Chinese medicine theories are heavily influenced by cycles of time and the menstrual cycle is an obvious example of one of the many rhythmic cycles our bodies have which underlie health and wellness. It will therefore come as no surprise that acupuncture can be very effective for the treatment of menstrual issues, correcting problems with the rhythm of the cycle, clearing blockages of stagnating energy and helping to rebalance the hormones that orchestrate the monthly cycle. Last month I attended a post-graduate training course on the use of acupuncture to treat polycystic ovaries and endometriosis so I am chock full of good ideas for treatment of these conditions at the moment.
Stress can be a major cause of menstrual irregularities; stress affects the way the hypothalamus and pituitary glands function which in turn can affect the release of some of the key hormones that drive the menstrual cycle. From an evolutionary perspective we would not want to fall pregnant at times of war and famine, so diverting energy away from the menstrual cycle at times of extreme stress was evolutionarily sensible. Acupuncture is very effective for helping to release stress and a course of treatment can help your body to learn how to regulate your stress response and restore a regular cycle.
Sometimes a lack of energy in the lower part of the abdomen can interfere with the monthly cycle – lie quietly and feel the difference between the heat of the area just above your navel, compared to the heat of the lower part of your abdomen. The two regions should feel about the same, but if there is a lack of energy in the lower region, it will feel considerably colder if you rest your hand there. Acupuncture can help to bring energy back to this area which can help to reinvigorate the ovaries and the uterus and encourages a more regular cycle. Women heading into, or going through their menopause may also find their lower abdomen feels distinctly chilly, acupuncture can be used to bring warmth back to this area which can help reduce many of the less pleasant effects of the menopause.
Pain and cramping just before, or during the monthly bleed is frequently reported by new patients as if it is something that is to be expected as part and parcel of a menstrual cycle. For some patients this has been a long term issue that they are resigned to but which requires regular medication to help them to cope with the pain. From a Chinese medicine perspective, a healthy cycle should not trigger this kind of discomfort; the pain indicates a stagnation of energy. Again, a course of acupuncture can help to clear this blockage and restore a smoother energetic flow, reducing pain, discomfort and other symptoms of PMT. Once the blockage is cleared the pain will decrease, “Why did I put up with that for so long?” is the frequent response in such cases. In most cases once the cycle has become pain free it will continue to be like that for a long time following a course of treatment.
While acupuncture can be very effective for the treatment of a natural menstrual cycle, a cycle controlled artificially by contraceptive hormones is much more resistant to treatment. If you are having trouble with your cycle, it may be a good idea to try to resolve it naturally with acupuncture before resorting to artificial hormone treatment. This advice is particularly important for young girls - a pharmaceutical solution could mask the problem for many years but will not help their system to resolve any underlying problems.