A Chinese Medicine Perspective on Relieving PMS
Author: Leah Chischilly, MSAc., L.Ac
If you’re like most women, then you have probably grown to expect monthly bouts of bloating, cramping, roller-coaster emotions and general feelings of not-quite-yourself-ness (also known as PMS). Since the cause of PMS is mostly unknown by Western medicine standards, the best we can do is manage the symptoms associated with it. Chinese medicine may offer a different perspective, enabling you to get to the root cause of these symptoms and hopefully stop dreading “that time of the month.”
Flow and Balance – A Brief Intro to Chinese Medicine
Health in Chinese medicine is based on the principles of flow and balance. When the Qi and Blood flow freely, the body is in balance, symptoms resolve, and health is restored. Many descriptions of Chinese medicine refer to the concept of Qi as being the life force that flows through an energetic system of Meridians throughout the body. A modern understanding describes Qi as the oxygen that moves through the vascular system in the blood. However you choose to view it, know that a constant, unobstructed flow is necessary to maintain and restore health.
Balance is probably the most recognized theme in Chinese medicine and is represented by the Yin Yang symbol. All things in the body (and the universe) can be divided into Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are opposites, but also complementary, interdependent, and interconnected. When you have too little or too much of either, problems may occur.
Yin and Yang can be used to describe the condition of the body as a whole, and further applied to the organ systems and their function. Chinese medicine identifies 12 organ systems that each have specific roles within the body. The Yin/Yang aspects of the individual organ systems must be balanced to improve the balance of the body overall. Based on signs and symptoms, your Chinese medicine practitioner can determine which organ system is affected and what aspect of the organ system (Yin or Yang) needs some attention.
Organ Systems and PMS
Remember that Chinese medicine is thousands of years old, so they didn’t have the equipment or language to describe the precise function of the individual organs as we do today. Instead, they based their knowledge on what was observable, both in living and deceased people. What’s interesting is that a lot of what they observed correlates very closely to what we can measure with the scientific advances of today. However, they are not exact. So, when I talk about an organ imbalance from a Chinese medicine perspective, it is not a cause for concern. It does not mean you have a serious condition of one of your organs as you or your Western-trained doctor might think of it.
Below are some common Chinese medicine patterns associated with PMS, what they mean, and what you can do about them.
Liver Qi Stagnation
Recall that health is dependent on flow and balance. The liver, according to Chinese medicine, is responsible for the free flow of Qi throughout the body. Liver Qi stagnation is exactly what it sounds like. The flow of Qi is impeded and therefore symptoms exist. Some of the key differentiating signs of liver qi stagnation are Irritability, breast tenderness, bloating.
To prevent Liver Qi stagnation, be sure you are engaging in regular exercise. Additionally, try to minimize your toxic load via the products you use, the foods you eat, and the environment in which you live. Drinking water with lemon in the morning can also help soothe the liver and prevent stagnation.
If left unchecked, Liver Qi stagnation can affect the Yin/Yang balance of the liver. Your symptoms may begin to take on some “heat” or Yang predominant characteristics such as headaches, anxiety, red eyes, and general feelings of agitation. If this happens, then try eating more cooling and water-rich foods such as melon, lettuce, cucumbers, and plain yogurt. Peppermint essential oil can also be an excellent addition to your drinking water to help cool the body.
Liver Blood Deficiency
This condition is more about balance and nourishment. To be “blood deficient” doesn’t mean that you are short on your blood supply. Instead, it means that you lack the essential nutrients to nourish the liver and the rest of the body. Some of the key differentiating symptoms of Liver Blood deficiency are depression, fatigue, and short and light periods with a longer cycle.
To prevent Liver Blood deficiency, be sure to eat a well-balanced diet that is especially rich in foods that are red (beets, kidney beans, cherries, grass-fed beef, etc.). Also include foods that are dark green (kale, spinach, beet greens, etc.). Exercise is always important, but if you have any type of blood deficiency, stick to less strenuous forms of exercise such as yoga, Tai Chi, and walking.
Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency
In Chinese medicine, the spleen and kidneys help support one another’s function and both are heavily tied to reproduction, growth, and nourishment of the body. When the Yin/Yang balance in one of these organs is affected, it is likely to disrupt the Yin/Yang balance of the other. If your pre-menstrual symptoms take on more “cold” characteristics, then it may be an indication of a Spleen and Kidney Yang deficiency. Some key differentiating symptoms of this pattern are depression, weepiness, sore back, fatigue, and feeling cold.
To prevent Spleen and Kidney Yang deficiency, avoid eating too many cold and raw foods (yes, even salads), and limit the intake of dairy products and sweets. Add in warming foods such as peppers, lamb, and spices such as cumin, clove, and paprika.
At the most basic level, you can decrease your symptoms of PMS by working to maintain a balance in the body overall. A healthy diet, regular exercise, proper hydration, and good sleep can go a long way. Regular acupuncture treatments are highly recommended to help you relax, and keep the Qi and Blood flowing as they should.
Please note that this list of patterns and treatment suggestions is not comprehensive. People are different and will have individual needs. It is always best to consult with a licensed acupuncturist to develop a treatment plan that works for you.
Leah Chischilly, MSAc., L.Ac. is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Manager of Clinical Operations at Modern Acupuncture. She helps busy women go from stressed out, in pain and on edge to blissed out, pain-free and on their way to better health. Leah earned her Master’s degree in Acupuncture from the Phoenix Institute of Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture and has extensive training in acupuncture for pain and stress management as well as aesthetic acupuncture.
You can find her at:
leahchischilly.com | @lmchischilly on Instagram | Facebook.com/leahchischilly