July 15, 2024

Stream Health Care

It Looks Good On You

Integrating Traditional Chinese Medicine Into Women’s Health In The US

8 min read

Best friends Sara Jane Ho (you might know her as Netflix’s Mind Your Manners etiquette expert) and Annie Ho, who has a background in women’s fashion and whose family operates Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinics in Taiwan, wanted to empower women by bringing the wisdom of TCM to an underrepresented market: feminine health. With consumer interest continuing to rise in both the intimate wellness industry and Chinese medicine, they wanted to create products that would speak to this increasing demand.

“Annie and I have been friends for a decade,” says Sara Jane. They met when Sara Jane was hired by Shanghai Tang, the women’s wear brands Annie was then the general manager of, to teach etiquette workshops to company VIPs. “Annie went on to be CEO of Stella McCartney for Asia Pacific for five years, and then was CEO of diesel jeans for Asia Pacific. I was still running my finishing school before I came out with a Netflix show.”

The two really bonded, Sara Jane explains, over TCM. “Annie’s grandpa founded TCM clinics in the 1940s in Taiwan that are still operating to this day. And I grew up in Hong Kong with herbal remedies following my parents around in search of the best TCM doctor. Even now, Annie and I do weekly acupuncture, cupping—everything. We wanted to take what makes us happy and healthy and use our own company as a vehicle to share that with women in the world today.”

“We wanted to innovate within tradition,” she says. “We want to respect tradition, not to change it, and apply it to modern living in order to be part of this movement towards understanding women’s health in a new way.”

Bringing together their Asian heritage with their experience in health and lifestyle, they created a core set of gynecologist-approved products curated for women’s bodies. In winter of 2024, they launched Antevorta, the first intimate wellness brand that combines intimate care, traditional Chinese medicine and female empowerment. They launched with four core products such as wipes, a cleansing gel and a spray, created with high-quality, natural ingredients to address dryness, odor, irritation, and other concerns related to maintaining good feminine hygiene.

Women’s health, especially related to sexual health and intimacy, is often overlooked or ignored, but as women grow tired of suffering silently, the ancient wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine offers a powerful complement to the care they may already be considering.

What is TCM, exactly?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a medical system that has been used for over 2,000 years to diagnose and treat illnesses. It takes a holistic approach rather than looking at each organ system or body part separately. It is rooted in the belief of qi (pronounced “chee”), the energetic life force, and in opposing energies yin and yang. When they’re in balance, you feel well, and when they’re out of balance, adverse health conditions are present. When qi is unable to move freely or is not balanced throughout the body, this is thought to negatively affect the yin and yang and cause illness.

TCM typically involves acupuncture, herbs, mindful movement such as tai chi or qigong, cupping, moxa, or a combination of these. Because each of the five seasons recognized in TCM also have their own energies (the fifth season is late summer), adjusting our diet and lifestyle habits as the seasons shift is also a part of supporting health.

Sara Jane adds, “We see TCM as more of a philosophy in life, like a system. It’s not really like medicine whereby you take it to cure something. It’s really all about prevention. Sometimes it’s these little things in life that build up and eventually become an issue that you have to deal with medically. So TCM is more about dealing with these little day-to-day things before they snowball into that big thing that you have to go see a doctor for.”

As consumer interest grows in TCM, these approaches are being used more often in conjunction with Western medicine practices, and more women are integrating them into their self-care routine.

Looking at women’s health through a TCM lens

In addition to seeking care for health concerns that may affect any person such as stress management, sleep support, immune system optimization and musculo-skeletal conditions, some of the most common reasons women may work with a TCM practitioner include pregnancy support, supporting fertility and a healthy menstrual cycle and managing symptoms of menopause.

Dr. Katie Rose is a licensed naturopathic physician and hypnotherapist practicing in Tucson, Arizona who integrates acupuncture into her work. She is also the CEO and founder of the Brilliant Fertility Program. She explains, “Rather than giving a Western diagnosis like “menopause” or “infertility,” TCM looks at the patterns of symptoms as they relate to the blockage of qi and how qi flows through meridians, which are like channels that run the length of the body. You could have three people with the Western diagnosis of infertility, but looking through a TCM lens, all three could have different underlying patterns such as spleen qi deficiency, blood and qi stagnation or kidney jing deficiency.”

“The most common issues I see in my practice,” Dr. Rose says, “are infertility, menstrual cycle irregularities and perimenopausal symptoms. Painful sex, irregular periods with heavy bleeding or spotting between periods and vaginal dryness are the most common physical symptoms to impact intimacy in the women I see in my practice. However, intimacy is more complex than just the physical. For couples struggling with infertility, the pressure to have sex at a certain time every month can impact intimacy. The body changes that occur naturally with age and menopause can cause some to feel self conscious. Emotions such as fear and shame can impact the desire to be intimate as well. What’s beautiful about TCM is that it addresses the whole person—in mind, body and spirit.”

It’s also worth noting that taking a TCM approach may offer a lot more than the five minutes of face-time she gets with her overbooked gynecologist or primary care doctor.

Sharon Yeung, Acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, is the founder of Five Seasons Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine in New York City. She says, “Traditional Chinese medicine takes a holistic approach to health so when a woman comes into our office, our one-on-one consultation will explore not only physiological symptoms concerning their gynecological history, hormones and stage in life, but also incorporate mental and emotional factors which may include anxiety and depression, past experiences or traumas, relationship circumstances, and the like.”

Rather than assess and treat just one part of the body, she adds, “we also often have cases where we connect the dots between completely different systems of the body—ie. respiratory, digestive, immunological—and see how symptoms from these areas may be related to a woman’s sexual health. Our Chinese medicine lens is broad and wide. It encompasses all areas of health yet is targeted enough to address specific concerns. Coming to a clear diagnosis through a thorough health intake is the best way to benefit intimacy concerns.”

“The most common intimacy issues we see are related to orgasm, libido, and vaginal dryness. Sometimes the root of the problem is physiological and we may need to relax spasming pelvic floor muscles, increase moisture to the tissues, strengthen sexual functioning and/or overall energy. In other cases, there may be mental or emotional blockages that we release with acupuncture and herbs. Sometimes during our consultation, we reveal lifestyle or dietary habits or relationship patterns that are negatively affecting intimacy, and we combine Chinese medicine treatment with exploring ways to make changes in diet and lifestyle or find additional therapy or support.”

Rather than a “one and done” approach, Yeung explains, “Usually, we identify multiple variables to address and together, we come up with a short- and long-term plan to make incremental but sustainable changes in these areas. There are also infectious diseases and gynecological conditions that can affect intimacy so we address these issues as well. Most presentations are quite nuanced and we aim to fit together all the puzzle pieces to come up with an effective treatment plan.”

Finding the right resources

Rather than being afraid to open up to healthcare providers or seek out products to address issues related to women’s sexual health and intimacy, look for thoughtfully created products and resources and experienced practitioners in this area.

Annie says, “TCM and Western medicine can go hand in hand, and you should use both in your life. For us, it is really making you feel very good about your body. Within a TCM system, it’s not only about the thing that you’re actually taking in, it’s about the sensory part, the preparation of the ingredients. There’s some rituals in how you take it, how you boil the herbs, how you take it. And so what we’re trying to create with Antevorta is about the whole experience whereby the process in which you’re using this product is as important as the aftermath of the result.“

Sara Jane and Annie were very involved in the development of Antevorta’s products. For example, it was very important to them that they be free of alcohol, parabens, phthalates, artificial fragrances, dyes, sulfates, silicones and mineral oils. “Antevorta really comes from our hearts,” Annie adds. “It’s infused with true passion and love. Somehow, I think that gets carried on our customers, and hopefully they can feel the love when they use our products.”

When seeking a TCM provider, Yeung says, “You may want to seek a practitioner who specializes in women’s health if there are gynecological symptoms involved. Many practitioners will offer a short complementary phone consultation so that you can get a sense of whether or not you connect and feel comfortable with the clinician. You may want to ask if they have treated your condition before and how they might approach your presentation. Some practitioners use acupuncture alone while others are also trained in herbal medicine. You may want to clarify what tools they have available for you.”

Dr. Rose adds, “Always make sure you’re working with a credentialed provider. Checking their website can help you understand if they specialize in the issue you’re concerned about. Check online reviews and don’t be afraid to ask questions like, ‘how long have you been in practice? Do you treat a lot of people going through what I’m struggling with? What can I expect in a treatment? What’s a reasonable timeline to see changes?’ Notice how you feel in the presence of a provider. My goal is to leave patients feeling safe and empowered. If you feel rushed, gaslit, or uneasy about your interaction, it’s okay to keep looking for someone who will listen and help you stand in your power.”


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