Are your hormones running your life? Read on to find out how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can ease the symptoms of PMS and PMDD.
Maybe you’ve seen that television commercial in which a woman walks up to a line of grocery carts on the sidewalk outside the store and tries to pull one free. Within seconds she is so frustrated that she begins smashing her cart into the others over and over again. I think most women who’ve experienced the irritability associated with PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) will chuckle as I did, seeing a bit of themselves in that scene The ad was actually meant to promote the use of a popular antidepressant to treat PMDD (Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder), a more severe version of PMS with more acute mental/emotional symptoms like depression.
Causes of PMS/PMDD – Western and Eastern Perspectives
Some researchers believe that PMS and PMDD are caused by a lack of progesterone, which should be abundant after ovulation occurs, but the exact cause is still unknown. Still, it does appear that neurotransmitters (chemicals in your brain) respond to shifts in the levels of estrogen and progesterone, causing changes in appetite, mood and a woman’s response to stressors. In Chinese medicine, shifts in hormones are seen as shifts in Yin and Yang. In the body, as in the natural world, Yin (manifesting as night, cold, fluid, blood, estrogen, etc.) is both counterbalanced by and continually transforming into Yang (manifesting as day, warmth, energy, progesterone, etc.) and vice versa. So, just as night slowly gives way to day and day slowly gives way to night again, similar transformations take place in the body.
The menstrual cycle begins with Yang transforming into Yin when progesterone (Yang in nature) drops, signalling the uterus to shed its lining, and estrogen (Yin in nature) begin to build. As Yin /estrogen build in preparation for ovulation, the uterine lining begins to thicken and egg-containing follicles in the ovaries begin growing in response to hormonal cues. At ovulation, the lead follicle has reached its peak size, the uterine lining is thick and full of blood, Yin is at it’s peak and begins to transform into Yang. Yang provides the energy required for ovulation and builds as levels of progesterone (emitted by the corpus luteum, what’s left of the follicle after the egg is launched) rise and remain elevated until the next period, when Yang again transforms into Yin and the cycle begins anew.
In the case of PMS and PMDD, Yin doesn’t completely transform into Yang at ovulation, leaving a deficiency of Yang and causing the flow of Qi and fluids to slow down or stagnate, manifesting as breast tenderness, irritability (or at worst, severe depression) and fluid retention. The main culprit? Emotional stress! Stress impairs the free flow of Qi in the body, interrupting proper function. The Liver, whose job it is to circulate Qi smoothly, especially as it pertains to the menstrual cycle, becomes stagnant. Stagnant Qi keeps Yin from transforming into Yang, further stagnating the Qi and worsening the problem until symptoms are so troubling that a woman seeks treatment.
Chinese Medical Treatment for PMS/PMDD
Acupuncture is very effective at treating PMS and often women will report that they no longer experience PMS, even when I am treating them for some other health issue. Chinese herbal medicine (bupleurum, angelica, peony root and others) will enhance the effects of acupuncture and provide better results than just acupuncture alone. Patients with PMDD will need the daily treatment provided by herbal medicine as well as regular sessions with a mental health professional who can keep an eye on their mental status. Most women with PMS will feel much better within 6 to 10 visits, women with PMDD may need 12 to 24 visits before they feel significantly better.
Simple Home Remedies for PMS
- Exercise: The simplest way to get your Qi moving again is to move your body. Get your blood circulating and the Qi will follow.
- Reduce or Eliminate Stress: Deep breathing (ten deep breaths, three times per day), guided visualization or relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga, massage and acupuncture are all excellent ways of triggering the body’s relaxation response and counteracting the harmful effects of stress.
- Clean Up Your Diet: Foods high in sugar and fat overwhelm the digestive system and cause Liver Qi to stagnate, so eliminate sugar and eat whole, low-fat foods.
- Avoid Alcohol/Drugs: Over-consumption of alcohol, recreational drugs and some pharmaceuticals can overbuden the liver and cause Qi to stagnate.
- Acupressure: Apply pressure with your fingers to the flesh between your thumb and index finger on both hands and the flesh between your first two metatarsal bones, the bones that lead to your big and second toes, on both feet. Together, these points are called the Four Gates because they open all the meridians (pathways for Qi) in the body, restoring the free-flow of Qi.
Are you wondering if we can help you with your PMS? To schedule a consult or an appointment call 603-924-3400, to use our online appointment scheduler, click here.