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Our culture normalizes premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Television shows and movies joke about women turning into monsters once a month, and many of our patients tell us that they have "normal cramping" with their periods. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), however, we say that a woman's period should come out of nowhere and end out of nowhere, with no health changes at any point before, during, or after it. Even our most skeptical patients - those with severe mood swings and menstrual cramps, for instance - are often amazed at how their symptoms subside with regular acupuncture treatments. If you're not able to receive acupuncture, or are looking for other natural ways to balance your reproductive system between treatments, these simple adjustments may help!
Use a Menstrual Cup
Holistic health is all about working with the body's natural design, and menses is naturally supposed to flow downward. When its flow is impeded, say by a tampon, stagnation and discomfort can result. Using a pad would be better in this regard, but pads may contain the same toxic chemicals as tampons. Menstrual cups, on the other hand, are free from these chemicals and are reusable, making them better for the environment as well. Menstrual cups are not difficult to use once you get accustomed to them - most come with instructions that explain how to insert the cup so it's snug around the cervix - and many brands have a variety of sizes based on age, volume of menses, and other factors. There are quite a few companies that sell cups now, but we like Lunette and OrganiCup.
Limit Cold Foods
You may know that TCM believes cold foods to be hard on the digestive system, but we also say that the reproductive system shouldn't be cold either. Avoid ice cream, popsicles, and other cold foods when you're on your period to keep everything flowing well, and consider limiting cold foods throughout your cycle if you're the type that feels cold all the time or has other symptoms of Yang deficiency.
Massage Acupressure Points
PMS often stems from Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis, so stimulating acupoints that move Qi and Blood can alleviate cramping, low back pain, breast pain, and other symptoms. We've listed some of our favorites here; you can copy and paste the point name into a Google images search to find diagrams showing its exact location.
- Large Intestine 4 (LI4): the back of the hand in the meaty spot between the thumb and index finger
- Liver 3 (LV3): the top of the foot between the big toe and second toe
- Spleen 6 (SP6): on the lower leg just behind the shin about three inches above the inner ankle
- Spleen 10 (SP10): on the thigh about two inches above the top inner corner of the knee cap
Do not stimulate these points if there's any possibility that you may be pregnant!
Apply Heat Topically
In physics heat produces movement, and the body's reaction to the application of heat is no different. If you're feeling heaviness, cramping, or pain in the lower abdomen as a result of stuck Qi or Blood, applying heat to the area can get things moving. (Of course, symptoms due to Cold in the Uterus will also be improved by heat.) If you tend to run cold all of the time, you can also apply heat to the lower back or lower abdomen to harmonize your body's temperature.
When it comes to heating apparatuses, there are a few options. An electric heating pad may be the easiest, but it needs to be plugged in. If you don't have a comfortable space near an outlet - or don't want electromagnetic fields close to your organs - a microwavable heating pad might work better for you. These are usually filled with rice, flaxseed, or another small grain that retains heat after spending a short time in the microwave, but some may contain herbs as well. If neither of these calls to you, you may prefer a simple, old-fashioned hot water bottle. Whichever you choose, don't hesitate to wrap any of them in a towel before applying them to your skin if you worry that the heat is too intense.
Try Essential Oils
There are essential oil blends designed specifically for period relief, such as Young Living's Dragon Time, and single essential oils like Peppermint and Frankincense may help as well. Some women also use essential oils to regulate their hormones, which can involve a continual application or cycling. We usually recommend cycling, or applying oils that benefit estrogen before ovulation and oils that benefit progesterone after ovulation, unless you know that you are very deficient in one or the other. Essential oils with effects on estrogen include Geranium and Clary Sage, and natural progesterone boosters like YL's Progessence Plus Serum are often derived from wild yam.
It's very important to listen to your body's response to hormone-influencing essential oils. Always consult your doctor if you're in any doubt about a hormonal product's safety for your particular health circumstances.
As with most things in holistic health, changes to your menstrual cycle will take time. You may want to track your symptoms and their severity in an app or journal so that it's easier to compare cycles to each other. Don't be discouraged if you have a "bad month" after seeing improvements - stress, diet, and other factors also influence menstruation - and feel free to schedule an appointment if you think your body needs more support.
Kathleen Ketola is a Licensed Acupuncturist and the owner of Beachside Community Acupuncture. She loves providing affordable acupuncture to the residents of Addison, Dallas, and Farmers Branch, Texas, and educating the general public on how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat everything from pain to infertility to stress and beyond. Click "Book Now" at the top of this page to book an appointment or feel free to contact her at (214) 417-2260.