I have a radical idea: stop “putting up” with your PMS symptoms. As a licensed acupuncturist, I discuss menstrual health everyday and I’m always surprised by how many women take on the discomfort of PMS as no big thing. In clinic, when I ask questions around cycle health, many women characterize their pain or discomfort as “oh, well”. That kind of resignation is a reminder to me of how women have been given the message to just deal with it. So let’s really deal with it. Traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture can help end PMS suffering.
PMS by definition:
Textbook definition: Characterized by a set of hormonal imbalances, PMS is a disorder that affects three quarters of all women, at some point in their life. It can trigger physical and emotional symptoms up to 2 weeks prior to menstruation. Some women experience premenstrual dysphoric disorder, with severe symptoms that completely disrupt their daily activities. Although common, PMS is not healthy or normal but indicates an imbalance of the body.
Real world definition: PMS is painful, annoying & disruptive.
Let’s be clear: PMS symptoms are significant and should not be ignored. Here is a list of potential health concerns that may arrive up to 14 days before period starts.
PMS & Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
In TCM, the energetic organs play an important role in ensuring a healthy menstrual cycle. All are governed by the integrity of energetic Blood. Blood is an energy substance and force that plays an important role in providing nutrients to all organs, tissues and meridians. It maintains healthy body movement and sensation while promoting a healthy mind and balanced mental activities. It’s for this reason that your licensed acupuncturist will ask questions relating to stress management, sleep quality, nutrition, work schedule and exercise levels. If a client isn’t supporting herself in any of these areas, it can have an impact on her cycle’s health. In acupuncture, we look to not only address those pesky symptoms but we are looking to resolve the underlying root cause of imbalance. Let’s take a closer look at the TCM energetic organs Kidney, Liver & Spleen and their role in helping to resolve PMS.
Kidney: The Kidney energy is responsible for water metabolism, warming the uterus and storing the building materials for menstrual blood. When imbalanced, a woman may experience bloating or swelling of joints.
Liver: The Liver energy controls the storage of blood and ensures the free flow of qi and energy in all meridians. The Liver plays a particularly important role during the premenstrual cycle. Many symptoms related to PMS are influenced by the health of the Liver. From a TCM perspective, wherever there is pain in the body (cramps, headache, backache, etc), there is a stagnation of energy flow. Supporting the health of the Liver ensures the body is pain-free.
Spleen: With the help of the Stomach, the Spleen forms blood by the foods we eat. Adequate nutrition is paramount to a healthy menstrual cycle. Lack of nutrition and ultimately poor blood formation can hamper the arrival of your period. Likewise, excessive dairy, greasy, sugary or rich foods can create Damp in the body. Damp settles in the lower abdomen and it can block the meridians or Liver from moving blood freely.
Now that we got TCM jargon out of the way, let’s take a look at how acupuncture affects your physiology is a beneficial way to help promote a healthy period.
Promoting blood flow.
This should come as no surprise. Acupuncture works very well at moving blood in the body. It’s one of the great uses of the medicine to reduce pain, clear inflammation and improve blood flow and circulation.
Improving your mood
Since acupuncture involves needling into soft tissue (muscle, connective tissue), it’s no wonder that it has a positive effect on the nervous system. With adequate stimulation, feel-good neurotransmitters, like serotonin, are released into your system resulting in less anxiety.
Reducing your pain
Acupuncture is becoming the go-to treatment for pain. It is generally safe and well tolerated. In particular, studies show that acupuncture can reduce menstrual pain. Acupuncture’s pain relieving benefit comes from the release of the body’s natural pain-killing chemicals like endorphins.
Managing PMS- An Acupuncturist’s Advice:
Focus on warming and blood building foods. Eat adequate amounts of slow cooked meals like soups and stews. Reduce your sugar intake and enjoy naturally sweet foods. Eat plenty of blood building cooked leafy vegetables. From mid cycle (ovulation) to period time, try to reduce your intake of raw, greasy and cold foods.
Stress reduction: Self-care is particularly important to help process emotions like anger, upset and sadness. Emotional upset can disrupt the natural flow of energy in the body. Take time to pamper yourself, start writing in a gratitude journal and talk friends or family that can help keep things in perspective.
Warm up: Warm baths are the best in winter. Warm water, with Epsom salts and a dash of lavender oil will help keep your body warm, & relaxed while calming your spirit.
Exercise…but mindfully: Depending on where you are in your cycle, be thoughtful of the type of exercise you do: yoga, pelvic floor exercises and Pilates are great to rebuild qi and blood post period. Keep more vigorous exercise like boot camp, kickboxing or HIIT for the 2 weeks before period. Aerobic exercise will help invigorate the body’s energy system, move Liver Qi (which often stagnates premenstrual) and it will help promote those feel good hormones.
Time your sex: Scheduled sex seem less romantic but PMS is the real sex killer. Consider avoiding intercourse right before and during menstruation. Sex can disrupt the natural flow of energy and blood descending and leaving your body.
Increasing fish oils and GLA oils (found in nuts and seeds) is a great way to promote menstrual health. Consider adding magnesium rich foods like green leafy vegetables, legumes & seafood. Magnesium can nurture the Liver, calm the nervous system and relax muscles.
The big takeaway should be that PMS is not a necessity for having your period. Talk with a licensed acupuncturist in your area about how Chinese medicine can help keep you healthy, all cycle long!