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Menstrual Health – Eliminate PMS and Enjoy Easier Periods
As a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner specializing in women’s health, many women who come to my practice have menstrual disorders resulting in painful periods, premenstrual syndrome, amenorrhea, irregular cycles, uterine cysts and fibroids. For all menstrual cycle problems, certain preventive measures should be taken to make menstruation smoother. I must say that regular acupuncture and a custom herbal formula can produce amazing results. Women begin painless periods with minimal premenstrual symptoms. With support, women no longer fear their cycles and experience them easily.
In traditional Chinese medicine, we recommend specific lifestyle changes, especially during menstruation. My approach is to see it as a time to honor your body. Menstruation is a reminder of this beautiful reproductive power.
First, you need to track your cycle. Mark the day your menstrual cycle starts on the calendar. The first day of your period is considered the first start of bleeding. By tracking your cycle, you can be more in touch with your body and natural hormonal changes. Find out how many days are between cycles, when to expect ovulation and when to prepare for the next cycle.
Generally, ovulation is fourteen days before the menstrual cycle. Some women experience lower abdominal cramps, fatigue, or emotional sensitivity during this time. Cycle tracking lets you know what to expect. From ovulation to the start of bleeding is considered the premenstrual period. Some women have premenstrual symptoms that start with ovulation, while others have symptoms one to ten days before their period. Others have no premenstrual symptoms at all.
Premenstrual symptoms can include breast tenderness, bloating, mild cramping, headaches/migraines, fatigue, appetite, low libido, insomnia, emotional swings including anger, anxiety, irritability, depression, sadness and crying. In Chinese medicine, all these symptoms are considered to be affected by the liver organ. Through acupuncture, herbs, diet and lifestyle changes, we focus on “smoothing out” the liver for a smoother menstrual experience.
Menstruation should not be seen as a time of “business as usual”. Rather, it is an opportunity to tune in to your body. This is a time to slow down and be gentle with yourself. For some, this may mean canceling regular meetings and commitments to do less. In general, you want more time to rest, and that means adjusting your schedule whenever possible. Take time to pamper yourself with warm baths and more sleep. Schedule a massage a week before your period. It is especially beneficial for those who have menstrual headaches and muscle tension before menstruation.
Menstruation reminds us of our ability to create life. Honor it by being more creative this time of the month. Journal, draw, paint, write, sing, dance, and do other creative endeavors for fun and joy.
In traditional Chinese medicine, we always warn against a cold. The cold contracts the muscles and slows down the blood circulation. During menstruation, we want the body to be properly warmed to promote blood circulation. This means that you should avoid excessive exposure to cold and damp environments. In cold weather, keep warm clothes with you. Also, avoid eating cold foods, including foods with ice—ice-cold drinks, ice cream, ice-cold popsicles, and frozen fruit smoothies. We also think of raw vegetables as cold, so eat steamed vegetables instead of salad. Dairy products, including yogurt, cottage cheese and kefir, should not be eaten directly from the refrigerator, but after they have warmed up to room temperature (about 1/2 hour after taking them out of the refrigerator). This is a general recommendation in Chinese medicine, but it is strongly recommended to avoid cold foods before and during menstruation. This is a great time for soups and warm teas. For menstrual cramps, a hot water bottle can be used every night during the week before menstruation to warm the uterus and prevent blood stagnation. A hot water bottle also provides soothing relief for cramps.
We also want to avoid heavy physical exertion before and during your period. Moderate exercise often helps relieve premenstrual symptoms, but extreme physical activity exhausts the body and creates hormone imbalances. So before and during your period, do more stretching, yoga, tai chi and other relaxing and gentle movements.
Also for integration into everyday life, but especially important before and during menstruation are breathing exercises. Take slow, deep breaths into your lower abdomen, relax your shoulders and neck, and calm your mind. If you have thoughts that arise, gently let them go. You can listen to relaxing music, repeat a positive intention, or simply watch your breath as you breathe in and out. Practice it every day for 10-20 minutes. Even just five such breaths in the middle of the day have a significant healing effect.
In terms of dietary recommendations, avoid alcohol, coffee, and refined flour and refined sugars. Eat whole, unprocessed foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, eggs, beans, nuts, organic full-fat dairy products, and meat from pasture-raised (grass-fed) animals. Make sure animal products are from hormone-free sources. Most dairy products and meat contain artificial hormones that have been fed to animals to increase production. Not only is this inhumane to the animals, but you are consuming these artificial hormones which are disrupting your own natural hormones. I also don’t recommend soy because of its estrogenic quality, which will disrupt your own hormone balance. Fermented soy in small amounts is usually not problematic – including miso, tempeh and soy sauce. Other foods such as edamame, soy milk, tofu and any artificial meat substitute should be strictly avoided.
Eat regular meals at regular times and snack when needed. Keeping blood sugar stable helps regulate hormones. Eating high-quality, nutritious foods and snacks will help keep your blood sugar stable. Eating enough protein through meat, eggs, nuts, cheese, dairy and beans will help. Minimizing processed sugar and refined flour products will also help reduce spikes in your energy levels.
Healthy fats are very important for hormonal balance. Avoid foods that contain fried and partially hydrogenated fats (also known as trans fats). Fermented cod liver oil, fish oil, flax oil, hemp seed oil, walnuts, fatty fish (sardines, wild salmon, mackerel), egg yolks from pastured chickens, and grass-fed meats (with fat) provide healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Gamma-linoleic acid, a form of omega-6, can often be very helpful for balancing hormones. I recommend 1000mg daily (500mg 2 times a day or 1000mg daily) of evening primrose oil taken 2 weeks before your period is supposed to help balance hormones. Premenstrual symptoms such as breast tenderness, mood swings, headaches and cramps are often reduced in women when using evening primrose oil. B vitamins are very useful. Foods rich in B vitamins include fermented foods, tuna, turkey, beef, brown rice, wheat, rye, lentils, peas, bananas and cabbage.
Finally, avoid plastics and chemicals in general. Certain plastics, especially #7 plastics, contain chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body; which causes hormone imbalances. In general, chemicals affect the proper functioning of your entire body and indirectly affect your hormone levels. Choose organic and natural cleaning products, body care products and minimize exposure to chemicals. Choose glass or stainless steel water bottles and food containers.
I invite you to try these suggestions to balance your hormones and enjoy lighter periods.
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