Pre-menstrual syndrome or PMS, as it is often called, is the term used to describe the various emotional and physical symptoms occurring before the period. Symptoms can include depression and sadness, irritability, anxiety, lethargy, lack of concentration, aggressiveness, changes in libido, changes in bowel habits, skin eruptions, food cravings, crying, outbursts of anger, clumsiness, abdominal and breast distension, pain, water retention, weight gain, and insomnia. Symptoms vary in intensity, from mild to extremely serious, and duration, from one day to two weeks. Surveys estimate that 30-90% of women have experienced PMS at some point in their lives.
There is no clear treatment for PMS in the Western repertoire, as there is no universally-accepted definition of what PMS is or what causes it. Common theories include progesterone deficiency, vitamin B6 deficiency, elevated prolactin levels, prostaglandins, and excessive aldosterone levels. Treatment may include diuretics, anti-depressents, anti-inflammatories, progesterone, oral contraceptives, medications to influence the production of prostaglandins, and vitamin B6 supplements. However, most women experience some degree of PMS regularly and do not seek help for it, believing it to be a ‘natural’ or at least inevitable part of life. Many use their own tried-and-true methods of treatment that may include painkillers, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, supplements, exercise, diet, stress reduction, and rest.
PMS is approached from a different perspective in Chinese medicine, and can be treated effectively with acupuncture. Chinese Medicine looks at one’s state of health according to the body’s internal balances; when there is imbalance, symptoms will occur. An imblalance of the liver is often at the root of many PMS symptoms because it plays a very important role in a woman’s menstrual cycle. The liver has a strong influence on the regulation and balance of emotions, it regulates the blood and supplies the blood for the uterus, and its overall regulation of energy and blood is relied upon for the functioning of all other organs. Symptoms of PMS can commonly be due to liver imbalances but may also relate to spleen and kidney imbalances, all of which may be caused by lifestyle factors such as emotional strain, poor diet, or overwork. Depending on the cause or causes, the specific symptoms experienced will vary.
Chinese medicine treatment begins with a proper diagnosis of the root causes of the symptoms. Once the causes of PMS are determined, acupuncture along with diet and lifestyle changes may be used to resolve the problem. Acupuncture is used to harmonize the body’s overall flow of energy, improve liver functioning, and regulate hormone functioning. Diet and lifestyle changes are encouraged to avoid aggravating the condition and to promote healing. Examples can include avoiding greasy, heavy or spicy foods, limiting caffeine, managing stress and removing stressors where possible, exercise, and improving the balance of work, family, and recreational time.
At Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, we have often seen clients for the treatment of PMS. With acupuncture treatments, many women experience less severe pre-menstrual symptoms, calmer and more easily regulated moods, increased energy, improved digestion and organ functioning, improved complexion, better sleeping patterns, and the reduction and eventual resolution of pain, bloating and other PMS symptoms. As the body is strengthened and rebalanced, symptoms will be alleviated, demonstrating that there are indeed effective methods for resolving health issues through natural, safe, drug- and hormone-free techniques.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St in Kelowna, BC.