PMS and painful cycles are sometimes thought to be a normal monthly occurrence that women believe come hand in hand with being a woman. Having to stay home from work or school, popping pain medication to make it through the day and dreading the bleeding phase of the period is not normal and can be helped! Painful cycles indicate an imbalance in the body and hormones that can be shifted with some lifestyle changes as listed below. Acupuncture and herbal remedies are wonderful tools that can bring significant healing to women and attune their cycles.
While doing my acupuncture practicum in China, I had three wonderful female students who were on a rotation as translators for me in the hospital. It was fascinating to find out that they had all grown up with the common knowledge that during the bleeding phase of our cycles, it was imperative to keep warm (specifically the torso area) and that no ice cream or cold beverages be consumed at this time- ever! Doing so would introduce cold into the body at a time when it was most susceptible and this cold would increase period pain and discomfort. Warmth in the form of warm beverages, cooked food, and proper clothing, on the other hand, is soothing and helps to relax the muscles of the uterus. This knowledge for them was as ingrained as brushing our teeth before bed. I wish that little bit of common sense wisdom had been imparted to me earlier in life!
Ways to best support your body for hormonal balance:
1. Track your cycle along with how you feel throughout the month.
Day one of our cycles begins on the first day we bleed. Cycles are normally around 28 days in length. Awareness of what part of the cycle we are currently in along with how we are feeling gives us a better understanding of our bodies. Women’s menstrual cycles are affected by stress, sleep, travel, diet, and exercise.
Connecting your cycle in relation to the moon phases can also be interesting. Oftentimes we ovulate near the full moon and start our bleeding phase with the new moon. A full moon is YANG (bright, energy) in nature while a new moon is YIN (still, dark) in nature. It’s normal to have fluctuations in energy and mood levels throughout the month along with different caloric needs (more calories needed towards the later part of our cycle). As long as these are slight and not wide fluctuations they are manageable.
2. Increase downtime and decrease activities during your menses.
During your menses, your energy is focused inward and it is natural to feel a little less energetic. Increase your downtime and rest and if you can, spend some contemplative time alone and decrease extracurricular activities if possible. Gentle exercise only at this time; this means no running or high-impact aerobics.
3. Do your highest-energy activities in the first two weeks after your menses.
The end of the bleeding phase until mid-cycle and ovulation is when you tend to feel more outgoing and have increased creativity. This is the best time of the month for vigorous exercise, new projects, putting yourself out there, and having sex.
4. Keep yourself warm during the bleeding phase of the cycle.
Keep the lower abdomen and back covered and warm, drink warm beverages, avoid sitting on a cold surface and drinking iced drinks or eating food straight out of the refrigerator.
5. Use Diva cups, organic pads, or period underwear.
Diva Cups allow you to see the amount, colour, and consistency of your menstrual blood. An acupuncturist will most likely ask you about this during a consultation as it relays a lot of information about the body’s overall health. Conventional tampons and pads are chlorine bleached and why would you want anything like that near or in your vagina?
6. Opt for organic high-fat dairy.
Dairy foods produced organically without pesticides or antibiotics in the cows’ feed don’t have an adverse effect on the uterine and breast tissue and are a healthy source of fat. Some people are sensitive to dairy and will need to eliminate or reduce their consumption of it. Fermented dairy is preferred: kefir, yoghurt, sour cream.
7. Majorly cut down or eliminate refined carbohydrates and refined sugar.
Cookies, cakes, breads, crackers, chips, etc. trigger high blood sugar and insulin levels which results in an increase in prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are one of the more significant contributors involved in inflammation.
More inflammation = more pain.
8. Try seed cycling to help balance hormones.
Seeds should be organic and raw if possible and ground fresh (they can go rancid if ground too long). Add them into your diet anywhere (oatmeal, granola, salad).
Day 1-14 (Follicular phase): 1 tbsp. flax seeds + 1 tbsp. pumpkin seeds.
The lignan’s bind to excess estrogen and help your body to eliminate it. High levels of zinc in the pumpkin seeds prevent the estrogen from converting to harmful forms of testosterone and also prime your body for progesterone production which will happen in the second half of your cycle.
Day 15- 20 (Luteal phase): 1 tbsp. sunflower seeds : 1 tbsp. sesame seeds.
Rich in selenium and zinc which helps with progesterone production.
Our menstrual cycle is a great blessing. Nature has blessed women with the ability to live according to a sacred cycle. This cycle helps us to honour our energetic, sexual, and emotional needs each and every month.