When I first had acupuncture, my chief complaint was the uncontrollable, out of character, unbearable PMT that I experienced each month. My acupuncturist was interested in the way I described myself, in a word: ‘nasty’! I found that my life was being disrupted 2 weeks of every month. I would have 2 perfectly normal, happy weeks, then a week of paranoia and uncontrollable anger resulting in vicious verbal attacks on unsuspecting friends and colleagues. The following week I would feel exhausted, embarrassed and full of remorse and apology.
Like many women, I believed this to be the norm. Interestingly, if you look up PMT on wikipedia, it states:
Only a small percentage of women (2 to 5%) have significant premenstrual symptoms that are separate from the normal discomfort associated with menstruation in healthy women.
I don’t consider ‘discomfort’ to be normal. Certainly now, thanks to some excellent acupuncture treatment my PMT rarely shows itself. Rather than dread my premenstrual week, I consider it a wonderful time of increased energy and creativity.
PMT is regarded as something that women have to put up with. It can range from mild irritability to a raging fury, tears and irrational tantrums. There are a number of criminal cases where women have committed murder and in some cases, have been aquitted on the grounds of diminished responsibilty due to their PMT.
Although PMT is seen as mainly an emotional problem, for many women it is accompanied by physical problems such as pain, migraines, skin problems, constipation/diarrhoea, breast distension, weight gain, water retention and so on, in varying degrees of severity. There has been a tendancy to treat these problems with the contraceptive pill, strong pain killers or long term low dose anti-biotics for skin issues. In some cases this is successful but most women I encounter found it made little difference especially as a long term solution.
Chinese medicine sees the menstrual cycle comprised of 2 phases:
The Yin phase (roughly days 1-14) begins with the shedding of the endometrium i.e the period. At the same time the body is already drawing on it’s resources to replenish the lining of the womb. Although I don’t advocate ‘shutting women away’ during period time, I personally think a couple of quiet days don’t go amiss, perhaps with attention to Blood nourishing foods such as a little red meat, dark beans and leafy greens.
The Yang phase (roughly 14-28) sees the release of the egg, i.e ovulation occurs. The Yang energy brings an increase in temperature and a rise in progesterone. This is signalled by a noticeable thickening of cervical mucus and most women report also, an increase in libido. (Isn’t nature clever?)
The latter half of the Yang phase, sees a gathering of Yang energy. This is of course the pre-menstrual phase and I liken it to the gathering of a wave just before it breaks. In Chinese medicine, we use the term ‘stagnation’ to describe the patholgy which relates to the lack of harmonious flow of either physical or emotional processes. In simplistic terms, stress or pre-existing unresolved emotional factors and also diet/lifestyle factors lead to ‘stagnation ‘ which amplifies and interupts the Yang energy’s movement. This leads to emotional outbursts, increased heat affecting stools leading to constipation or prompting skin eruptions, interupting water balance, or manifesting as pain in the form of menstrual cramps or rising to the head to produce migraines.
Acupuncture is extremely effective at harmonising the menstrual cycle and relieving this stagnation and I would recommend it as a front-line treatment. Once the cycle is smooth and harmonious (usually 6-12 treatments over a 2-3 month period) I encourage women to have a maintanance session at the start of the pre-menstrual phase either each month or every few months.
General tips to improve PMT are:
- exercise; preferrably in the form of deep stretching such as Yoga/Pilates
- avoidance of stimulants such as coffee and alcohol
- attention to diet: moderate dairy, fatty and high sugar foods, increase essential fatty acids (evening primrose oil has been suggested to be effective) as well as attention to blood nourishing foods
- particularly in relation to pre-menstrual/menstrual pain: avoid sex and overly strenuous exercise during your period, use sanitary towels instead of tampons at least some of the time
A smooth menstrual cycle is vital and empowering for a woman. It signifies our ability to bear life and should be regarded as a gift, not a dreaded curse.