When I was 15 years old I went to the doctor as I had premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and heavy periods. I was promptly put on the contraceptive pill and I stayed on this for a further 15 years. That was the 1980’s and I’d like to think that nowadays healthcare professionals would offer more options to people who have menstrual issues, as I now know that going on the pill isn’t the only answer.
At some point most people who menstruate will have experienced PMS to some degree. PMS symptoms are usually experienced in the 2 weeks prior to your period starting and finish when your period finishes.
The symptoms and intensity can vary from person to person. And a small amount of people can experience more severe PMS symptoms and this is known as Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
What symptoms do you experience if you have PMS?
Here is a list of the most common symptoms of PMS. This is not exhaustive!
- Mood swings
- Sore or tender breasts
- Feeling clumsy
- Feeling irritable or depressed
- Feeling emotional, upset or anxious
- Fluid retention
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Feeling tired and feeling bloated
- Food cravings
- Appetite changes
- Changes to your hair and skin
What actually causes PMS?
The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists state that the actual cause of PMS is not known. But it is believed that as your hormone levels change during your menstrual cycle, some people are more sensitive to this and this is when PMS symptoms can arise. They also mention that PMS is linked to certain neurotransmitters in your body, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
It is also believed in natural therapy circles that vitamin deficiencies, fatty diets, blood sugar imbalances, poor nutrient absorption, high stress levels, among other things, are linked to having symptoms of PMS.
What are the NHS currently offering to those with PMS?
- They will advise you to keep a diary of your symptoms for a few menstrual cycles. This will help them see if there is a pattern to your symptoms.
- If you do not already exercise regulary, you will be advised to do this.
- It will be recommended that you should eat a healthy balanced diet.
- Stress relieving practices will be suggested to try to manage your stress such as yoga, meditation or mindfulness.
- They may wish to refer you for some CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions so you can learn new ways to manage your PMS symptoms.
- Some Doctors may recommend that you start an Antidepressant if they feel it’s appropriate.
- The pill (usually the Combined oral contraceptive pill) is still routinely offered as an option.
- Oestrogen hormone patches or gel may be offered by your Doctor.
- They suggest that you take Ibruprofen and/or Paracetamol for your period pain.
What does PMS mean from a Chinese Medicine perspective?
PMS is believed to be a sign of an imbalance of Qi (Chi) and Blood. If you are angry or frustrated then this can be a sign that your Liver Qi is stagnated or blocked.
What can I do to help unblock the Liver Qi or prevent this happening?
Any exercise that involves sideways bending and twisting really benefits the Liver energy such as Makka Ho stretches and Yoga. But if the Liver energy is already stagnant then exercise in general is a great way to move Liver Qi. Especially exercises that channel unexpressed anger such as martial arts. Other beneficial activities are dancing, walking and Tai Chi.
Apart from exercise, what else can I do to support my Liver energy?
Making sure that you get enough sleep and rest is extremely important. Dealing with stress well will be beneficial in particular practicing yoga, deep breathing, meditation and enjoying creative experiences such as art and singing.
Are there particular foods that I should avoid?
Yes, avoiding overeating any foods that have been over-processed and contain lots of saturated fats, spicy foods, salt and sugar.
Anything that taxes your liver energy in any way will not help your PMS symptoms. This includes substances like alcohol, caffeine and drugs. You may feel that you get a temporarily lift when you consume these, but I can guarantee that you will come down with a bump soon after.
What should I eat?
I would recommend starting your day with a mug of warm water and fresh lemon or warm water with apple cider vinegar. Both these drinks cleanse the Liver.
It is also really important to eat simple, regular meals that help control your blood sugars. So try to eat low glycaemic index foods such as wholegrains and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Some people find that eating a food combining diet can be helpful for their digestion, when it has been affected by Liver Qi stagnation. This simply means eating protein rich foods separate from starchy carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes and grains. It also recommended that you eat fruits separate from your meals as this is better tolerated by your body too.
Instead of having your usual cappuccino, try drinking Liver friendly teas such as fennel, jasmine, aniseed, dill or camomile.
Are there any alternatives to taking painkillers during my period?
Yes there is. I personally have sought help from a homeopath for this issue. There are a few remedies that can help and a trained homeopath will be able to pinpoint which one should suit you.
Are there any complementary therapies that can help?
Therapies that are based on Chinese Medicine can really help such as Acupuncture or Shiatsu. Both of these if used regularly can help PMS symptoms and reduce Liver energy stagnation.
Can you recommend anything else? I feel wound up and angry a lot of the time and its worse around my period.
When you have a blockage in your Liver energy then it is not uncommon to feel like this. Dealing with suppressed emotions is an important part of healing your body and mind.
It doesn’t mean that you need to verbalise your anger to everyone that annoys you, but using simple techniques such as EFT (emotional freedom technique/Tapping) can help unblock suppressed anger and allow you to move on in a more gentle way.
I can show you this simple technique and it is something you can use at home on a daily basis (or when you have time). I can’t begin to tell you how much EFT has helped my supressed anger and helped me move forward.
Journaling can sometimes help too. All you need to do is write a few words or lines at the beginning or end of your day. Or when something has upset you. It doesn’t have to be all negative. You can write about things you would like to do or things you are grateful for too.
If you have any questions or would like to book in for a Shiatsu or an EFT treatment then please do not hesitate to contact me.