Natural Treatments for Menstrual Disorders
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
Monthly menstrual periods are a normal part of a woman’s life. Menstruation is essential for the renewal of the uterine lining in preparation for pregnancy. Major fluctuations in hormone levels precede a menstrual period, and it is normal to feel minor discomfort before and during menstruation. However, many women experience severe symptoms or painful menstruation. Painful menstruation, or dysmenorrhea, is more common in young women in their teens and twenties than in older women, and it can be secondary to an underlying condition such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cysts, or premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
The symptoms of painful menstruation begin days before the onset of menstruation, and can continue throughout the cycle.
- lower abdominal cramping,
- a dull ache that often radiates to the lower back,
- heavy menstrual flow with or without clots,
- dull headaches, constipation or diarrhea,
- frequent urination, and
- mood changes including anxiety or depression.
Stress, lack of exercise, and excess caffeine use can also cause menstrual discomfort and PMS. In Western medicine birth control pills or other hormonal agents, diuretics, and antidepressants are often prescribed.
In Chinese medicine, a healthy menstrual cycle relies on several factors, including the condition of the blood, the level of energy, and the proper functioning of the liver and kidneys. For example, if there is heat in the blood or a stagnation of energy resulting from emotional imbalance and stress, the menstrual flow becomes disrupted, causing pain and discomfort. Many women also suffer from a condition in which cold affects the uterus, causing severe menstrual cramps and pain. Stress and intense emotions, especially anger, frustration, and resentment, can easily depress the liver. Over time, the stagnation turns into heat, pushing the blood to flow out heavily with clots and pain.
In one case, a patient of mine would go from being gentle and sweet to rageful and anxious - like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - as soon as she hit her ovulation. Two weeks later, when her period would start, she’d return to being her sweet self. Her menstrual pain was unbearable as a result of recurrent endometriosis, which had already been treated with surgery three times. She was referred to me by her gynecologist, and together we created a treatment plan involving diet and nutrition, acupuncture and herbal therapy, exercise, and meditation. After about six months, her symptoms were reduced by about 90 percent. She was quite happy, but the happiest person was her husband, who once remarked that I had saved their marriage. Following are some recommendations for treating menstrual problems. Be sure to have your gynecologist examine you thoroughly to rule out fibroids, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or other serious disorders.
DIET FOR MENSTRUAL DISORDERS
- Diet before, during, and after menstruation can have direct bearing on the duration and severity of menstrual symptoms. I recommend a balanced diet rich in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and moderate to small amounts of organic animal protein.
- Foods high in essential fatty acids, including cold-water fish, nuts such as almonds and walnuts, and seeds such as sesame and cassia, are helpful.
- One week prior to the onset of your cycle, I recommend that you incorporate scallions, chives, ginger, fennel, orange peel, spinach, walnuts, hawthorn berries (make tea), raspberries, saffron, tarragon, bay leaf, cinnamon, and black pepper into your diet.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, and vinegar around the time of your menstrual period, as should saturated fats, sugar, raw fruits (except berries), salt, and dairy products. Animal proteins should be eaten in moderation.
HOME REMEDIES FOR MENSTRUAL DISORDERS
- Make a broth by boiling 3 slices of ginger, 1 chopped green onion, 1 fennel bulb, the dried peel of 1 small orange, and a pinch of black pepper in 3 1/2 cups of water for 10 minutes. Strain, and drink 1 cup 3 times a day beginning 1 week prior to the onset of menstruation.
- Make tea by boiling 1 teaspoon each of hawthorn, cinnamon, and turmeric in 3 1/2 cups of water for 30 minutes. Strain, and drink 3 cups daily. This is a good remedy for abdominal bloating, distention, and pain.
- Take a hot Epsom salt sitz bath daily before the onset of your period. Once your period starts, massage ginger oil into your abdomen and place a heating pad over your abdomen for 30 minutes for pain relief.
DAILY VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR MENSTRUAL DISORDERS
- Supplementing with vitamin B complex and vitamin E (800 IU) can help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Taking magnesium (500 milligrams) combined with vitamin B6 (50 milligrams) can help reduce cramps and pain.
- Taking niacin (200 milligrams) combined with rutin (500 milligrams) and vitamin C (1,000 milligrams) is also useful for pain relief.
- Supplementing with evening primrose oil (450 milligrams GI.A) can help balance the hormonal system.
- Essential fatty acids in the form of omega-3-rich fish oil (1,000 milligrams EPA; 800 milligrams DHA) and flaxseed oil are natural anti-inflammatories that help reduce menstrual pain and clotting.
HERBAL THERAPY FOR MENSTRUAL DISORDERS
Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to www.askdrmao.com.
- Chamomile tea and valerian tea can help relax the muscles and reduce pain. Chaste tree and black cohosh can also help reduce pain.
- A Traditional Chinese herbal formula used to reduce menstrual pain and cramping includes Peony root (with bark), Sichuan Lovage rhizome, Bupleurum root, Achyranthes root, Dong Quai root, and Safflower.
- Red raspberry tea helps to strengthen uterine tissue. Cramp bark, black cohosh, and Jamaican dogwood can be used to relieve pain and cramping.
- Other Traditional Chinese herbs used for menstrual difficulties include immature orange peel, nutgrass, silk tree, albizia bark, angelica, red clover, and motherwort.
QI GONG EXERCISE FOR MENSTRUAL DISORDERS
Regular physical activity is very important for promoting the flow of qi in the body. A lack of exercise can increase the severity and duration of symptoms associated with dysmenorrhea. In addition to a regular physical exercise regimen, a good moving meditation can help balance the emotions, reduce stress, strengthen the organs, and regulate menstruation.
I recommend the movement section White Crane Twists Its Body to Look Up of the Eight Treasures Qi Gong to my patients for menstrual problems. This exercise helps regulate liver energy, promotes the flow of qi and blood, strengthens the uterine muscles, and helps regulate menstruation. Do this exercise twice daily for best results.
- In a quiet, comfortable environment, preferably outdoors, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, spine erect, tailbone tucked in, and head tilted slightly forward. Let your arms hang at your sides, with the shoulders relaxed.
- Begin with rhythmic, slow, and relaxed breathing. Inhale deeply but softly, and imagine the breath extending all the way down to the lower abdomen, about two finger-widths below the navel. Exhale gently and softly. Stay in this position for 7 breath cycles, relaxing and calming your mind.
- Now, begin the exercise: Inhale, and widen your stance to two shoulder-widths apart. Exhale and bend forward, placing your palms on your knees so that you’re bent over at a 90-degree angle.
- Inhale, and grasp the back of your left ankle with your right hand while pushing against your left knee with your left hand.
- Exhale, and twist your upper torso to the left, twisting your head to look up. You should feel a stretch in your left leg muscles and back.
- Inhale, release the grip on your ankle, and return to the forward bend position. Exhale, and place your palms on your knees, remaining bent over at a go-degree angle.
- Inhale, and grasp the back of your right ankle with your left hand while pushing against your right knee with your right hand.
- Exhale, and twist your upper torso to the right, twisting your head to look up. You should feel a stretch in your right leg muscles and back.
- Inhale, release the grip on your ankle, and return to the forward bend position. Exhale, and place your palms on your knees, remaining bent over at a 90-degree angle.
- Repeat the exercise 3 to 7 times, alternating from one side to the other. Do not overstretch.
- Conclude the exercise by returning to the initial standing posture and meditating for 1 minute.
SELF ACUPRESSURE FOR MENSTRUAL DISORDERS
- Locate the acupoint Valley of Harmony (LI-4), in the web between your thumb and index finger on your right hand. Apply steady pressure with your left thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left hand.
- Find the acupoint Great Surge (LIV-3), in the web between the big and second toes on your right foot. Apply steady pressure with your left thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left foot.
Engaging these points helps promote the smooth flow of qi, soothes stagnation, and helps alleviate painful menstruation, cramps, and stress.
MENSTRUAL DISORDERS: WHAT TO AVOID
- Coffee, alcohol, and chocolate, as they can aggravate menstrual cramps. Food allergies - be observant to determine which foods aggravate menstrual pain and eliminate them from your diet.
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs), which can cause painful menstruation in some women.
- Frequent urinary tract and vaginal infections, which can predispose you to painful menstruation.
- Being overtired- rest and sleep are very important for proper organ function. Get at least eight hours of sleep a night.
- Berkow, R. ed. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. 16th ed. Rahway, NJ: Merck Research, 1992.
- Helms, J.M. 1987. Acupuncture for the management of primary dysmenorrhea. Obstet. Gynecol. 69( 1): 51– 56.
- Jonas, W.B., and J. Jacobs. Healing with Homeopathy: The Doctors’ Guide. New York: Warner, 1996, 185– 86.
- Ni, M. The Eight Treasures: Energy Enhancement Exercises. Los Angeles: Seven Star, 1996.
- Ni, M., and C. McNease. The Tao of Nutrition. Los Angeles: Seven Star, 1987.
- NIH Consensus Statement: Acupuncture. 1997. National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director. 15( 5): 1– 34. Accessed at PubMed.
- Penland, J.G., and P. E. Johnson. 1993. Dietary calcium and manganese effects on menstrual cycle symptoms. Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 168: 1417– 23.
- Werbach, M.R. Nutritional Influences on Illness. New Canaan, CT: Keats, 1987.
©2015 Dr. Mao Shing Ni
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