Did you know that the painful and frustrating symptoms most women associate with their periods (and the week before their periods) are actually just indications of hormonal imbalances in the body?
You may think having cramps, cravings for junk food, and vicious mood swings are inevitable parts of what most of us call PMS, but these are signs of imbalances in the body, which is trying to tell you to pay attention.
As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are several herbal and acupuncture treatments I typically rely on to help correct the imbalances.
These treatments are the best natural (TCM-inspired) approaches to hormone-balancing for my patients who experience PMS symptoms like bloating, headaches, anxiety, irritability, breast tenderness, and/or cravings for sweets.
1. Let the heat build.
When I meet patients who complain about debilitating PMS, one of the first things I ask is “Does your pain get better with warmth?” If you’re familiar with acupuncture, you probably know that “coldness” is often the attributed cause of a whole host of physical ailments, as it leads to stagnation of Qi (life force) in the body.
Some women report that they love to take warm baths or get cozy with a cup of hot tea when they feel their painful symptoms come on.
Whether you try a hot water bottle or a heating pad on your belly, applying heat to the places in the body where there is pain can be a very effective way to diminish the pain.
If you like tea, make yourself a cup with ginger and lemon for additional Qi-stimulating benefits.
2. Start enjoying leafy greens.
But make sure they’re cooked — you don’t want to introduce excessive amounts of cold foods like salad or raw vegetables when you’re trying to warm the body and move Qi.
Cooked cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale are excellent foods to integrate into your diet in the week before your period. These are super-nutrient-dense foods that contain lots of hormone-balancing B vitamins and enzymes that aid in liver detoxification.
In both TCM and Western medicine, the liver is a major organ for detoxification (which includes eliminating the estrogen that is produced by your body during your menstrual cycle).
3. Eat cold raw foods in moderation.
This tip is more of a preventive measure than a proactive one, but it is equally important. Whenever possible, eat foods that are “cold” only in moderation.
Raw vegetables require more energy to be digested. Things like very cold drinks or ice cream can induce stagnation and exacerbate pain that is brought about by “coldness” in the body.
When eating cold or raw foods, try following them with a cup of hot water, as this warms the spleen and stomach and aids digestion. Even better, put a slice of ginger in the hot water, as ginger nourishes, warms, and aids digestive function.
4. Balance hormones gently and naturally without side effects.
Chinese herbal formulas such as Jia Wei Xiao Yao San (also known as Free & Easy Wanderer) contains an herb called Dang Gui, which is known to balance hormones.
Specifically, Dang Gui contains compounds known as phytoestrogens, which help balance estrogen in the body to avoid those hormonal peaks and valleys that can induce moodiness.
5. Find a stress reliever that works for YOU.
Stress is one of the major sources of disharmony in our bodies. When we get stressed out, even if it’s about something manageable like a tense conversation with a friend, the body reacts as though there were "real" physical danger — often called the “fight or flight” response.
When you feel stressed out, your adrenal glands pump out the stress hormone cortisol. Since the adrenal glands also produce and regulate the reproductive hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone that fluctuate during your cycle, stress can cause hormonal imbalances that exacerbate PMS.
The very best stress relievers are exercise, orgasms, and acupuncture. All three work, but let’s face it: Orgasms are definitely the most fun!
Exercise releases those happy hormones called endorphins, which is why you feel so good after a workout. But having an orgasm (whether with a partner or alone) is scientifically proven to act as a chemical relaxant in the body.
Bottom line? Tap into the aspects of your life that may be causing you stress, and find an activity or practice that works for you and helps you relax. Maybe it’s yoga, or painting, or reading a book.
Ultimately, finding balance in your life will help you feel that corresponding balance in your body. The ocean will always ebb and flow, but as mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn has said, “You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”