It's All About the Herbs
Are you confused as hell by our herbs? Still don’t get the hype about hormone balance? That’s ok. This week, we’re trying to translate Traditional Chinese Medicine terminology into a language that is more accessible from a Western perspective: the language of vitamins! And bioactives! And chemical constituents! Ok, this is getting confusing again. Stay tuned.
Image: Found without source
Cassidy: To My Herbaceous Handmaiden,
This week, I encountered a unique Chica critic. A young woman from Norway was curious about the efficacy of our formula, but she had 0/10 patience for the Traditional Chinese Medicine terminology I used to describe our herbs and how they work holistically to promote menstrual health. Her confusion about Chinese medicine is completely understandable, but what struck me is that she actually refused to listen to my explanation unless it included language that made sense to her.
Initially, I was frustrated–both with her, and with myself for being unable to communicate clearly–but ultimately, I have to respect her ask. If we can’t speak about Chica with fluency across multiple medicinal disciplines, how are we going to address the needs of customers that don’t already “get” Chinese medicine?
The traditional Chinese emphasis of describing herb functions in a purely phenomenological way is problematic within the more analytical, experimental approach of current Western pharmacy. (Bensky, Dan, Andrew Gamble, and Ted J. Kaptchuk. Chinese herbal medicine: materia medica. Eastland Press, 1993). According to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), our formula regulates menstruation by dispersing depressed qi and strengthening the liver and spleen in order to nourish the blood. Essentially, our herbs work holistically to help your body manage the flow of hormones like estrogen and progesterone, and this supports better overall health. The problem with this methodology is that it is difficult to scrutinize through a Western pharmaceutical lens, because dissecting a formula and inspecting its individual chemical compounds does not fully account for the overall effects–thusly robbing the formula of its power (BioMedCentral).
But it’s not the plants’ fault. While contemporary Western and traditional Chinese disciplines interpret how the herbs work differently, there is some level of consensus that they do, in fact, work. I mean, approximately 80% of the world population still relies on herbal medicines for their health care, so something has to be working there (BioMedCentral). We can see this phenomenon most clearly with ingredients like angelica root, licorice, mint, and ginger, which are commonly recommended across platforms due to their health benefits.
Let’s start with angelica root, otherwise known as dang gui or “the female ginseng.” If you wanna talk vitamins, angelica root boats a cast of vitamin B12, zinc, thiamine, sucrose, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, iron, fructose, glucose, and many other trace minerals (Alternative Nature). If you wanna get more scientific with it, the main chemical constituents of Angelica root are ferulic acid, Z-ligustilide, angelicide, brefeldin A, butylidenephthalide, butyphthalide, succinic acid, nicotinic acid, uracil and adenine (BioMedCentral). If I’m being completely honest, these sound kind of scary, but they are important because they contribute to angelica root’s antispasmodic and vasodilator properties (Healthy Focus). Said properties help relieve painful cramps and allow blood to flow more freely.
Licorice offers a wide range of beneficial nutrients and flavonoids. It is a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid) and vitamin E(tocopherol). It also provides minerals such as phosphorous, calcium, choline, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, silicon and zinc. It is a storehouse of essential phytonutrients, including beta-carotene, glycyrrhizin, glabridin, isoliquiritigenin, thymol, phenol, ferulic acid, and quercetin (Organic Facts). These compounds help stabilize the liver and maintain hormone balance.
Mint contains antioxidants, potassium, and some vitamin B, and it is also rich in nutrients and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, folate, copper, and manganese (Healthy Focus). Its primary chemical constituents are menthol, menthone, menthyl acetate, camphene, limonene, isomenthone, pinene, menthenone, rosmarinic acid, d-neo-menthol, ethyl-n-amylketone, piperitone, pulegone (Bensky). These compounds contribute to mint’s antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties.
Ginger is really “in” right now, so it happily occupies an intersection of traditional and contemporary medicine. Ginger brings vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc folate, riboflavin, and niacin to the party (Bensky), and constituents such as gingerol, gingerdiol, and gingerdione, beta-carotene, capsaicin, caffeic acid and curcumin (BioMedCentral). These antispasmodic properties can directly affect pain pathways as well as help relieve inflammation, which may be an underlying cause of discomfort (Healthy Focus). The effects of ginger on dysmenorrhea (painful cramping) have been found statistically significant in double blind, placebo-controlled and parallel-group studies with balanced randomization (BioMedCentral).
What’s interesting to me is that, while it is coded in different terminology, Western pharmacy is saying essentially the same thing about our herbs: that the properties of our formula support healthy blood flow, stable emotion, and less distracting cycles. So, even though they approach herbal medicine differently, contemporary and traditional disciplines are evidently still compatible. There just has to be careful, interdisciplinary research, and a little bit of code-switching.
Let me know what you think,
Elise: Dear my Herbal Hero,
In our dynamic, I've usually taken a step back when questions about Chica's herbal formula came up. My elementary understanding of the functionalities of our formula faltered in comparison to the two decades you have spent growing up with Chinese medicine. However, I've realized that starting a business means we can distribute responsibilities, but we can't distribute knowledge gaps. I've taken strides to catch up with you in our herbal knowledge, and I'll be following you today with info on the other herbs in Chica.
After Angelica Root, the next big kicker in Chica's herbal formula is Bupleurum root, which contains active chemical compounds such as saponins, sterols, and saikosaponins. These compounds function as antioxidants in our bodies to help cleanse the liver, and improve immune and anti-inflammatory response systems. Saikosaponins contain cortisol - cortisol is known for helping the body adapt to stress, and is central to the production of progesterone, the 'soothing' hormone for menstruators. Cleansing the liver is especially important for a good period because the liver is responsible for flushing out the excess estrogen that affects cramping. If you take estrogen birth control, don't worry, this will not affect the estrogen you are taking. Bupleurum also contains rutin, a beneficial compound for our circulation system (Healthy Focus).
Peonies are one of my favorite flowers, and peony root highlights why we always discuss the power of the Chica formula instead of just the individual herbs. Licorice, as you discussed earlier, can help stabilize the liver to regulate hormone and insulin production. Combining licorice with the paeoniflorin, paeonol, paeonin, albiflorin, triterpenoids, and sistoterol in peony root is what allows the Chica formula to help relax muscles, balance testosterone levels, and help our periods feel more comfortable (Healthy Focus).
Actractylodes aid in supporting digestion and relieving painful stomach conditions such as bloating. Poria has been used across Chinese medicine in formulas for fertility health. It's difficult to discuss these herbs without the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine because less Western work has been done with them individually. However, they are both used in a study that shows TCM formulas being as effective as hormone therapy for treating endometriosis associated infertility (NCBI).
I will continue to search for better and better resources to learn more about each herb that we use, and I'll keep you updated here!