Period Problems? How to Deal
Does your period suck? Well then we should talk, because I hated my period for a very long time, and now me and my period are friends. We can hang once a month when she comes to town and it doesn't destroy my whole damn life.
My journey of healing my cycle is what made me so passionate to learn all the ways Chinese medicine can help those who menstruate, and to share this knowledge with anyone who will listen. I believe it's our birthright to have a period that’s manageable, if not enjoyable. And honestly? It’s really not as complicated as it's all made out to be.
Depending on why your periods or cycles suck, whether they are painful, emotional, or totally irregular, I’ll walk you through exactly what you can do to feel better each month.
Cramps + heavy bleeding
Let's start off with the meat and potatoes, most women report hating their periods because they are painful and/or heavy. Especially if your period requires you to change your tampon or pad every hour, or if you need to take pain medication regularly for menstrual cramps, that's something you don't necessarily have to deal with, even if you've had it your whole menstruating life - shocking I know.
In Chinese medicine pain and heavy bleeding is often related to what we call “blood stagnation,” which means the blood is somewhat stuck and doesn’t flow as freely as it is supposed to. Making sure you move your Qi, and thus your blood, is an important part of the process, so moderate exercise and stress management throughout your cycle can help a lot.
Avoiding really cold foods and beverages also helps, since they tend to make blood stagnation worse. That means room temperature or warm water instead of over ice, cut back on the ice cream and popsicles, and choose steamed, sautéed, or roasted veggies instead of always going for salads and smoothies. Especially for the week before and during your period, try to really focus on cooked, warming foods.
I also typically recommend acupuncture treatment, as it can have a quick effect on tuning down menstrual cramps, and for herbs I usually use a combination of Raspberry Leaf Tea daily and my Crimson Companion herbal tincture during just the most painful days of the period.
Super light + scanty periods
If you have the opposite issue, that it seems like you’re barely having a period at all, that can be equally troubling to some people, especially if you’re used to having more of a full flow.
It’s important to note this can be a common side effect of certain oral contraceptive pills or IUDs. As long as you continue using those contraceptives you’ll likely continue to have a fairly light flow. While some people find this disconcerting, most doctors will tell you it’s normal and not something to worry about. In some cases this can cause some irregular cycles and hormone imbalances when you come off of the birth control, but I often use acupuncture and herbal medicine to re-balance the system within a few months, and for some they go back to menstruating pretty normally.
Perimenopause is another common reason periods may become scanty, which may occur for women somewhere between 45-55 - in some cases it can start earlier. Especially if accompanied by other common perimenopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, skin or vaginal dryness, then it may be worth checking your hormones to see if that’s what’s going on.
In some cases a light flow develops for no obvious reason, but it can be normal for some people, especially after a big shift like after giving birth or during a period of stress. This pattern is typically caused by a thin uterine lining (endometrium) which may be caused by low estrogen levels or reduced uterine blood flow.
In Chinese medicine this is loosely translated to blood deficiency and/or Liver Qi Stagnation, which can be caused by stress, poor diet/digestion, and/or hormone imbalances. It’s typically only considered an issue if you plan on getting pregnant anytime soon, in which case you want to increase that uterine lining to create a hospitable place for an embryo/baby to develop, and in some cases that takes a few cycles to do.
Once again, acupuncture is helpful, but diet and herbs are very important components with this pattern, blood building foods and herbs are typically my first choice for those with a light flow to bulk up the healthy blood flow in the body. This includes dark leafy green veggies, berries (especially goji berries), microalgaes (such as spirulina), most non-starchy veggies, and a small amount of good quality animal products, especially grassfed beef and bone broth. In terms of herbs, I usually recommend drinking Raspberry Leaf Tea daily and using my Blood Booster herbal tincture throughout the cycle (but especially during and the week just following bleeding.)
PMS, moodiness + irritability
For some, the worst part of their period is the PMS, moodiness and/or irritability that comes on either before bleeding begins or at the start of the period.
PMS is usually caused my hormone imbalances of estrogen and/or progesterone, which are produced in the ovaries. If the ovaries aren’t functioning or the liver isn’t clearing hormones out of the system properly, then imbalances can result.
From a Chinese medical point of view it’s once again “Liver Qi Stagnation” which is usually caused by stress. Keep in mind stress doesn’t just have to be mental, it could be physical stress too to irregular sleep schedule or not enough nutrients in the diet. The more we can improve liver function and smooth out Liver Qi, the less bothersome the PMS symptoms will be.
Acupuncture is great during the premenstrual phase to mellow symptoms out and get you ready for your period, but herbal medicine is another common tool that works quite well.
It may be surprising, but rose buds and mint are common teas that are gentle yet effective for PMS because they both so effective at getting Liver Qi circulating. My Peaceful Period herbal tincture is specifically formulated for PMS and period-related irritability, it includes rose and mint, as well as ashwagandha for hormone balance and bupleurum, a Chinese herb that is one of my absolute favorite choices for treating the Liver Qi Stagnation that causes PMS.
Whether it's early or late, it can be so annoying to have no idea when your period is going to start, and with irregular cycles treatment options will completely depend on exactly what’s happening with you.
If you tend towards having long cycles (consistently 35+ days) then it's possible you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or if you tend toward much shorter cycles it can be caused by a few different hormonal imbalances, one of which is a Luteal Phase Defect.
In some cases, cycles may range anywhere between 24-35 days, but if you’re ovulating every cycle and your luteal phase is sufficiently long, then there’s not necessarily anything wrong with your cycle length changing each month. Regardless, acupuncture and customized herbal medicine can be very effective to help regulate your cycle and get it to be more of a consistent length.
In any case, understanding when and if you’re ovulating is key to better understanding what exactly is going on with your cycle and your hormones. Using ovulation tests can usually help you to pinpoint when the egg actually drops, and if you have difficulty with those then typically charting your Basal Body Temperature will fill in any missing pieces about what’s going on with your cycle.
Need more customized help?
I work one-on-one with folks all across the country. I help them to balance hormones, reduce pain, and regulate cycles; often in just a few short months. If you are LA-based you can see my in my Atwater Village office, or if you’re located somewhere else we can still work together via phone or video chat to figure out which herbs, foods, and supplements will work best for your unique presentation. Contact me with any questions or you can go ahead and schedule an appointment for acupuncture or a consultation.