As a clinician and a woman I often hear female clients and friends casually talking about symptoms leading up to “that time of the month.” We’ve come to accept Pre-Menstrual Syndrome- PMS for short – as a normal part of our cycle, but what isn’t commonly known is that many PMS symptoms may be a sign of imbalance which could lead to something greater. Swollen breasts, irritability, sadness, cramps, low back pain, fatigue, and cravings are so common that we are surprised when hear of a woman who doesn’t experience these symptoms leading up to their period.
Seeing an acupuncturist provides an opportunity to gather both objective and subjective data for you personally. You may experience the same PMS symptoms as your best friend, however your diagnosis may be completely different and therefore so will your treatment. Your tongue, pulse, symptoms, and constitution are all considered before each treatment and are factored in for each herbal prescription making each session customized specifically for you.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine can help regulate hormonal levels and resolve PMS symptoms, but certain lifestyle factors can contribute to stagnant qi and blood that cause those symptoms to begin with. Below are some of the main culprits along with suggested changes that will help you achieve a smooth cycle:
We are conditioned to respond to every day stresses – economics, traffic, work, relationships, errands, the list for reasons to be stressed goes on and on – as though we are being chased by a bear. While our lives are not actually in danger, many of us live in a state of fight or flight which impacts us on a physiological level. Incorporating practices that down regulate our nervous system – moving us from fight or flight of our sympathetic nervous system into rest and digest of our parasympathetic nervous system- would increase the flow of our qi and blood circulation, and in turn our quality of life could greatly improve. Practices such as yoga, meditation, qi gong, mindfulness exercises, and focused breathing, are complimentary to acupuncture as great ways to manage stress. Utilizing these tools daily is necessary to reprogram our learned stress response. If you experience constipation, difficulty sleeping, irritability, anxiety, a feeling of overwhelm, body temperature regulation issues, cold extremities, or feel as though you are always trying to catch up or race to your next task, chances are you could use some techniques to de-stress.
Poor blood sugar management
Starting our days on the run without planning or preparing our meals, waiting too long to eat between meals and picking up quick energy foods that tend to be high in sugar and carbs can lead to spiking and crashing of our blood sugar levels throughout the day, wreaking havoc on our hormonal systems. Brain fog, shaking, irritability, feeling tired before eating or sleepy after eating, cravings for sugars, waking at 3am, and acne are signs of poor blood sugar management. Taking the time to plan and prepare meals can prevent these occurrences. While fruits and juices offer vitamins and minerals, they are still high in sugars and low in proteins and healthy fats. Eating a high protein breakfast, with plenty of protein and healthy fats throughout your day at regular intervals will sustain you much longer than carbs and sugars. Supplements can also be taken to support specific blood sugar management needs.
Lack of sleep and not eating enough high quality foods can lead to fatigue. To fight fatigue we self medicate with caffeine to the point of becoming dependent upon it for energy like a drug. Too little sleep adds undue strain on our adrenal glands, which taxes stress hormones causing inflammation and potentially leading to a whole cascade of events physiologically. Too much caffeine can exacerbate the inflammation, while also up regulating our nervous system causing more stress. Getting the proper amount of sleep and having healthy circadian rhythms sets the tone for the rest of the endocrine system. Not everyone requires 8 hours of sleep and caffeine is actually good for some people but we always have to seek balance and be sure not to over use it.
Lack of physical movement
Not enough physical movement impairs circulation, slows the metabolism, and lowers endorphins potentially causing mood disorders. Exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress, regulate hormones and metabolism, and take time to yourself. Find a physical activity you love and do it regularly. If you love it, it won’t be work. You may find you are too tired to exercise, but actually, you are just stagnant and the movement will energize you.
If making these changes seems overwhelming, start slowly by making small adjustments. Slow change is lasting change. Try five minutes of meditation in the morning, snacking on good quality high protein and fat snacks throughout the day, switching to black or green tea and limiting it to 1 cup a day, and taking the stairs or choosing to walk to places rather than drive. Most importantly, love yourself enough to take care of yourself and you will be able to show up for your life in a much better and more efficient way.
It can take a couple months for your cycle to regulate, but with patience and consistency these lifestyle changes along with acupuncture and herbal medicine can alleviate the symptoms of PMS.
Written by Maria Villella – To book your next acupuncture appointment, call (424) 744-8366.