Treating PMS with Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Dongfeng Zhou, AP, DAOM

Between 75-85% of women get some premenstrual syndrome or PMS symptoms 1 to 2 weeks before their periods. The severity of symptoms varies from slightly annoying to life-altering with both psycho-emotional and physiological changes.
PMS can have many psychological symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, anxiety, depression, mood swings, aggression, or feeling very emotional. Sometimes sleep patterns change, and appetite or cravings may increase.
There are many physical symptoms as well, including bloating, swollen hands or feet, weight gain, breast tenderness, and headaches. Women may struggle every month, or only some months of the cycle.
PMS symptoms are generally relieved by menopause when menstruation stops. Although the cause of PMS is not known, it is suspected that these symptoms are the result of changes in hormones and serotonin levels as the menstrual cycle starts.
In conventional medicine, the symptoms of PMS are treated with pills. There are some for bloating, swelling, etc… There are others that help with headaches. Psychological medications can even be used to help with mood swings, depression, and anxiety. But medications do not treat the underlying problem in the body. They just alleviate the symptoms.
For over two thousand years, Traditional Chinese medicine has not only been treating the symptoms of PMS, but also treating the underlying cause of PMS. Acupuncture, herbs and lifestyle changes are very helpful to treat both psychological and physiological symptoms.These treatments are based on patterns.
The TCM patterns for PMS
1. Qi Stagnation
In Chinese medicine, the energy of the body flows with the blood in the body. Many times, this is referred to as Liver Qi Stagnation because the Liver is in charge of the flow of Qi and Blood in the body. The Liver channel runs through the chest, so blockage can cause the breast tenderness of PMS and even fibrocystic breast disease. This Qi stagnation has a lot to do with emotional problems as well, even causing problems like mania. From a Western perspective, the liver helps deactivate hormones, clear the body of toxins, and regulate many body functions.
2. Blood Deficiency
Blood deficiency does not necessarily refer to a lack of blood volume, but rather blood quality. Problems of blood deficiency such as anemia, poor nutrient absorption, or over-taxation of the circulatory system are Western medical explanations of Blood deficiency. In TCM, the blood nourishes the body and the mind. Some of the symptoms include depression, brain fog, restless sleep, fatigue, and headaches.
3. “Spleen” Qi Deficiency
This syndrome in TCM has little to do with the actual spleen. Rather, it refers to digestive and fluid metabolism problems in the body. Therefore, the symptoms can include the bloating, swollen hands and feet, weight gain, loose stools, and appetite changes that accompany PMS.
Acupuncture’s Role in Treating PMS
Acupuncture’s function is to get the “Qi” moving in the body by inserting tiny needles into points on the body. Acupuncture can help treat PMS by balancing the hormones, moving the energy and circulation of the body, calming the nervous system and mind, helping digestion and nutrient absorption, and decreasing the stress in the body. For example, there are acu-points on the ear specially for hormone regulation and calming the mind. Other points help with digestion. Still others engage the “rest and digest” functions of the body to relieve stress and increase circulation. Acupuncture is well-studied and safe for the treatment of many conditions, including PMS.
Herbs for PMS
Herbs can target the underlying problems causing PMS. Formulas such as Chai Hu Shu Gan Tang or Xiao Yao San can treat the Qi Stagnation. Blood deficiency can be treated with formulas like Si Wu Tang, Suan Zao Ren Tang, and Gan Mai Da Zao Tang. For the “Spleen” Qi deficiency PMS symptoms, Jian Pi Wan, Li Zhong Tang, or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang many be helpful. It is important to remember that these formulas must be prescribed by an acupuncture physician to ensure a proper diagnosis. Many people have incorrectly self-prescribed these ancient formulas, causing further problems in the body. Because many women are a combination of symptoms, an acupuncturist can tailor the formula to the patient to achieve the best outcome.
Lifestyle and Dietary Changes can Help PMS
1. Get light to moderate exercise every day or throughout the day. Sitting for long periods of time can make PMS worse.
2. Get good rest. Sleeping 7-8 hours a night will make a big difference in PMS symptoms, both mental-emotional and physical.
3. Avoid cold or uncooked foods. These tax the digestive system because it has to both “cook” and break down the nutrients in the foods. This will help with bloating and swelling symptoms as well as weight gain.
4. Add blood-nourishing foods. Whole foods have higher nutrient content in contrast with processed foods. In addition, foods high in iron such as leafy greens and beef can reduce anemia. Certain foods like beets are TCM foods to decrease blood deficiency.
5. Drink rose bud tea with lemon. This can help the mood swings associated with PMS.
Dr. Dongfeng Zhou is highly trained in Women’s Health and Fertility. She has great success treating PMS by utilizing acupuncture, herbs, and lifestyle changes. By asking questions and examining the patient, she is able to make the proper diagnosis. Acupuncture points are chosen to maximize the benefit for the patient. Herbal and dietary recommendations are tailored to the patient so that symptoms are alleviated and the underlying problem is resolved.