative medicine!
Excellent article! Look forward to more.
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