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An Integrative Approach to Treating PMS

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a complex collection of symptoms, which affect millions of women each month. Symptoms of PMS can include (but are not limited to): bloating, cramping, breast tenderness, fatigue, headache, emotional upset and constipation. It is believed that up to 80% of women of reproductive age experience some symptoms of PMS. Most women in this country look at the symptoms of PMS as an inherent part of their menstrual cycle. From a holistic and integrative perspective, it is quite possible – some would say it is a woman’s birthright – to have a menstrual cycle that is smooth and easy.

From an integrative perspective, there are many different approaches to tending women with PMS symptoms. Acupuncture, herbs and nutritional supplements, massage and chiropractics have all been shown to be effective in treating women suffering from PMS symptoms. In November 1997, NIH’s Office of Alternative Medicine issued a consensus statement that reported that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of menstrual cramps, and some of the other symptoms of PMS. How can acupuncture help with the symptoms of PMS? Acupuncture works by helping to balance the circulation of energy (qi) in a person’s body, through the insertion of tiny needles into acupuncture points. Acupuncture, therefore, can benefit any symptom that arises from a blockage or deficiency of energy. From a Chinese medical perspective, many of the symptoms associated with PMS (breast tenderness, irritability, cramps, headaches) are symptoms of blocked energy. A blockage of energy causes pressure, and pressure can manifest as emotional pressure (frustration, irritability, excessive sadness) or physical pressure (cramps, swelling, tenderness). If the pressure can be relieved, then the symptoms will usually lessen or resolve completely. A woman’s menstrual cycle is all about circulation, so when it is not happening smoothly, then it will create a blockage. Acupuncture can help free up the blockage, and allow the woman’s natural circulation to be restored. When this happens, the symptoms of pressure and blockage (PMS symptoms) will be relieved.

From a nutritional perspective, the most important foods to avoid are caffeine and saturated fats (both induce an inflammatory response that exacerbates symptoms), excessive salt (can lead to fluid retention), sugar and dairy (both create heat and excessive phlegm in the body). Also, it is important to eat adequate amounts of protein throughout the day to balance blood sugar levels.
Physical modalities such as chiropractics, yoga, massage and craniosacral therapy can be very helpful in relieving menstrual cramping. They accomplish this by aligning body structure, helping body fluids to circulate and relieving nerve pressure. Also, all of these modalities help to relieve pent-up stress, and often that lessens physical and emotional pressure, thereby helping to relieve many PMS symptoms.

While the above treatments can all help with the symptoms of PMS, because they are holistic methods, they do not seek to just remove symptoms without looking more deeply at the underlying issues that may be contributing to the discomfort. A holistic practitioner of one of the above modalities will explore with the woman the stresses in her life that may be giving rise to the structural or energy blockage (which, in turn, gives rise to the premenstrual symptoms). These stresses could include improper diet, insufficient or excessive exercise, emotional stress, past traumas that are still affecting the woman, etc… Working in partnership with the holistic practitioner, the woman can be supported in making some of the changes that would bring her life more into balance. These affirming life style changes, in combination with support from the treatment (which can help in supporting the woman to actually make these changes!) will often affect profound changes in the woman’s health. Often times, not only the main symptoms of PMS improve, but also other symptoms resolve and the woman begins to feel greater energy, spirits and vitality.

Integrative medicine, including all of the above modalities and philosophies, is a powerful way to address the underlying imbalances that give rise to the symptoms of PMS.

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