How Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Help PMS
Premenstrual syndrome, PMS for short, is a common gynecological condition which many women will experience at some point in their lives. Fluctuating hormone levels cause PMS as a woman approaches her menstrual period. These hormonal changes can cause a range of different symptoms including:
• Mood changes including irritability, anxiety, and depression
• Headaches or migraines
• Abdominal bloating
• Breast swelling or tenderness
• Constipation, diarrhea, or nausea
• Food cravings
• Skin breakouts
Not all women will experience all of these symptoms, and some women have very mild PMS, whereas for others it can be far more severe. Some women have a severe form of PMS known as a pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) which can cause extreme irritability, anxiety, and depression which starts as early as two weeks before menstruation begins.
A Traditional Chinese Medicine View of PMS
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a woman’s menstrual cycle has two distinct phases; the yin phase, and the yang phase.
Yin and yang are the two opposing yet complementary forces of nature. Yin represents night-time, darkness, stillness, and rest. Yang represents daytime, sunlight, movement, and activity. Yin is substance and nourishment, whereas yang is pure energy.
The first day of bleeding is classed as day one of a woman’s cycle. Assuming she is not pregnant, she will shed the blood and tissue built up in her uterus over the course of the previous month. This can take anywhere between a few days and a week.
After this, her body will start to build up the lining of her womb once again. In her ovaries, a follicle becomes dominant and begins to ripen its egg. Because this half of a woman’s cycle is primarily associated with ripening and preparing the womb for a possible pregnancy, it is considered to be more yin.
At around day 14, the yin phase reaches its maximum point and is forced to change into yang. This triggers ovulation and gives the egg the energy it needs to move down the fallopian tubes towards the womb. Body temperature rises slightly, and yang continues to build until it reaches its maximum point. When this happens, it is forced to transform back into yin, which triggers bleeding and a new cycle begins. It is during this second, yang half of the cycle that many women suffer from PMS.
The Liver’s Role
In Chinese medicine, the main organ associated with PMS is the Liver. The Liver is responsible for circulating qi around the body and keeping everything flowing smoothly. Unfortunately, the Liver tends to be affected by excessive yang and sends it upwards towards the head causing irritability and headaches. At the same time, excessive heat may also flare up causing angry pimples on the face, chest, and upper back.
When the Liver becomes stressed in this way, it stops circulating qi as well as it should. This causes stagnation in the channels which can lead to bloating, abdominal discomfort, and depression. Because the Liver channel runs underneath the breasts, this can also cause them to become tender and swollen.
When Liver qi becomes stagnant, it also tends to move sideways and invade the Stomach and Spleen. These are the main digestive organs in TCM, and when the Liver attacks them, this causes diarrhea, or alternating constipation and diarrhea, as well as feeling or being sick.
All of this is very taxing for a woman’s body, and she can easily become tired and fatigued. She may also begin to crave certain foods as her body attempts to restore balance to its organs.
How Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Help to Treat PMS
In the west, so many women suffer from PMS that it is often considered part and parcel of being a woman and something you have to put up with. However, TCM practitioners believe that a woman should be able to move through her cycle smoothly and any symptoms are a sign of a deeper, underlying imbalance. It is essential to identify and treat this imbalance, not only to resolve the symptoms of PMS but also to prevent it from developing into a more serious problem later on. Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture can help to treat PMS in several ways. They can harmonize the Liver and prevent stagnation, promote the free circulation of qi and blood, and strengthen the Stomach and Spleen.
From a scientific perspective, acupuncture and TCM can help with PMS by regulating hormone levels, promoting relaxation, relieving stress, and by increasing the action of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. A systematic review of clinical trials on acupuncture for PMS (Park et al., 2011) found that acupuncture consistently performed better than all controls in the treatment of PMS, and did not cause any serious adverse effects. The authors concluded that acupuncture is a promising treatment for PMS, although more rigorous studies are needed.
Self-Care Tips for PMS
If you are suffering from PMS or PMDD, Chinese medicine and acupuncture may help. However, it is also essential to take care of yourself to keep your body well-balanced and healthy.
The main organ associated with PMS is the Liver, and the Liver is badly affected by emotional stress. One of the best ways to keep your Liver happy is by finding ways to stay calm and manage your stress levels. One way to do this is by maintaining a good work-life balance. Many people also find that practices such as meditation or breathing exercises help. Physical activity is another way to keep stress at bay and will also improve your circulation of qi and blood. Gentle exercises such as yoga or tai chi are ideal as you may well feel tired around the time of your period and will not want to over-exert yourself.
It is also important to support your digestive organs to prevent them from becoming weakened. Eat more warming, nourishing foods such as sweet potatoes, porridge, soups, and stews. Avoid refined sugar and processed foods, however tempting they may be. Always make time to sit down and enjoy your food, and avoid eating at your desk or on the go. Chew every mouthful well, and do not eat too much at once. Eat a substantial breakfast to set you up with enough energy for the day, and avoid eating heavy meals late in the evening as they will not be digested effectively.
For more personalized dietary advice and treatment, contact us at 773-878-7330 to schedule an appointment or find out more. Our acupuncturist is an expert in treating women’s issues such as PMS and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Kim SY, Park HJ, Lee H, Lee H (2011) “Acupuncture for premenstrual syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials” BJOG An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Vol.118 (8) pp. 899-915