Women’s Health, Part I: Addressing PMS
As part of our continuing celebration of Women’s Health Month, I took the opportunity to ask one of my female patients if I could share her story. While every case is unique, this type of condition is one that I’ve seen many times, in my professional practice as well as in my interactions with family and friends. MaryBeth first came to my office to get treatment for her chronic arm pain. Once we managed her pain condition so that she could return to her normal routine, other more deeply rooted problems because to surface. The most notable was a series of symptoms that MaryBeth hadn’t even realized were out of the ordinary. Every month, around the time she was due to start her period, she would experience extreme uterine cramps, and her emotions would start to spiral out of control. Ever since she was young, she’d been living with mood swings and intense pain every month. She’d grown up thinking this was just something women had to deal with, as all of the women in her family have an incredibly difficult time around their menstrual cycle.
If you ask me, it’s long past time to change the misconception that PMS is just a fact of life. If you’re a woman, you likely spend a week each month on your period, and if that week is always miserable, then you’re spending 25% of your life in pain. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, discomfort or emotional turbulence around your period are abnormal symptoms, not to be expected. After I explained this to MaryBeth, she decided she’d like to start working to bring her body back into balance. Recently, when she came in for her regular appointment, she told me that she’d just finished up her period, and that it had been a total non-event. No pain, no freak outs or mood swings, just another week in her life. She couldn’t believe such a thing was even a possibility for women, but now that her system is back in balance, it’s her new reality.
If you or someone you know is having PMS symptoms or other issues with their menstrual cycle, Chinese Medicine can help. Migraine headaches, acne, mood swings, abdominal cramps, low back pain, and fatigue don’t have to be regular monthly symptoms. If you’re not currently working with a practitioner, there are even steps you can take at home to start you on your journey. The key is to understand and respect the cycles that occur within your body. When you’re menstruating, your body is expending extra energy around the clock in order to shed and then replenish the uterine lining. This means that if you treat your body the same way you do the rest of the month, you’ll end up feeling more depleted than you usually do. Instead, it’s good to have an idea of when your period will arrive, and a week prior to that, focus on boosting up your energy. One way to do this is by practicing warming techniques such as taking hot baths, drinking hot tea, and eating warm foods such as soups. A common cause of cramps is actually ongoing exposure to cold temperatures, whether externally or internally. If you’re on your period or are about to start, focus on wearing more clothing, espeically from the waist down, so that your abdomen and legs don’t get chilled. Avoid drinking iced drinks or eating cold food (yes, that includes salads), so that your stomach doesn’t have to expend extra energy to warm itself back up. Once you actually start menstruating, then you should spend some extra time working on maintaining your energy levels. For some of us, this might mean getting more sleep each night and taking it easy in terms of our activities during the day. Others might not be able to change their routine to accommodate this cycle; if that’s the case for you, then you’ll need to increase your food intake, to make up for the lost energy.
When it comes to food intake, it’s not just the temperature of the food that makes a big difference when it comes to menstruation. You also need to take a close look at the nutritional content of the food you’re eating. The regulation of the menstrual cycle is controlled by a series of different hormones, all acting in harmony with each other. What you might not know is that the basic building block for hormones is actually fat. Without healthy fats in your system, your body will have a much more difficult time producing the hormones it needs to function properly, which can lead to things feeling out of control once your menstruation starts. I know that low-fat, low-calorie diets are popular with many of my patients, but eating this way all of the time can lead to the nutritional imbalances that reduce the effectiveness of your hormones. Over time, continued nutritional depletion can lead to infertility and even early menopause (which I’ll talk about in additional blog posts over the next few weeks). If you want to give your body what it needs to keep your hormones running smoothly, then start incorporating healthy fats into your diet. Some excellent sources are nuts and nut butters, olive, walnut, sesame or coconut oil, red meat, avocado, and fish.
Focusing on adapting your lifestyle habits to match your body’s internal rhythm is an easy way to begin lessening the uncomfortable symptoms many of you may experience each month around your period. If you have particularly severe PMS symptoms, you may find it necessary to also work with a holistic medicine practitioner such as an acupuncturist in order to give your system a boost. Luckily, once you bring your body back into balance, you can look forward to experiencing less pain and greater emotional stability every month. Continuing to respect your body’s cycles will make it that much easier for you to transition gracefully into your childbearing years and later on, your wisdom years.
Check back every week for more no-nonsense tips for your health.
For previous entries, please visit the blog.