The typical menstrual cycle follows a 28-30 day pattern, with ovulation occurring around day 14 and 5-7 days of bleeding during the period. While it is normal for cycles to deviate from this a day or two in either direction, some women find that their periods arrive early sometimes, late others, and to be all around unpredictable. This irregularity is often caused by hormone imbalances, emotional or physical stress, overwork, or pre-existing conditions (like PCOS). Acupuncture can normalize the cycle and reestablish a regular menstrual schedule, which leads to improved gynecological health.
Amenorrhea and Oligomenorrhea (few or no periods)
Amenorrhea and oligomenorrhea is defined by the absence of normal menstruation when pregnancy, breast-feeding, birth control use, and menopause are not the cause. Headaches, abnormal blood pressure, visual problems, acne, nausea, swollen breasts, goiters, mood changes, weight loss or gain, and other symptoms are often (but not always) associated with the lack of menstruation.
Chinese medicine views amenorrhea as a blockage or lack of nourishment in the body that causes the period to stop. From a biomedical point of view, acupuncture improves the lining of the uterus and adjusts the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis. This benefits the reproductive organs and stimulates ovulation and therefore menstruation. In more general terms, acupuncture helps restore and nourish the blood, move blockages, regulate hormones, and reestablish reproductive health.
Painful Periods (Dysmenorrhea)
Young girls in the West are often taught that pain and cramping are a normal part of getting your period. However, Chinese medicine views any sort of pain – menstrual or otherwise – as an indication of blockage and imbalance. Although cramps, backache, and abdominal pain are common side effects of menstruation, they are unnecessary and can be avoided. Women are often happy to learn that that time of the month can actually be a comfortable experience.
Along with regulating hormones and allowing free movement in the body throughout the menstrual cycle, acupuncture and herbal medicine works to correct imbalances and relieve pain during the period.
Cycle-related Headaches and Migraines
As hormones fluctuate and changes occur during the menstrual cycle, some women have trouble with recurrent headaches or migraines. These can occur at any time but are often seen at the time of ovulation or at the onset of the period. The regulating effects of acupuncture can help to relieve headaches and associated symptoms (nausea, light sensitivity, neck pain) as well as prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Stress, Depression, Anxiety, and Mood Swings
Stress and mood swings are a normal part of life. Cycle-related PMS (premenstrual syndrome) is a common issue that many women face (and even expect). Over time, however, these emotional ups and downs can become severe and disruptive to daily life and harmful to your health.
As a woman progresses through the menstrual cycle, changes in hormones and movement throughout the body can cause extreme shifts in mood. One may experience depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, or weepiness. Acupuncture works to iron-out these imbalances, calm the mind, and relax the body. Treatment can be used during times of distress, but also over the course of the cycle to prevent these mood swings all together.
For stress or mood disorders unrelated to the menstrual cycle, acupuncture is also helpful to realign mind, body, and spirit. Treatment depends on the severity of the issue as well as accompanying signs and symptoms.
Endometriosis is a condition in which uterine tissue grows in areas outside of the uterus. As this tissue responds to the body’s hormones, it thickens, breaks down, and bleeds just like normal uterine tissue, which can cause some unpleasant symptoms. Endometrial tissue can cause irritation, scar tissue, and adhesions in the abdomen that lead to pain (menstrual, with intercourse, or when defecating), backache, swelling, urinary frequency, premenstrual spotting, and may complicate fertility. Nevertheless, up to 20-25% of women with endometriosis are asymptomatic.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine help to correct the condition from the root and therefore alleviate the pain and discomfort. Even for asymptomatic women, working to remove these adhesions and halt the growth of endometrial tissue can lead to healthier periods and a more fertile future.
Uterine fibroids are growths that develop in the uterine wall. They can range in size, quantity, and rate of growth. As many as 3 out of 4 women will have uterine fibroids at some point in their life but since they may not cause symptoms, some women may never know they have them. Unfortunately for others, these fibroids can cause heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain or pressure, frequent or difficult urination, constipation, backache, painful intercourse, and other symptoms.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine can be used to slow or halt the growth of these fibroids and can even shrink them over time. In addition, acupuncture can help reduce the pain and side effects caused by the fibroids and regulate the menstrual cycle.
PCOS and Ovarian Cysts
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a common endocrine disorder and is characterized by ovulatory dysfunction, polycystic ovaries and the existence of an excess amount of male hormones. The ovaries mistakenly produce more androgens (male hormones) than normal and these high levels affect the development and potential ovulation of an egg. This can lead to menstrual cycle changes, cysts in the ovaries, infertility, and other health changes.
The cause of PCOS is unknown, but researchers believe that genetics may be a factor. Researchers also believe that insulin is linked to PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that controls the change of sugar, starches, and other food into energy for the body to use or store. Many women with PCOS have too much insulin in their bodies. Excess insulin in turn appears to produce more androgens.
Women who have PCOS often times don’t have regular menstrual cycles. Furthermore, when they do have menstrual cycles, they often times don’t ovulate, or they don’t ovulate until late in the cycle and therefore have a shorter luteal phase. Fortunately, acupuncture and herbs have been effective in regulating cycles in women with PCOS. Studies have shown that acupuncture is effective in inducing ovulation and can be as effective, if not more effective than Clomiphene (Clomid) and without the common side effects sometimes found with medications. Acupuncture has been demonstrated to improve menstrual frequency, promote ovulation, and to decrease circulating testosterone in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Menopause and Perimenopause
Although menopause is a natural and normal change for women, there’s no need to suffer through the symptoms that may come along with this transition. As estrogen levels begin to drop and other hormones fluctuate, a variety of issues can arise as the body adapts. The most common symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and painful intercourse.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine are effective to help reduce the intensity and frequency of these menopausal symptoms either in conjunction with hormone replacement therapies or when used alone. In fact, acupuncture can be used proactively in the peri-menopausal years to prevent these symptoms altogether and promote graceful and healthy aging.