I am so thankful to everyone who shared their #grandmashealthtips on my Instagram post this week. This is exactly why I love this community – it’s so important to learn from each other and keep our generational wisdom alive. What stuck out to me most was that across almost every single culture, there was one piece of advice repeated over and over: we need to be protecting our bodies against the cold, whether it’s cold foods, iced drinks, or cold weather/floors… especially during our menstrual periods!

A ton of people asked me why, so let’s break it down because this is the most valuable advice on the entire thread.

I first learned about the concept of “pathogenic cold” from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), although this knowledge spans across many other traditional cultures as well.

“Cold” is seen as one of the 6 evils in TCM that can invade the body and contribute to illness. Excess cold can stagnate, slow and constrict both your Qi (energy/digestion/metabolism) and blood flow. Think about how easily you start to shiver and tighten up when you feel cold; your bodily functions tighten and slow down as well, leading to symptoms such as menstrual complaints, cold hands and feet, thyroid disorders, frequent urination, edema (swelling/inflammation), digestive issues, and/or body, muscle, joint, neck and shoulder aches.

You guys already know about the concept of “yin” and “yang” in TCM – some foods are very yin/cold (such as raw vegetables, cold juices, ice cream and sugar) whereas others are yang/warm (such as cooked stews and soups, meats, spices, and root veggies). Yang represents the energy that is responsible for warming and activating bodily functions. When yang energy is depleted by cold foods or inadequate protection against cold weather, your body begins to slow down, displaying signs of underactivity and sensations of coldness. You need heat in your body, otherwise where will your libido, “digestive fire” and metabolism get their burning power?!

When you’re eating a meal or have food sitting in your stomach (especially when it contains healthy fats), it simply doesn’t make sense to put an ice cold liquid on top of it. This will solidify the fat/oils you just ate and stagnate the digestive process. Think about what happens when you put olive or coconut oil in the fridge – it thickens into sludge! The point of digestion is burning up food for energy, but cold drinks do the opposite. Hot drinks liquefy your food and make it much easier to break down. Plus, drinking hot things all day long will keep your “yang” (or metabolism and food-burning power) going strong.

In TCM, a “cold” reproductive system is also a major root cause of womens’ reproductive health issues, especially symptoms that arise around menstruation. When we think of the word “cold,” we think of frigidity, contraction, and stiffness. That is exactly how TCM views a reproductive system that doesn’t have enough warming “yang” energy to smoothly release free-flowing blood each month. When the body is too ‘cold,’ blood vessels become constricted, creating congestion & stagnation (which can manifest as scant bleeding, clots, painful cramps, and even missed periods or cysts). ‘Yang energy’ is the heat of the body, which would move and circulate not only our menstrual blood, but also our hormones.

The overconsumption of raw fruits & vegetables, iced or frozen foods/drinks, ice cream and cold juices are all contemporary Western causes for blood stagnation and yang deficiency in the uterus (especially if they are eaten just before or during menstruation when they are often craved). This includes sugar, which is very “yin” and cooling energetically. According to TCM, cold food, cold beverages, cold weather, and being in cold water can “invade” the uterus and cause cramping and spasms that can be quite severe. This is why ginger baths and/or ginger tea are the best ways to soothe cramps and backaches, encourage the removal of old/stagnant blood, and banish “cold” from the uterus.

Over time, congested or ‘stuck’ blood can contribute to ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, myomas, chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, and/or painful menstrual periods because the body is cramping/tightening up in an effort to expel your period. There is a lack of yang Qi to assist in moving the blood out smoothly and freely. In such cases, the menstrual discharge is often dark or clotty.

I know that raw food is all the rage right now, but it’s simply not right for everyone. Vegetables, especially greens, are very yin and cooling. When you cook them, the color becomes richer and deeper. Humans are attracted to color because we know it’s good for us, and the deep hue signals us that the nutrients become more available once the greens or veggies have been heated. When you adequately cook your meals, the stomach doesn’t have to exert as much energy because the food is already at the temperature of your body. That means you can save your Qi for digestion and nutrient extraction instead of heating up the food.

I myself am not perfect and absolutely indulge in ice cream, juices, and cold food from time to time. However, I also combat their consumption with plenty of warming spices and herbs, nourishing cooked food including soups and stews, and the daily rotation of teas such as ginger, cinnamon, or sage (try adding cinnamon sticks to your oatstraw infusions). I’m also very mindful to completely limit my intake of cold foods a few days before my period and during my entire time that I’m bleeding. I only eat cooked, warming foods at this time to encourage smooth blood flow and proper circulation. I also make sure to wear slippers at all times around the house, and I never get ice in my drinks even in the middle of the summer! I also bundle up like crazy in the winter to protect my digestive fire and yang energy.

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