Irregular menses - a Chinese medicine approach
Some women look forward to the days of no period with great anticipation, while some simply wish it would just come regularly, especially those hoping to conceive.
Irregularities in the menstrual cycle may include:
- Amenorrhea: the absence of menstruation for more than three months in a row, in a woman who has had periods. This is different from the natural interruptions in the menstrual cycle due to pregnancy, breast-feeding, post childbirth and menopause.
- Periods becoming erratic after being regular.
- Bleeding for more than seven days.
- Heavier flows than usual or the need to change pads or tampons every one to two hours.
- Periods less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart.
- Bleeding in between periods.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) identifies a number of factors which may cause an interruption in the menstrual flow:
- Emotional Stress: excessive anger, frustration, resentment, irritation, worry, and pensiveness can cause stagnation (reduced fluidity and mobility) of Qi.
- Excessive physical work or exercise.
- Hereditary weakness.
- A diet poor in nutrition, which leads to depletion of the Qi and blood and low body weight.
Additionally, irregularities may be caused by:
- Pregnancy or breast-feeding.
- Eating disorders.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Premature ovarian failure - the loss of normal ovarian function before age 40.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Uterine fibroids.
Traditional Chinese medicine seeks to, where appropriate, nourish the uterus and the meridians, whose responsibility it is to ensure the smooth flow of qi and the proper functioning of the reproductive organs; and invigorate the qi and blood in the uterus, particularly in the case of conditions such as uterine fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease or PCOS; or astringe the blood in cases of excessive bleeding.
The primary acupuncture points used to regulate any kind of irregularity in the menstrual cycle are those along the Chong Mai, Ren Mai or Dai Mai meridians. These meridians are pathways in the body that are used to regulate the menstrual flow. Extremely thin acupuncture needles are gently inserted and stimulated at points found primarily on the abdomen and calf.
The application of warmth by moxibustion, using Moxa (mugwort herb), is added at specific acupuncture points to stimulate the movement and free flow of qi and blood, especially where there is a sensitivity to cold.
A number of different herbs are used to strengthen or promote the movement of blood and qi in order to regulate and restore menstruation. The category of herbs selected depends on the underlying diagnosis.
For example, in the case of amenorrhea (no menses) accompanied by low energy and a sensitivity to cold this would be categorised as a deficiency, so Yang- and Qi-strengthening herbs would be used. In cases with severe menstrual pain, blood-invigorating herbs are used to promote the movement of blood.
Some herbs used, include:
- Jiang Huang (turmeric)
- Tao Ren (peach kernel)
- Chi Shao (red peony root)
- Mu Li (oyster shell)
- Mo Yao (myrrh)
- Hong Hua (safflower flower)
QI & BLOOD TONICS
- Dang Gui/Tang-Kuei (Chinese angelica root)
- Bai Shao (white peony root)
- Ren Shen (ginseng)
- Ai Ye (wormwood leaf)
- Dr. Tracey-Ann Brown is an Oriental medicine practitioner of acupuncture and herbal medicine, adjunct lecturer at the University of Technology in Oriental/ Chinese medicine. email: traceyannbrown