Many women experience symptoms coming up to and during their period. Mild PMS symptoms/pains which do not interfere with your quality of life are fine but unfortunately too many women including me, suffer PMS, severe fatigue and/or severe pain. These symptoms are common but NOT normal and you shouldn't have to just put up with them.
Some things which I recommend as part of my clinical practice and which I have found useful personally as someone who has had both fibroids and endometriosis are
1. Eat well. I know it is the hardest thing to do when all you want is a bucketful of chocolate but eating well all month will have an impact on your symptoms. Try to eat as healthy as possible, getting as much fruit and veg as you can, ideally between 7 and 10 portions a day. And only 2 or 3 to be fruits. Ideally poach your fruit or at eat at room temperature. Eating food straight from the fridge or in cold smoothies is not recommended in Chinese Medicine for most people as it damages your Stomach and Spleen Qi. This leads to poor digestion which will mean your symptoms will be worse. Eat good quality proteins and fats especially those which have omegas such as oily fish, seeds, nuts etc. Keep the sugar to a minimum and this includes fruit sugars which is why I recommend to clients that they eat 2 fruits a day. Each time you eat sugar the hormone insulin is released. Over time insulin resistance can develop which will affect the hormones of your reproductive system adversely and worsen symptoms. Also reduce alcohol intake especially around your period. The Liver in Chinese medicine has a very important role to play in moving your Qi and if you are harming it by drinking too much alcohol then your Qi will become stagnant and stagnant Qi equals pain and mood swings. In addition if your Liver is dealing with breaking down alcohol then it is not concentrating on breaking down excess hormones.
2. Reduce Stress. Develop some sort of practice that helps you reduce stress. Meditation, yoga, breathing, qigong, dancing, running .. it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it works for you. And doesn’t involve copious amounts of alcohol J . If you are stressed your body will produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and these will affect your oestrogen/progesterone production.
3. Heat. Cold is the enemy in Chinese Medicine as cold causes Qi and Blood to stagnate and produces pain. So avoid cold foods and drinks or if you do eat them then drink some warm tea or lemon/ginger afterwards. Keep your midriff warm. Wearing tops which expose your back and belly to cold increases the likelihood of cold in the uterus area. While you’re at it keep the ankles covered in cold weather too. Totally against current fashion trends I know, but the lower calf/ankle are contains important channels in Chinese medicine which maintain uterine health. Keeping these channels warm will keep the Qi flowing through them nicely. If you find you often have cold feet or you have been exposed to cold during the day then try soaking your feet in some hot water in the evening. You can add some ginger for extra heat. If you find your head is very “busy” at the end of the day this can be a great way to relax, bring the Qi down from the head to the rest of the body and promote sleep.
4. Move your Qi. As I said before a lot of period pain and mood swings are caused by stagnant Qi and Blood. So moving your body is important every day to move your Qi and get it flowing through your organs. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of time or effort if you are not able for it (see point # 5 below). A simple 15 min walk is great to move Qi if that is all you have the energy for.
5. Rest. Women are cyclical beings living in a linear world. Our moods and our energy levels go up and down depending on where we are in our cycle. But too often the world expects us to carry on as usual during our premenstrual and menstrual weeks. And while for some women this is achievable for many women trying to do it all makes symptoms much worse. So rest when you need to. Understand your cycle. Track it so you are aware of where you are in your cycle and you can plan and make adjustments as needed. In the first few days of my period I can get exhausted which makes my pain much worse if I don’t rest enough. I try where possible not to schedule any big work or life events in these days so that I can sit on the couch and just rest if I need to. And it’s taken a long time for me to not feel guilty about this but I don’t anymore. I know that come week 2 of my cycle (around ovulation) I am going to get a real boost of energy and get so much done it’s like I have 4 hands. So work with your cycle and rest when your body tells you that you need it.
6. Finally, get help. If you have changed your lifestyle and your symptoms are not improving and are interfering with work/relationships/life in general then it’s time to seek help. Go see your doctor or may be a number of doctors. Unfortunately it can take time for some doctors to take period symptoms seriously. It can take on average, 8 years for example, for endometriosis to be diagnosed and I know for me it took 14 years. Often the solution offered is hormonal birth control which does not suit many people and essentially just pushes the problem down the road. Often women will find that symptoms will return as soon as birth control stops such as when they want to get pregnant. So then they are left with trying to deal with symptoms in their 30s (when they are under a time constraint to get pregnant) that could have been dealt with in their 20s. The other option to get help is with an alternative health practitioner such as an acupuncturist. I know it was the only thing that I found and still find that helps my endometriosis symptoms. In fact, it’s the reason I became an acupuncturist.
An acupuncturist will work with you and your lifestyle to create a tailored program around your diagnosis and your lifestyle. But however you do it, do get the help you need. Don’t suffer in silence.
Happy menstruating x