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Acupuncture and Natural Treatment for PMS and Menstrual Cramps

Natural and Effective Treatment for PMS

menstrual cramps and PMS

Find Relief for PMS and Menstrual Cramps with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs

PMS and dysmenorrhea (painful periods with menstrual cramps) are common reasons for seeking treatment with Chinese medicine because these natural and holistic methods are very effective. In addition, these treatments are free from the unwanted side-effects of drugs. Chinese herbs and acupuncture have been used for thousands of years in treating gynecological issues, and today more and more women are choosing this gentle, safe and holistic therapy for numerous health concerns. My twenty years of clinical experience has shown that women’s overall health improves greatly within 2 months of weekly treatment.

What Is the Cause of PMS and Menstrual Camping?

From a Chinese medicine perspective both PMS and cramping are generally attributed to an underlying Liver imbalance that creates Qi and Blood stagnation. While it is the Heart that pumps the blood, it is the Liver that is responsible for moving the Qi and Blood throughout the body; cramping pain and PMS are signs that the Blood has congealed and Qi has become stagnant.

The primary cause of Liver Qi and Blood stagnation is emotional in nature and is specifically related to the suppression of anger and frustration. When we feel stuck in our life and our creative resources are thwarted, the natural byproducts are anger and frustration. The continued attachment to these emotions makes us feel stuck on all levels. Therefore, the body will mirror this stagnation by impairing the circulation of Qi and Blood through the Liver meridian. This, in turn, causes pain, mood swings, and further emotional upset.

Liver Qi and Blood stagnation that creates cramping can also be caused by abuse that occurs during the onset of menses. Whether it is sexual, physical, or verbal abuse, such external harm can easily cause our blood circulation to shut down, which is our body’s protective mechanism against the injurious circumstance. Many women with severe and prolonged cramping have confided in me that they were  abused sometime in their childhood, teens, or early adult years.

When I explain to the women I work with that their menstrual imbalances are most likely related to this abuse, many of them intuitively recognize this as true, which is the first step in initiating the healing process. With gentle listening and support I am then able to attend to their full body, mind, and spirit, offering the deepest level of care they need and desire.

Acupuncture for PMS and Menstrual Cramps

Acupuncture Points Located On the Abdomen

PMS and menstrual cramping is actually one of the easier conditions to treat since acupuncture excels at moving stuck Qi and Blood. By harmonizing the flow of Qi and Blood, order is restored in the woman’s body, mind, and spirit.

Here are a few acupuncture points I commonly use for PMS and menstrual cramps:

  • Sanyinjiao (SP-6)
  • Diji (SP-8)
  • Guanyuan (CV-4)
  • Zhongji (CV-3)

Secondary acupuncture points I choose are based upon differential diagnostics. For Qi and Blood stasis, I add the following acupuncture points:

  • Taichong (LV-3)
  • He Gu (LI-4)
  • Xuehai (SP-10)
  • Qu Quan (LV-8)

For Liver Qi stagnation with Damp-Heat, I add:

  • Xingjian (LV-2)
  • Yinlingquan (SP-9)

For Kidney deficiency, I add:

  • Shenshu (BL-23)
  • Mingmen (GV-4)

For Qi and Blood deficiency, I add:

  • Qihai (CV-6)
  • Zusanli (ST-36)

These points can also be used for acupressure stimulation, for self-care. You can find the location of these points on this website.

Chinese Herbs for PMS and Menstrual Cramps

Along with acupuncture, I prescribe Chinese herbal formulas to help with PMS and menstrual cramping. Here is what I most commonly use as a base formula in my practice:

  • Xiao Yao Wan: Also called Free and Easy Wanderer, this is the quintessential gynecological formula in Chinese herbal medicine and one of the most popular herbal formulas for PMS. This formula combines a variety of herbs that regulate Liver Qi and strengthen the Spleen. Therefore, it is good for mild to moderate cramping, mood swings, fatigue, and bloating during menses.
  • Jia Wei Xiao Yao Wan: This is Free and Easy Wanderer Plus, which adds two heat-clearing herbs to the original formula. This makes it suitable for more severe symptoms of irritability, headaches, cramping, and possibly elevated body temperature.
  • Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang: This formula promotes the circulation of Liver Blood and warms the lower abdominal organs, which makes it suitable for more severe cramping that is alleviated by the application of heat.
  • Crampbark Plus: This is a formula by Health Concerns in tableted form that I prescribe for women who travel a lot for work or family obligations. This formula combines a variety of blood moving herbs for menstrual cramps and irregularity. This is to be used cautiously or in combination with other formulas with anyone with Blood deficiency as part of their pattern.
  • Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan: I often prescribe a variation of this Chinese herbal formula for fibroids, cysts, endometriosis, and cramping. This formula moves Liver Blood, warms the uterus, and dissipates Phlegm accumulations (cysts and fibroids).

I either add additional herbs or possibly remove an herb or two from these formulas for each woman’s unique constitutional pattern, paying particular attention to her emotional and spiritual needs. Rarely is any woman diagnosed as one cookie-cutter pattern of the formulas above. Remember to seek out a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist when using Chinese medicine.

Dietary Therapy

Nutritional therapy can go a long way toward correcting the imbalances that cause PMS and cramping, and it is why it is the first recommendation I make with my patients. The standard American diet is certainly enough to create a host of problems for women’s health, including hormonal imbalances, various side effects of holding excess weight, low serotonin levels, and poor metabolism. Here are a few basic tips to follow:

  • Avoid Refined Sugar: Refined products, or processed foods in general, should be avoided in order to address the underlying cause of PMS and cramping. Sugar in particular is harmful for all systems of the body as it causes an inflammatory response that has been linked to many chronic illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
  • Eliminate Wheat: I recommend this based on extensive clinical experience with my patients. In addition, research is now showing that eating wheat causes the disruption in the gut microbiome which interferes with proper nutrient absorption. This means that even if you are eating a healthy diet of organic whole foods, you may not be receiving the benefits of these vital nutrients if you are also consuming wheat.
  • Eat Organic Whole Foods: Eating organic means that the food is free from added hormones, is pesticide-free, and is not genetically modified (GMO). This one step can profoundly benefit your health.
  • Drink Plenty of Water: Natural spring, purified, or filtered water is best.
  • Avoid Coffee: Coffee is one of the main substances that causes Liver Qi stagnation conditions. It is an irritant to the colon and liver and can cause Qi and Blood stagnation over time. Switch to organic herbal tea for a warm drink that is both refreshing and nourishing.

Without the foundation of nourishing food, specifically tailored to the condition and constitution of each patient, herbs and even acupuncture may take much longer to have an effect. A diet that is seasonal, both in ingredients and cooking methods, for at least six months will create a baseline of health. You can read more about Chinese medicine’s dietary therapy here.

Nutritional Supplements

I also recommend adding vitamins and supplements for many women who are transitioning to a healthier diet, but haven’t quite gotten there yet. These can help:

  • Krill Oil: This is an essential fatty acid complex that is rich in phospholipids which makes it ideal for female health. I recommend starting at 3,000mg daily. Essential fatty acids are excellent for stabilizing the mood, reducing inflammation and pain, and aiding in the regulation of estrogen and progesterone (especially krill oil).
  • Phosphatidyl Choline: This is a phospholipid that has been shown to help balance estrogen and progesterone. It has a positive effect of PMS and cramping.
  • Antioxidant Complex: Taking a high quality antioxidant ensures that you are getting adequate vitamins and mineral for healthy blood and hormonal balance. Vitamins B12 and folic acid are commonly deficient in women and can lead to blood imbalances from the perspective of Chinese medicine.
  • 5 htp: This is a natural precursor to serotonin that is helpful for stabilizing moods and reducing cravings. It is also useful for fatigue and poor sleep.
  • Magnesium: deficiency is strongly implicated as a causative factor in PMS (use 360mg 3x/day)
  • Vitamin E: 100-400 IU/day has been clinically shown to reduce PMS symptoms
  • Vitamin B6: promotes healthy levels of neurotransmitters and endorphins for emotional stability

Exercise to Reduce PMS and Menstrual Camps

Make sure you get plenty of exercise. This is an important consideration for healing ourselves in general. Try to get at least 20 minutes of some movement a day, 5 days a week. Finding ways to manage your stress level is also necessary. Yoga and meditation are incredibly helpful for this purpose, along with many gentle forms of movement like Tai Qi and Qi Gong. Spending time outside in nature works wonders for me. A walk through the woods can be very restorative, and make sure to leave your cell phone behind.

Get Your Life Back

Unfortunately, many women have resigned themselves to putting up with these uncomfortable symptoms every month. They are conditioned by mass media and a misinformed society to think that PMS is normal and that there is no treatment available for them. When I explain to them that acupuncture and Chinese herbs work very well, they are relieved. When they start to see significant changes in their cycles they no longer feel like the world is ending, and they are no longer doubled over in pain for several days each month. They get their life back.

Hopefully after reading this article, you feel more encouraged knowing that there are effective and holistic therapies that you can take for PMS and cramping with Chinese medicine. It is important to remember that natural therapies take time, because these treatments are not simply masking your symptoms like drugs do, rather they are changing the underlying pattern and addressing the cause of the imbalance.

Be consistent in your treatment plan because acupuncture and Chinese herbs have an accumulative effect over several weeks or months. Our bodies love routine and regularity and will respond positively when you make a commitment to schedule a treatment each week. Seek help with a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist to support you, and you will be able to make vast improvements. Contact our clinic today to schedule your appointment.

Yours in Health,

Cally Huttar, PhD, LAc


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