If you have difficult periods, you’ve probably searched high and low for real and lasting relief. We talked with acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine practitioner Adam Burrill about remedies that have proven useful for many women for centuries. Turns out, what we eat can have significant effects–good and bad–on how we feel, particularly during our periods or times of hormonal change. Here’s what Adam had to share.
From Adam Burrill, L.Ac., MSOM:
Many women experience difficult periods in their teens, during stressful times, or as they approach menopause.
Symptoms women experience vary widely but can include cramping, irritability, back/hip soreness, headaches, digestive disturbance, fatigue, general discomfort, breast tenderness, sleeplessness and more.
Don’t despair: These symptoms may be avoidable.
If you go to your doctor to complain about symptoms related to your periods, the first thing your doctor is likely to give you is birth control. The birth control pill, and other birth control that contains hormones (like injectable forms or some IUDs), is likely to change your cycle by dominating the hormonal communication that is going on in your body to signal creation of estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones. The logic here is that your body must be regulating your cycle improperly. Sometimes these extra hormones work to relieve undesirable symptoms; sometimes they don’t.
Chinese Medicine, of which acupuncture is the most famous component, offers some perspective on the menstrual cycle that may be helpful.* Chinese Medicine was developed over many centuries of scientific observation, but uses a different kind of logic than mainstream medicine does today.
In Chinese Medicine, the menstrual cycle is governed by the blood. The healthy state of your blood produces healthy fertility and menses. Those essential things we sometimes neglect—decent sleep, minimal stress and a proper diet, for example—can affect your blood and lead to worse periods. Some things to avoid: excessive alcohol, sugar, caffeine and tobacco.
There are four basic patterns we see with difficult periods: The healthy state of your blood (from the Chinese Medicine perspective) can be affected by stagnation of circulation, emotional stagnation, lack of nutrients, and high stress levels.
With circulatory or emotional stagnation, you may experience cramps, back soreness and emotional upset, and you may see menstrual blood that is dark red or brown with clots. For relief, eat more spicy foods with herbs like cumin, coriander, cinnamon, oregano, and turmeric in them and increase the amount of exercise you get.
If you’re lacking nutrients, you may observe menstrual blood that is thin and a flow that lasts only one or two days with cramping, hot flashes, and fatigue during and following menses. For relief, eat lots of vegetables, healthy proteins and fats, get lots of rest, and don’t exercise excessively.
If you’re frequently under a lot of stress, you may experience any of the above. Try to reduce your stress and take all of the advice above. You can also go to an acupuncturist; acupuncture and herbs can smooth out your cycle fairly quickly.
*These are general guidelines and are not meant to diagnose or cure any disease. If you have serious problems, please see a licensed practitioner or your doctor.
Adam Burrill, L.Ac., MSOM, is an acupuncturist at Spring and Autumn Acupuncture in Portland, Oregon. Adam specializes in pain conditions and sports medicine and helps patients with stress, anxiety, depression, women’s health concerns, and neurological disorders.