Depression, frustration, anger, irritability, headaches, abdominal pain and bloating—the list of symptoms goes on. It is instantly recognizable to any woman suffering from Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), and most likely to her friends and loved ones as well.
In its more severe form, PMS can be much more than a mere nuisance, and its incidence seems to be on the rise. Our hectic American lifestyle, coupled with the unusual demands placed on women today, may help account for this fact. The use of birth control pills and other drugs, the postponing of childbirth, and the burden of combining a career with family and social life are stresses that contribute to the problem.
PMS generally involves an energetic imbalance that Oriental Medicine describes as "stagnation of Liver qi." In Oriental medical theory, qi is the vital energy of the body-mind and flows through the acupuncture meridian system in a cyclical course. Oriental medical theories differ from those of Western physiology. There is no direct correspondence between the organs of the one system and those of the other, and Oriental medicine does not recognize the mind-body duality that has predominated in Western scientific thought since at least the time of Descartes.
In Oriental medicine, the Liver is the organ that is responsible for the smooth and harmonious circulation of the qi. The Chinese medical classics state that "the Liver loves peace and harmony," and of all the organ systems in Chinese physiology, the Liver is the one most adversely affected by negative emotions such as frustration, resentment, and inappropriate or suppressed anger. At the same time, an imbalance in the Liver increases the likelihood that such emotions will be experienced more frequently and intensely, setting up a kind of vicious cycle. The Liver is also adversely affected by any activity or medication that disrupts the cyclical course of energy flow. Tubal ligations, for example, can cause a stagnation of Liver qi, as can birth control pills, which alter the normal cycle of hormone production.
On a psychological level, Liver qi stagnation manifests as depression, irritability and anger. Chinese medicine comprehends the body-mind metaphorically, and a depressed person does in fact feel stagnant. When the stagnant qi accumulates, the Liver cannot hold it past a certain point, and it is released in the form of a burst of anger. On a physical level, symptoms often appear along the course of the Liver meridian, which affects the pelvic and abdominal regions, the hypochondrium, the breasts, and the throat. Liver qi stagnation can eventually lead to the development of cervical dysplasia and abdominal masses.
The primary treatment for Liver qi stagnation involves learning to relax and let go of undue worries, as well as making lifestyle and attitude adjustments. In this sense, healing the Liver becomes a spiritual challenge, though one that must be relaxed into rather than met aggressively. Meditation, relaxation and positive thinking are for this reason the most powerful medicine. Aerobic exercise is very beneficial as well. Besides its obvious cardio-respiratory benefits, it promotes the free circulation of Liver qi. It is also useful to avoid foods and beverages that stress the Liver, such as alcohol, coffee, and fatty foods.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine are very effective at ameliorating the symptoms of PMS. They have a profound effect on balancing the energy of the body-mind. When the energy is balanced, one feels more relaxed, and life-style and attitude changes are easier to make. A course of treatment usually lasts for two, three or four menstrual cycles. It is not uncommon for considerable improvement to be experienced in this period of time. Generally, acupuncture treatments are given approximately three times per week beginning at the onset of premenstrual symptoms. In other words, if symptoms begin two weeks before the period, six treatments will be given during the first cycle. Commonly, the symptoms will begin later in the second cycle, and even later yet in the third. Herbal remedies are often taken throughout the cycle. Usually, women getting up from the table after an acupuncture treatment notice immediate relief from sore and swollen breasts, abdominal pain and bloating. They also generally feel more emotionally balanced.
Acupuncture points and herbs that promote the circulation of Liver qi are selected. Often, the Spleen, or digestive function, must be protected as well, because it can be adversely affected by an imbalanced Liver, resulting in digestive disturbances, fatigue, water retention, and obsessive thought patterns. Oriental medicine recognizes that each person is unique, and herbal formulas as well as acupuncture point combinations are prescribed to meet the needs of the individual.
Oriental medicine treats other gynecological conditions as well. Gynecology, in fact, is a traditional specialty of Oriental Medicine, one in which it has achieved some of its most remarkable results. Ancient and modern medical texts prescribe treatments for infertility, menstrual disorders, menopausal discomfort, cervical dysplasia, leukorrhea and vaginitis, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, morning sickness, scanty lactation, mastitis, postpartum constipation, uterine prolapse, uterine bleeding, and other gynecological and obstetric conditions.