Is your Uterus Cold?
Chinese medicine has been paying attention to the importance of body temperature regulation and homeostasis since the beginning. Warming a Uterus that was “Cold” was an essential treatment for improving fertility and pregnancy. Jane Lyttleton author of Treatment of Infertility with Chinese Medicine tells us that in Traditional Chinese Medicine “the warmth of the uterus refers to its metabolic activity, actively manufacturing the secreting nutrients and maintaining a highly nurturing home for a fetus”. In the luteal phase, or second half of a menstrual cycle, progesterone produced by the corpus luteum raises the body temperature in preparation for potential implantation. Could an inadequate body temperature rise and/or lack of proper circulation be contributing to issues with your fertility?
When observing women with unknown fertility issues or recurrent pregnancy loss, Kidney Yang deficiency is one of the most prevalent patterns. Kidney yang deficiency has a correlation with low progesterone levels and include symptoms such as feeling colder than those around you, cold hands and feet, low libido, back pain with menses, fatigue, frequent urination, and low BBT readings. (Note that when Kidney yang deficiency is combined with other disharmonies it may present differently).
Kidney Yang deficiency combined with Blood stagnation is an even more common disharmony. The metabolic activity of Kidney Yang is not sufficient enough for proper blood circulation and therefore the transforming and rebuilding of the uterine lining is less than optimal, leading to conditions from dark clotty periods to endometriosis. Insufficiency of Kidney Yang is often and underlying cause of cold Uterus, further complicated by blood stagnation. A cold Uterus can stand alone (referred to as Full-Cold), although I don’t often see this presentation in the modern clinical setting.
What can you do?
Diet for a Cold Uterus
Unfortunately, those daily lunch salads may not be helping. Chinese medicine physicians have long observed that the environment around us, and what we consume on a daily basis will alter the temperature inside us. Therefore, for women trying to conceive with any sign of cold in the body should not be consuming raw-cold foods or drinking cold beverages. Here’s how to work around it:
· Keep salad or raw vegetables as side dishes only. Instead choose warm, cooked foods whenever possible. Although salads are wonderful for increasing our intake of vegetables (which we should continue to do) think of veggie laden soups, stews, curries, and stir-fry-like meals as the main course and keep lettuce greens on the side.
· Avoid icy cold drinks. Skip the Frappuccinos and find an herbal tea you enjoy to stay hydrated and warm. Ask your acupuncturist if there is a specific herbal tea that fits your constitution and make the most out of your daily beverage intake.
· Some spice can be nice. Cinnamon and ginger are fantastic additions to drinks, oatmeal, smoothies and can help warm up a cold condition.
Nourish Yin and Promote Ovulation
Yang cannot exist without yin. (I imagine you’re already thinking “ok, but what does that mean about my fertility!?”) Let me explain, because the menstrual cycle is such a perfect example of how things must be properly balanced for optimization.
Let’s go back to prior mention of how the corpus luteum is responsible for maintaining progesterone levels after ovulation. It takes a healthy egg to create a healthy corpus luteum. Therefore, focusing only on supplementing the deficient, Yang, part of the cycle isn’t enough. We must also support Yin. The Yin phase of your cycle is the first half, when the follicle is being prepped and nourished for ovulation. If you’re familiar with Basal Body Temperature (BBT) charting you already know that the first half of your cycle is when your body temperate is the lowest.
Nourishing yin (including the ripening follicle) during this phase sets you up for a healthier and warmer second half of your cycle. Do this by eating yin and blood nourishing foods (omega 3’s such as chia, flax, fish oil, spirulina, eggs, bone broth, beets, leafy greens), getting enough rest, and taking your herbs.
We’re not off the hook yet! If that juicy, ripened follicle doesn’t ovulate we won’t have a luteal body to sustain progesterone levels, and therefore we will not get the full benefits of the warming half of the cycle. It seems to be a somewhat common phenomenon that our bodies will decide not to ovulate on any given cycle. A study done on a random general population in 2015 by Jerilynn C. Prior et al. showed that a third of women with normal cycle lengths did not ovulate on a given month! So just because your period is regular, it doesn’t mean we can bet that you’re ovulating regularly. The women in this study did not differ in factors such as age*, BMI, parity or smoking. Stress is a more likely reason why the body decides to skip this step. Increases in cortisol due to an emotional, physical, or nutritional threat can inhibit the process of ovulation.
That means it is extra important to avoid stressful situations around ovulation time. (“Sorry I can’t this week”- At least you’re off the hook here!) Do whatever you can to put relaxation in the forefront. This is a terrific time for acupuncture. Acupuncture is great at reducing the stress response and treating hypothalamic and ovulatory disturbances. Also try things like gentle flow yoga, aromatherapy, listening to more music, deep breathing, more time with friends--or fill in your personal stress diffuser.
*The mean age of women in this study was approx. 41 years old. It’s important to take into account this is higher than the age of most women trying to conceive. Age was most likely a factor in why lack of ovulation was found so high.
Use moxibustion, heat packs, and a good pair of socks.
Moxibustion is a therapy of dried mugwort, heated and used to stimulate acupuncture points. Mugwort has been used for centuries both topically and internally for fertility and menstrual disorders, and used in moxibustion therapy to expel cold and stimulate proper flow of Qi and Blood.
Heat packs can also be used for this purpose. If you are doing a 3-month program to improve your fertility (and therefore not actively trying to conceive) you can use these therapies all month long. If you are currently trying, use a heat pack on the lower abdomen for 20 minutes 2 times per day from menstruation to ovulation only.
If you are using moxibustion therapy, see our Moxibustion-A-How-To-Guide. Use moxa the same way you would use a heat pack. 10-20 minutes 1-2 times per day from menstruation to ovulation, or all cycle long if you are prepping to conceive.
Keeping your feet warm is also a good practice while trying to warm your Uterus. Chinese Medicine has long thought that cold feet equate to a cold Uterus. Meridians that start in your feet connect to the reproductive organs. Therefore, avoid sabotaging your efforts by wearing warm socks, especially in colder months, and avoid walking on cold floors barefoot.
Take herbs that warm Kidney Yang, expel Cold and move Blood.
Mugwort is just one of the many botanicals that are used for warming a cold uterus and regulating the menstrual cycle. I highly recommend seeing a trained herbalist who specializes in fertility to find the right herbal formula for your own personal needs.
Prior, J. C., Naess, M., Langhammer, A., & Forsmo, S. (2015). Ovulation Prevalence in Women with Spontaneous Normal-Length Menstrual Cycles – A Population-Based Cohort from HUNT3, Norway. Plos One, 10(8). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0134473
Lewis, R. A. (2005). The infertility cure: the ancient Chinese programme for getting pregnant. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.