The term Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), broadly describes emotional and/or physical discomfort occurring before the period. The symptoms may include depression, sadness, irritability, anxiety, lethargy, loss of concentration, aggressiveness, changes in libido, changes in bowel habits, skin eruptions, food cravings, crying, outbursts of anger, headaches, bloating, distension of the abdomen or breasts and insomnia. The symptoms vary in duration and intensity, ranging from one day to two weeks before the period. PMS is more common among women in the age range of 30 to 40. Symptoms can be very mild to extremely serious and debilitating.
Despite the fact many women experience some sort of discomfort during their “time of the month,” Traditional Chinese Medicine would argue this should not be viewed as “normal.” A woman’s journey through the menstrual cycle should be smooth and free of any discomfort, fatigue or emotional changes. Although many of the symptoms are widespread among women in today’s society it does not mean this is normal. The symptoms of PMS are signs that the woman’s body is out of balance.
When I explain to women how TCM can usually eliminate symptoms of PMS, many are surprised that treatment even exists and are skeptical of the outcome. This is because most women think the symptoms of PMS are a normal occurrence and an inconvenience they simply must learn to live with.
TCM as an alternative form of healthcare is growing in acceptance in Western societies because it works! Perhaps the strongest feature of TCM is its ability to treat chronic conditions for which conventional medicine has no answers or effective treatments other than long-term prescriptions that come with a host of possible side-effects. The symptoms of PMS can be effectively treated by TCM because the root problem is targeted by the treatment so the associated symptoms are effectively addressed.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE AND PMS
A woman’s cycle is characterized by the building up of Qi (energy) and Blood throughout the month to support the possibly fertilized egg and ensuing pregnancy. During the menses, the uterine lining is shed and the Blood and Qi circulate and begin the cycle anew.
The energetic function of the Liver, according to TCM, is to facilitate the free flow of Qi and Blood throughout the entire body, therefore its function is crucial to the proper cycle of menstruation. The Liver is easily disturbed by emotional upsets, poor dietary habits or an overly stressful life. When this occurs, the Qi of the Liver begins to stagnate and the circulation of Qi and Blood becomes affected. This can manifest on a physical and/or emotional level. In the days leading up to menstruation, the Qi and Blood should be circulating and moving in order to properly shed the lining of the uterus and prepare to begin a new cycle. If the Qi is stagnant at this time, symptoms of PMS will manifest. Emotional changes and irritability, bloating, low energy and similar symptoms are the results of the Qi getting stuck and failing to maintain a smooth response.
TCM groups the causes of PMS into three general categories (although overlap can occur):
EMOTIONAL STRAIN, IMPROPER DIET, OVERWORK
Over a period of time, frustration, anger, and resentment can lead to the stagnation of Liver Qi. Treatment will focus on relaxing the liver and moving the qi to regulate the cycle and eliminate symptoms.
Poor eating habits, greasy and fried foods, and eating too much dairy can lead to the production of phlegm. Phlegm combined with Liver heat and stagnation produces fire. Phlegm and heat both obstruct the flow of Qi, especially in the chest. Common symptoms include breast distension and oppression of the chest and can lead to mental-emotional impairment. Treatment will not only focus on moving and regulating the Qi but also on clearing heat and phlegm.
Overwork or excessive sexual activity weakens the Kidney and Liver yin which in turn depletes Qi and blood causing stagnation of Qi. In order for the Qi and blood to properly circulate there has to be sufficient Qi and blood in the meridians and vessels. Therefore, treatment will focus on nourishing the Qi and blood as well as moving the Qi.
Emotion also plays a part in the functions of various organs including your liver and kidney. You can refer to our article here for a detailed explanation.
In our next article, we will focus on the type of food that you should eat at various cycles to improve the flow of your Qi.