There’s a saying in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that I like and is fundamental to how the medicine works:
“Many Diseases, one pattern. One pattern, many diseases”
What this means is that several people might come in with the same western medical diagnosis, but the underlying pattern is actually different for each person. Which means, you have to treat each person uniquely even if they have the same western diagnosis label. Conversely, several people can come in with vastly different western diagnosis (high blood pressure, endometriosis, PCOS, breast cancer etc.) but their underlying pattern or root pattern is actually very similar. Therefore points used or some dietary suggestion might be quite similar for them.
This might sound strange, a bit absurd to some, but when you actually break symptoms down and look at the body as a whole (and apply it to the patterns of TCM that evolved over thousands of years of observational medicine), it makes a lot of sense.
We look at every aspect of the person in order to get a deeper understanding of what is off balance. From body temperature (are you hot all the time, does it come in waves of heat, are you cold or just have cold hands and feet, do you get night sweats but are ok in the day), your sleep patterns (waking early, having trouble falling asleep or waking to go to the bathroom throughout the night are all different patterns) in addition to assessing your digestion, your mood, your reaction to certain weather conditions (think things that get worse in rainy weather or feel better with heat or worse with cold). Every little bit of you is sending out a message and giving a signal as to what’s going on internally and where internal imbalance lies.
With many conditions or diseases, there are a few common patterns that show up consistently with people. This is true for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
With PCOS we often see people falling into a “stuck” pattern (Liver qi stagnation), which basically means things aren’t moving as well as they should be and there is a bit of a circulation problem. If someone falls into the category, they would feel things like painful periods or cramps, irritability, periods that are irregular or a secondary type amenorrhea (meaning they had regular periods, but then they stopped). This type might also have headaches that start at the base of the skull in the occiput area. These people are often prone to constipation or will often alternate between constipation and looser stool. This pattern is seen a little more in our busy stressed out modern day culture. Typically with stress reduction, changing the diet to avoid greasy, fried or process foods, eating smaller more frequent meals, avoiding late night eating as well as some acupuncture and herbs are often enough to get things move fairly quickly.
Another common pattern we see with PCOS is something we would term as dampness or phlegm which tend to be congesting and blocking substances in the body . Just think how heavy a towel feels when it is soaked with water compared to how it feels when it’s dry. This is how ‘dampness’ and phlegm exists in the body, it makes things heavy and will tend to block things or make it hard to move through. Just think how hard it is to breath through your nose when it’s blocked up or congested. The damp or phlegm condition can come from a few causes one of which is improper diet. Things such as dairy products, overly sweet foods or too many refined carbohydrates tend to have this effect on the body. Also eating too many cold, frozen or raw foods can cause or digestive system to be less effective in processing food which can lead to looser bowels and often this ‘damp’ state. Also overeating literally creates a queue of food in the digestive tract, which can cause things to stagnate and often exacerbate this pattern.
Another reason for a build up of fluids in the body is a lack of heat or warming conditions. Not having enough heat or warming in the body will cause fluids to build up (think of a bog in nature that doesn’t get sunshine and has a buildup of fluids compared with the dryness of the desert that gets the sun all the time. Ideal conditions lie somewhere in between the two for our bodies)
We call this “yang” energy in Chinese Medicine and it tends to show up in the leutal phase of the cycle, which is when temperatures typically rise in BBT charts. People with this pattern will often be colder than most, particularly their lower body and feet. They might be prone to waking through the night to go urinate or in extreme cases have to wake early for a bowel movement. These people might be prone to lower back pain or knee pain or have trouble with their ears and have paler skin and have trouble loosing weight to name a few things. These ‘cold’ type or kidney yang deficient type in TCM terms, do best with warm cooked foods and warmer spices like dried ginger, cumin and cardamom. Slow roasted foods are best and they should most definitely avoid raw cold uncooked foods. Staying warm is key and moderate exercise is also great to help heat the body and move the energy but also make sure not to over do it.
There is a lot more to Chinese Medicine and it’s always best to seek out the advice of a practitioner for insight into your particular case, but if you’re someone who has been diagnosed with PCOS or you’re presenting with similar symptoms, this might offer you a little insight into how to look at your body in a different way and modify your diet and lifestyle to help heal YOUR body.