If you are reading this, two things are likely. You have god awful periods that disrupt your life and/ or you have a place in your heart for Darth Vader and his pals. If it's the former, trust me when I say, it doesn't have to be like that! Whether you are new to menstruation and you're wondering if every woman feels like she needs massive pain relievers or you've been at this for a few decades and seemingly out of nowhere your period is playing tricks on you with hemmorage type bleeding, you're period should not be holding your social calendar hostage.
Lets face it, our own perspective when it comes to Aunt Flow or The Plague as my girlfriend lovingly calls it, is probably where we draw most of our knowledge about what's normal. So let's clarify "normal" periods, from a holistic medicine perspective not matter what age you are.
- If you are having to change your pad and or super tampon more then every 2 hrs you are losing too much blood way too fast, even if it's for a day. (Side note, if you haven't tried a diva cup yet, they will change your life once you get over the weirdness of the concept. They also provide an actual measurement so you quantify blood loss. What a concept!)
- Mind numbing cramps that last for hours or days are not "normal" and don't have to be endured. Having to take mydol, tylenol, or some other pain reliever every period is not "normal."
- Yes, quarter size clots are considered large. Anything bigger than that is cruel and can be easily be broken up safely with herbs in the blood invigorating category when recommended by a competent practitioner that takes your history into consideration. A "healthy" period has virtually no clots or very tiny ones at the most.
Let's recap the healthy signs
- steady bleeding for 3-5 days
- changing a tampon or pad approximately every 4-6 hours
- mild cramps that don't disrupt your ability to work, sleep, or socialize
- Periods that don't require pain meds
If your period isn't matching up in the normal category or you feel like you are experiencing symptoms that could stand to be banished, read on for some lifestyle tips. You probably already know these and need a friendly reminder.
- Light exercise helps cramps, especially when you exercise dilegently through the luteal (days 15-menses) phase of your cycle. The kicker is, this is usually when we feel most sluggish and unmotivated thanks to PMS. Enlist a friend or schedule a trainer or classes during this time to keep you accountable.
- You want to avoid exercise that increases your chance of menstrual backflow during menstruation like heavy running and yogic inversions. They could make cramping worse or halt your period altogether. That's why "moon" days exist in yogic practice. Think swimming, cycling, restorative yoga and walking while you are menstruating.
- If you are trying to conceive, save more vigorous exercise like running for the follicular phase only so there is no chance of interfering with implantation during the luteal phase.
- Food choices in the weeks before you period can make a HUGE difference. Avoiding foods that cause inflammation like wheat, gluten, dairy, GMO corn & soy, SUGAR, coffee and alcohol can all contribute to periods that are more painful than necessary.
- Anything that moves your Qi or life force can help. This includes exercise, deep breathing exercises like pranayama, regular meditation, orgasm, and acupuncture.
Herbs that address the root cause of your painful periods can help to make your time of the month barely noticeable and less like a trip to yet another dreaded star wars movie.
The best part is, because they work on the root cause typically you only have to take them for 3-6 cycles before they have a lasting effect. Underlying causes from a Chinese Medicine point of view are typically one or a few of the following patterns of disharmony. Read on to find out where you match up and a possible formula that could help.
Qi stagnation- cramps start days before period does, typical breast tenderness and lots of PMS symptoms like bloating, digestion changes and irritability. Occasionally the period will stop in the middle for a day and then start again. Xiao Yao San also known as Free and Easy Wander or Calm is an excellent choice for this pattern. ProSoothe II by pure encapsulations may help as well. They are both taken through the entire luteal phase. Stress reduction practices like meditation and yoga are crucial for this pattern.
Blood stasis- clots of unknown origin. Heavy bleeding, sometimes there is spotting before or after the actual period. Visit with a qualified practitioner to pinpoint the best formula for you.
Cold trapped in the uterus- cramps that respond to a heating pad or moxabustion (a type of Chinese herbal therapy that is heated above the uterus). This is common in colder climates and in women that played sports in colder climates when young or who have had invasive surgeries. Another culprit is over consumption of cold raw foods, especially while menstruating. Avoid ice in drinks, ice reams and raw veggies and cold pressed juice in excess. Several warming and invigorating formulas like Chong release by Golden flower taken during menses can be helpful in addition to using a heating pad or moxabustion.
Endometriosis and/ or fibroids- Formuals based on the severity of blood loss and pain should be given as individuals with these cases vary according to how advanced the pattern is. To find a qualified herbalist visit aborm.org. Castor oil packs can be extremely helpful if you suspect either of these issues. Avoiding Caffeine, excess amounts of red meat and dairy may also help to stunt their progression. Vitamin D3 in large doses (5,000-10,000) a day and products like Systemic Enzymes that break up benign masses in the uterus may help.
Relaxation techniques have been used with some success to alleviate dysmenorrhea in some young women. According to one preliminary study, the symptoms of menstrual cramps, nausea, irritability, and poor concentration greatly improved after 20-minute relaxation sessions twice per week.1
Acupuncture may be a useful therapy in the treatment of dysmenorrhea. A preliminary trial reported that 86% of women treated with acupuncture for dysmenorrhea had complete cessation of pain for three consecutive menstrual periods.2 Other preliminary trials have demonstrated similar results.3, 4, 5 A controlled clinical trial reported 91% efficacy with acupuncture compared to 36.4% efficacy with sham acupuncture (using fake acupuncture points) and 18% efficacy in an untreated control group.6
Bottom line- you don't have to be held hostage by your period every month and you don't have the plague. Take your health into your own hands and get proactive today so you can enjoy tomorrow. A well functioning uterus and normal healthy periods are a snap shot into whats going on with your fertility. Even if you aren't ready to conceive, taking care of your uterus today could save you a lot of heartache later.
1. Ben-Menachem M. Treatment of dysmenorrhea: A relaxation therapy program. Int J Gynaecol Obstet1980;17:340-2.
2. Yuqin Z. A report of 49 cases of dysmenorrhea treated by acupuncture. J Tradit Chin Med 1984;4:101-2.
3. Xiaoma W. Observations of the therapeutic effects of acupuncture and moxibustion in 100 cases of dysmenorrhea. J Tradit Chin Med 1987;7:15-7.
4. Chuang Z. Treatment of 32 cases of dysmenorrhea by puncturing hegu and sanyinjiao acupoints. J Tradit Chin Med 1990;10:33-5.
5. Lin L. Literature research on point injection with Chinese Angelica liquor. J Tradit Chin Med 1998;18:308-12.
6. Helms JM. Acupuncture for the management of primary dysmenorrhea. Obstet Gynecol 1987;69:51-6.