Lily was bursting with excitement when she returned for her second visit to my office. “Could those pills you gave me work really fast – I mean, like overnight?” she asked, only half-ready to believe my answer.
During Lily’s first appointment, she shared that since her first child was born, her PMS has been hellish. For a week before her period, her face, back and chest breaks out in painful acne.
She braces herself for a 7-day migraine that forces her to miss work at least one or two days every month. The headaches are bad enough, but the breast tenderness and swelling make certain movements – like holding her daughter up close – very painful.
And then there’s the cramping.
These aren’t your ordinary ‘pass me the hot water bottle’ cramps you can wait out for a day or so. We’re talking about severe, please-put-me-out-of-my-misery muscle spasms. Over-the-counter pain medication barely takes the edge off, but Lily is afraid to take a dose large enough to make a difference.
It’s no wonder she was a little skeptical about the quick action from her herbal formulas. How could anything as gentle as a plant relieve such horrendous PMS?
Getting Comfortable with Natural Healing
Those gentle plants have been a reliable source of healing medicine for every culture that’s ever existed. Lily’s never seen the power of herbs growing up in her modern family. Today’s medicine is all she’s ever known.
A little modern physiology sprinkled with Chinese Medicine explains how the Liver takes center stage in many PMS problems:
- Hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle are manufactured, regulated by and excreted in the Liver
- At the same time, the Liver is very busy filtering out or metabolizing all the natural waste material circulating in the blood, including waste that comes in through food and fluids.
- The Chinese call this organ ‘The General’ because of its commanding role in keeping order and smoothly moving blood and hormones through the Liver and out to the rest of the body.
- Anything that disrupts the smooth circulation of blood can interfere with menstrual cycles.
Your Liver is a fantastic, hard-working organ, but it can only take so much.
Pollutants in our air, water and food are a big source of strain on the Liver. So are heavy medication use, alcohol abuse, and fatty, fried foods, which disrupt the filtering mechanism, clogging up and slowing down the Liver’s waste removal functions.
Another Kind of Toxic
Lily has led a super clean life – no junk food, no drugs or alcohol, organic everything. She’s done a great job of protecting herself from outside stressors on the Liver. Strictly speaking, she’s a model patient. So, what’s going on here?
At our first appointment, I asked Lily if she was in a nurturing and supportive relationship. You’ll see why this matters in a minute. Her answer helped us both understand the deep source of her pain.
For years, Lily has watched her husband’s gambling habit deplete their savings and nearly bankrupt them.
She’s ashamed of their situation, and keeps her worry, frustration and fear to herself. Whenever she tries to have a conversation about her concerns, she feels intimidated and manipulated by her spouse’s angry tone of voice. She feels trapped in this no-win situation.
Bottled Up Emotions
Just as pollutants, drugs and alcohol can impede the flow of blood through the Liver, unexpressed feelings take their own toll. The Liver holds the key to your creativity and free, healthy expression of emotions. What happens when you don’t speak your mind?
Anger. Frustration. Irritation. Depression.
Lily’s marriage to a gambling addict has given rise to a build-up of toxic emotions that have immobilized the free flow of energy through her body.
Without a free and easy flow of emotions, blood and Qi in the Liver become stagnant, leading to symptoms like:
- Painful and sharp or dull, achey cramps
- Migraine headaches
- Depression and anxiety
- Clotted blood flow during periods
- Anger, frustration and resentment
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Fibroids and cysts
- Skin eruptions like acne or rashes
- Breast tenderness and swelling or breast lumps
- The feeling of having a lump in the throat
- Erratic stools, bloating and nausea
Notice how nearly all these symptoms feel like something is stuck – bloating, clots, constipation, swelling, cysts, stagnant emotions, intense pain?
Kiss Your Pain Good-bye
One answer to all this ‘stuckness’ is to get moving. And one of the most enjoyable ways to keep the Liver energy moving is by having sex – but don’t take my word for it.
A neurologist at the University of Munster (Germany) published a study showing that sex relieves migraines in about two-thirds of sufferers. It’s a great example of how moving the pelvic organs decongests and breaks up congealed blood that causes pain. Try it!
Yoga, tai chi, and dance are other great ways to move stagnant blood, Qi and emotions, opening up your Liver’s energy flow for a more creative, happy life.
Find ways to communicate in difficult relationships by seeking counseling or reconnecting with activities you used to enjoy together. So much emotional pain can be avoided just by learning to speak your mind in a non-threatening way.
Roots and Shoots for Shooting Pain
Herbs like motherwort, dandelion root, cramp bark, lavender, white peony root, figwort, blue vervain (especially when there’s neck tension), and burdock root help smooth the flow of Qi through the Liver, activating movement of blood and fluid.
One of my favorite Chinese formulas for PMS is aptly named Free & Easy Wanderer [Xiao Yao San]. It unlocks the toxic emotions that become trapped when we feel unable to express ourselves. It releases pain and lifts mood, often relieving digestive stagnation along with trapped emotion.
Herbalism has so much to offer for all sorts of female concerns. You can get to the bottom of PMS pain with safe, natural and effective relief – from Mother Nature herself.
Related Blog Posts in this Series:
Are You In Heavy Period Hell? 10 Herbs and 6 Foods for Relief
“My period is like clockwork – it comes every two weeks.”
“Seven days of hell, that’s what I call it.”
“I might as well stay home from work.”
You don’t put up with horrible periods because you have some twisted relationship to pain and misery. You just don’t know what else to do.
Maybe you’ve worked with your doctor, tried multiple combinations of hormones, and even put yourself through major or minor surgery looking for solutions.
There’s a new game in town, though it’s anything but new.
Plants to the Rescue!
Herbal healthcare is experiencing a much-needed resurgence across the country, as part of a larger health revolution. There’s a not-so-subtle undercurrent that’s pulling us toward safer, more natural, sustainable remedies.
Every day, more women like you are turning to natural solutions for discomforts like these:
- Headaches and migraines
- Fibroids, cysts or lumpy breasts
- Chronic yeast infections
- Crabby, irritable, weepy or sad feelings
- Long periods
And let’s not forget these lovely ones:
- Spotting between periods
- Mid-cycle pain
- Breast tenderness or swelling
- Moderate or severe menstrual cramping
- Cyclical bloating, gas or nausea
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation or both
- Infrequent periods
- Irregular or short cycles
Any single one of these symptoms can be miserable on it’s own. More than one at a time can completely disrupt and drain the joy out of an otherwise great month.
The Queen of Period Problems
One of the most distressing and exhausting problems for women is heavy periods. What do I mean by heavy?
- Super absorbent tampons are a joke
- Backup pad protection is no guarantee you’ll contain the overflow, especially at night
- Embarrassing stains are so common that you never, EVER wear white pants
- You make frequent bathroom visits to check for leaks
Excessive bleeding can make you feel like the life is being drained out of you, ounce by ounce. And often it comes with a crampy, dull, aching sensation, as if your pelvic cavity is being turned inside out. Like everything is dropping to the floor.
Now You See It, Now You Don’t
If you’re a patient of mine, you’ve probably heard me talk about Qi [pronounced ‘chee’]. Qi is an elusive but vital energy source that permeates every breath, digestive function and blood cell. It’s sort of like wind –you can’t describe what it looks like, but you can see the effect it has.
You can see the effects of weak Qi in heavy bleeders, especially. It’s the full-time job of Qi to keep blood inside the body. When blood literally pours out, and for that matter, when skin sags and the bladder or uterus prolapse, these are signs that your Qi isn’t doing its job of holding things in place.
Why does this happen? Two main reasons: heavy blood loss itself depletes Qi, leading to the proverbial vicious cycle. But other factors can weaken Qi, such as long-term emotional and physical stress, resulting in gradually heavier periods.
The Downside of Hormones
Hormone therapy can regulate monthly blood flow – so does herbal therapy for many women.
You may get temporary relief from a hormone patch, cream or pill, but tinkering with hormone levels won’t address the underlying Qi deficiency that led to the bleeding. A key symptom of Qi deficiency will remain – weakness.
The classic Chinese formula for deficient Qi, Four Gentlemen, contains tonic herbs for weakness, the most common side effect of excessive menstrual bleeding. When you’re feeling bone tired, lack an appetite, experience loose stools, and your skin has an unhealthy yellowish complexion, tonic herbs restore strength, improve digestion and bring back your luster.
Blood loss also starves the heart and mind of vital nutrition, robbing you of restful sleep and weakening your memory and focus. Blood tonics like the well-known Dong Qui and lesser known rehmannia, white peony and ligusticum restore blood to the rich, nourishing fluid needed to keep your heart and mind sharp.
Relief from insomnia, poor memory, fatigue, and digestive weakness is a lot to ask from any hormone supplement. Fortunately, this is where herbal and natural therapies do their best work.
Yes, Ma’am, Herbs Can Do That
While Chinese herbal formulas help rebuild Qi, herbs like yarrow, shepherd’s purse, raspberry leaf, eclipta, ladies mantle, tienchi ginseng and even our kitchen friend, cinnamon, can lighten blood flow and tone the female organs. These herbs individually or in combination give you hour-by-hour relief from heavy bleeding.
Mineral rich herbs like nettle leaf and oatstraw gradually replace lost nutrients and freshen a sallow complexion. Yellow dock root releases stored iron into the blood, relieving mild anemia.
The herbal approach to hormone imbalances naturally nudges your body’s built-in capacity to heal, without the risks associated with hormone replacement.
“Let Food Be Your Medicine”
Naturally, food also helps to gently restore Qi and blood.
A nourishing diet of warm root vegetables including squash, beets and sweet potato fill your plate with color and your mouth with the mildly sweet flavor that strengthens Qi. Dark, leafy greens restore iron and other minerals to a weak, depleted blood supply. Beef and lamb are a protein power duo when you feel wiped out by your periods.
Self-Care is NOT a Luxury
Rebuilding Qi takes some time and patience. In the meantime, light exercise, rest, extreme self-care and major de-stressing maneuvers have to be moved to the top of the list.
Start with something as simple as letting those calls rollover to voicemail and taking a few moments for a power nap. Do you have a supportive family member who might alternate meal prep or shopping duties with you?
Can you fit in a 20-minute walk after dinner? Exercise, rest and support are not luxuries when you’re exhausted and weak; they’re a prescription for recovery.
Qi deficiency by itself isn’t a life-threatening matter, but ignored long enough, it morphs into a depleted immune system and lower resistance to disease.
Today is always a good time to start new habits that support a long, healthy life. If you’re tired of heavy, draining periods every month, choose something safe, natural and effective for long term relief.
Call today for an appointment that just might change the way you think about healthcare. Period.
Related Blog Posts in this Series:
Herbal Relief for PMS-related Acne, Cramps and Migraines
Something special happens in the first few minutes after I close my office door to talk privately with a patient. Something very personal and comfortable is exchanged in those quiet conversations.
For centuries, women have been the family healers, applying herbs to aches and pains with only the knowledge passed down from our own mothers and grandmothers.
I never used to think money had anything to do with how I feel from day to day. The decisions I made at the grocery store, shopping mall, church, gym, pretty much everywhere, belonged in different folds of my brain – far away from ‘health’.
Attitudes about money can hold our health hostage
Then, I went to see someone who helped me sort out my attitudes about money.
She asked me to write down what money meant to my family when I was growing up. And how I felt about it in my relationships and now as a small business owner.
Talk about a hornet’s nest! I had no idea I carried around such ridiculous stress and self-judgement.
I was going through life with the notion that I didn’t deserve things unless I earned them. Which is not so abnormal until you heap guilt on top of it.
So, the only way to earn a new coat, or a night out with my friends, was to be someone better, someone skinnier, nicer, more productive, a better mom. And since there is no way to quantify those ‘standards’, I rarely thought I deserved what I got. Regardless of where this self-defeating thinking started, it was still dogging me in my middle age.
Every day, I meet someone who uses this same kind of thinking to deny themselves care that could improve not just their wardrobe or social life, but their whole health.
Naturally we apply the same destructive, unhealthy thinking patterns over and over in different areas of our lives. Maybe we develop an attitude of ‘not deserving’ that leaks over into our relationships, our diet and even our connection to a higher power. Imagine the havoc that can play on a person’s life!
Herbs are great, and I’ve seen them do wonders for women’s health. But, physical and emotional health are absolutely connected to every other decision we make every day, including how we think about money.
Ten years ago, I started looking at what needed change in my life. Herbs and yoga and a better diet got me 50% of the way there. But it wasn’t until I understood how my thoughts were holding me back that I made real progress. Talking to a professional whose job it was to understand the ins and outs of money took a load off my shoulders.
A group of women are meeting at Omaha Integrative Care for 5 weeks this Fall – starting October 14 and ending November 11. We’ll take a close look at 5 critical areas of our ‘whole’ health, including attitudes about money, relationships, spirituality and food.
Join us. Email email@example.com for details. Or visit www.NaturalHealingOmaha.com. Become a healthier version of you while 2013 is still here!
Herbs like vitex can virtually eliminate uncomfortable PMS symptoms
Is breast tenderness or pain an early warning sign that your period is on its way? You know, you don’t have to put up with that every month.
The Latin name for the plant that soothes PMS symptoms is Vitex agnus, but it’s commonly called Chaste tree berry or simply Vitex.
Vitex has this handy talent for balancing hormone levels in a way only plants can. In my herbal practice, I’ve seen this little odd-flavored berry perform it’s herbal magic on women with PMS symptoms like irritability, bloating, breast tenderness, sugar cravings, acne, headaches and other pre-period pains (in tincture or capsule).
Once a period starts, Vitex does a great job of reducing heavy bleeding and even shortening a long period. Many women report changes within one cycle, but I encourage my patients to continue taking the herb for at least 3-6 months for maximum effect. There’s no standard amount to take, but I generally recommend one 500 gm capsule daily in the morning. Vitex works so well for the girls in my family that we make a whole year’s supply of tincture at once from the dried berries.
What if your cycles are irregular or infrequent, or you’ve lost track of when to expect a period?
It’s always helpful to your healthcare provider to know just what you mean by ‘infrequent’. I recommend you download one of those handy period tracker apps to your phone. I like MyCalendar, which lets me keep notes on recurring symptoms like headaches or heavy days.
A phone app or even a little bedside notepad will help you get a handle on the rhythm – or lack of rhythm – of your cycles before you see your healthcare provider or herbalist.
Yes, Vitex is excellent for women with irregular or frequently skipped periods. It’s like a multi-vitamin for your hormones!
Are you ready to say good-bye to PMS and hormone hell? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out how Vitex fits into your healthcare needs.
“You’re kidding me. It’s only been 2 months.” When my sister told me a benign nodule on her thyroid shrunk from the size of an egg to a peanut in two months, I did a little happy dance. For her and for herbal medicine.
You’d be surprised what women lump into the ‘hormone’ category of health problems. Pretty much anything and everything.
Midlife misery doesn’t always call for the heavy hand of hormone therapy
Girls, it’s time I said it loud and clear, because there is still alot of confusion around this message:
Herbs really DO lessen or completely eliminate many peri-menopausal symptoms like night sweats, hot flashes, sleeplessness, hair loss, loss of libido, crazy periods, the whole deal.
It works gently. Quickly. Alot of times, permanently.
And safely. Up next to artificial or ‘natural’ hormone and surgical interventions, herbal medicine is so free of side effects and risks that it really doesn’t fall into the same category of healing.
Week after week, I visit with women who share stories of soaking the bedsheets from wicked night sweats, suffering weeks or months of exhausting insomnia, tracking periods that run the gamut from every 2 or 3 months to every 2 or 3 weeks, with flooding and sometimes debilitating pain, migraines and too many other miseries to name here.
They call me days or weeks after starting their custom herb formulas to say thank you for the relief.
My patients find me through a girlfriend or sister who didn’t have luck with conventional medicine and tried something ‘sort of out there’, as one woman referred to my work. I’m not offended.
Women come to herbal and natural medicine for lots of reasons – dissatisfaction with traditional medicine, bad experiences with drug side effects, a reputation for safety, and a desire to explore options to surgery.
For me, it was fear. During chemo for breast cancer, I was afraid to lose my hair, so I went to visit a naturopathic physician my friend was seeing.
I still lost my hair, but the pills and capsules cleared up my lifelong digestion problems and most of my fibromyalgia pain – conditions I’d resigned myself to dealing with forever.
Even if fear or drug side effects point them to herbal solutions, it’s the results that keep my patients coming back and getting more involved in their own healthcare decisions. When they get results, they stop worrying about what their doctor, their mother, or their husband might think.
Google the phrase ‘hot flashes’ and the results are a confusing assortment of 15 million quasi-scientific and product-centered websites. That’s alot of information to sort through, and having a professionally trained herbalist guide you through the quagmire can come in handy.
Taking a problem like night sweats to a professional herbalist might be the LAST thing you consider. It’s not the sort of healthcare option you see splashed across billboards on Dodge Street. Without drug company profit margins, those billboards and expensive advertising campaigns are pretty much out of the question for herbalists.
We rely on word-of-mouth, and let me tell you, women talk. Good results are the main reason my patients are telling their sisters, moms, daughters and co-workers to go see ‘that herb lady’ when they’re a hot mess of hormones.
Take your time and think it over. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here when you’re ready to explore your options. You’ll get the truth if I think herbal medicine is a less effective choice for your very personal situation.
So, come sit in a comfortable chair and let’s talk this thing through. No judgement, no obligation. Just one woman to another. That’s the most natural thing I can offer.
A funny thing happened when I hit the ‘Send’ button this morning. I accidentally told my mom, and about 12 other women friends, that I was glad she didn’t embarrass me in front of them at a mother-daughter event last night.
And you know what she said in her email reply? “I’m glad I didn’t embarrass you. The thought had crossed my mind.” My mom is a total good sport, but I almost never give her credit for it. I wonder if it occurred to her that I might embarrass HER?
I have a not-so-loving relationship with my mother. It’s not her fault. People always tell me how charming and funny and lovely she is. How much they enjoy having her around. But all I see through my judging eyes is someone who struggled with bipolar disease and didn’t pay enough attention to me.
I never stop to remember that she gave birth to 5 children in 7 years, moving with her military husband to at least 5 different bases, with no ‘I’m too tired to cook’ processed food dinners on the days when everyone was sick or crying or snowed in.
It rarely occurs to me that she was an inspiration for my holistic-style career, insisting on whole wheat bread and a ‘no sugary snacks’ household when Wonder Bread and Super Sugar Crisp were standard fare in 70’s suburban homes.
I always forget that she was the one who told my sister and I (I guess she assumed it was a given for my brothers) that we could do anything we want with our lives, and proved it by doing exactly that. As soon as we kids were all in school, she put her Chemistry and Physics degrees to work in a series of jobs that landed her in a professional engineering career.
That’s the kind of life that would make a grown kid proud of their parent. Even if I stopped right there, it would be plenty of reason to knock me upside the head for missing opportunities to tell her.
There’s more. Last year, we saw Mom flirt with death at least 3 times while she struggled through major surgery and a 4-month recovery. None of us kids thought she would live to see 2013. But her incredibly resilient constitution allowed a full recovery and in some aspects, allowed her even better health than ever.
Instead of sending accidental emails about how embarrassing my mom is, I can only hope to be a good sport and take the high road with her a little more often. That’s how I’ll honor Mom on Mother’s Day.
That little email has me wondering, now, if my own kids feel this way about me. I guess what goes around, comes around…
The answer to the Mother’s Day Herbal poll: Roses