Menstrual Problems

Acupuncture and Herbal Treatment for Menstrual Problems

A woman’s menstrual cycle plays such a fundamental and central role in her life that it is an area where much imbalance can occur. As such, gynaecological disorders make up more than half of the patient complaints that we treat with herbal medicine acupuncture.


Unfortunately it is also an area where there is a lack of conventional treatments. In broad terms, for a young woman with menstrual irregularity, period pains, pmt, lack of periods etc, the main suggested treatment is to use the contraceptive pill. While this may sometimes work, it has always seemed odd to me have a single treatment for all these different conditions. If a woman is menopausal and having similar problems, then the suggestion of hysterectomy arises much too quickly. Chinese medicine does not consider the removal of any part of the body can be done without creating great disharmony throughout the rest of the body. In general, there is a great lack of treatment options for an area which some reports suggests affects up to 90% of women at some time or another.


But the better news is that acupuncture and herbs have been treating menstrual irregularities for more than 2000 years!


A woman’s menstrual cycle is often a very delicate hormonal balance. When this delicate balance is disturbed by various stresses and strains of life, problems occur. Acupuncture is a very subtle treatment, looking closely and carefully at what imbalance has occurred and this is why it is particularly effective in treating gynaecological disorders.


Chinese medicine has recognized gynaecology for around 3500 year, and has always been one of its main areas. Its development over the centuries has led it to be a very subtle and sophisticated system while at the same time maintaining a very simple basis.


I find that with my patients, many women consider menstrual irregularities as normal. Because they have always had painful periods or PMT or other symptoms and have never had treatment, they consider it will always be this way. This is not true, and while it may not able to help everyone there are a lot of people that can benefit from treatment.


In order to see how acupuncture and herbs treat menstrual problems, it is best to explain how Chinese medicine views women’s physiology

The most common complaints treated are.

  • Painful periods
  • Irregular periods
  • Amenorrhoea
  • Heavy periods
  • PMT/Premenstrual bloating/headaches or breast tenderness
  • Polycystic ovaries
  • Fibroids
  • Cysts
  • Endometriosis

Menstrual Problems

Acupuncture Treatment for Fibroids

Fibroids is the most common structural abnormality of the uterus and estimates are that between 20 and 50 percent of women aged 35 to 50 have them. Fibroids, also referred to as fibromyomas, may form in the endometrium of the uterus or protrude into the uterine cavity. They may be completely asymptomatic, but they may cause pelvic pain, pressure, constipation, recurrent bladder infections or bleeding between the periods (metrorrhagia) or excessive bleeding during the period (menorrhagia). Fibroids and polyps can also interfere with fertility and conception as they can have the same effect as an intrauterine device in interfering with the development of the endometrial lining, thus making embryo implantation difficult. In addition, when fibroids and polyps are very large, they can interfere with the front and back walls of the uterus pressing together to help an embryo to implant. When fibroids grow outside of the uterus they can get in the way as the fallopian tube tries to pick up an egg after ovulation. Fibroids may also cause difficulties during pregnancy if they push against blood vessels, inhibiting the normal development of the foetus.


Chinese medicine views fibroids as stagnation of Blood which is not moving freely as it should and which accumulates in places where it shouldn’t. Acupuncture points are used to move to Blood and increase the circulation in the area in order to resolve the fibroid masses. Herbal medicinals are often used in conjunction with acupuncture to move and regulate the Blood inside and around the uterus. In so doing, acupuncture and herbal medicine can be very effective in clearing fibroid growths.

Menstrual Problems

Acupuncture Treatment for Heavy Periods

Often a very heavy menstrual flow leaves a woman feeling drained and tired after the period. Anaemia can also follow. Both acupuncture and herbal medicine can be used to reduce the menstrual flow and associated symptoms. Commonly occurring in the run up to menopause, this is often a main reason for hysterectomy. Successful treatment can prevent the need for surgery. Heavy bleeding can also be linked to other conditions such as fibroids or endometriosis and therefore appropriate testing and treatment may be required.


Traditional Chinese diagnosis says that there can be a number of reasons for the period to be too heavy. It can be that the body’s ability to hold things up is impaired and that excessive menstrual flow is effectively falling out. It can be that the blood is too hot and is therefore more volatile causing excessive bleeding. Or it could be that the body is constantly trying to expel some form of blockage. In finding the cause for the excessive bleeding Chinese medicine can often provide a more long lasting solution to the problem.


Case History


Debbie, 49, had very heavy and very painful periods. The menstrual blood was dark and clotted. The bleed would last for 7-10 days. Following the period she would feel drained both physically and mentally for at least a week. She would become anaemic and her head would feel muzzy and fogged up. As a health professional, Debbie had an excellent diet and had tried “everything she could think of” before coming to acupuncture. Her period after her first acupuncture session was still heavy but she did not have the muzziness and did not feel drained at the end of it. By her second period the flow was reduced, the pain and clotting was gone and she said “felt like she could carry on with her normal life”.


Debbie’s treatment went well. With a combination of acupuncture and herbs we quickly improved her symptoms. There is no way to stop the menopause from occurring, it is a completely natural state. But with good treatment, we can make the journey into and through menopause a little easier.

Menstrual Problems

Acupuncture for Amenorrhoea

The absence of a period, or amenorrhoea, indicates a hormonal imbalance and a malfunctioning or lack of communication between the pituitary gland and the ovaries. Amenorrhoea can be referred to as primary or secondary. Primary amenorrhoea refers to a condition when a period has never come. Secondary amenorrhoea is when there is currently no menstrual cycle there have been periods in the past. Secondary amenorrhoea can be related to coming off of the contraceptive pill or due to polycystic ovaries.


Due to acupuncture’s ability to regulate the central nervous and endocrine systems, acupuncture is able to re-establish the hormonal balance necessary for menstruation to occur. Herbal medicine is also used often to help regulate the menstrual cycle and encourage a period to return.

Menstrual Problems

Painful Periods

Pain during the menstrual cycle or dysmenohrea is an extremely common condition. So much so that many people believe this to be normal or correct. I have even had patients who have phoned me up worried because they have had a menstrual cycle without pain!


Pain can occur in the run up or during or after the period. Chinese diagnosis plays close attention to the pain, what it feels like and where it is. For example, The distinction of whether pain occurs round the front or around the back can allow for differing treatment. The appearance of the menstrual blood and whether there is clotting can determine the state of the flow. If there is signs of blockage, it can be this that is causing the pain.


As with all conditions, Chinese medicine attempts to find the cause of this pain. In treating the cause, rather than just providing symptomatic painkillers, we can achieve a more permanent success. Many patients find that in treating painful periods, they also get a substantial improvement in premenstrual signs.


Painful periods can be caused by varying western conditions such as endometriosis or fibroids, or it may be that no apparent cause can be found.


Chinese medicine is extremely effective in reducing menstrual pain.


Case study 1


Linda, 37, had suffered from painful periods for several years. She had been diagnosed with endometriosis and had previously had laser treatment. This worked temporarily but the pain and heavy bleeding soon returned. When she first came to the clinic, she was scheduled to have further surgery in 4 months time. Within 2 cycles of treatment with acupuncture and herbal medicine, her period was substantially less painful, by the 4th cycle she had no pain and on returning to her consultant it was decided the laser treatment was unnecessary. Her pain returned 2 years later and was resolved within a couple of further sessions. Since then she has had no problems.

Menstrual Problems

Acupuncture For Menopause

By Diane Joswick, L.Ac.


Menopause doesn’t have to be a dreaded curse of aging during which we can look forward only to hot flashes and whacked-out hormonal mood swings. Menopause often marks the beginning of a woman’s most sexually passionate, creatively inspired, and professionally productive phase of life.


While this may sound like wishful thinking, examine how a woman’s lifestyle, emotions, and beliefs are affected by menopause. With the right diet, attitude, and Oriental Medicine women can actually look forward to a resurgence of energy and a revolutionary opportunity for personal growth–one that rivals the hormonally driven period of adolescence.


What is Menopause?


Menopause is a transitional period marking the cessation of ovulation in a woman’s body. This time of change may last a few months to several years. Symptoms vary from mild to severe, and are brought on as our bodies try to adapt to decreasing amounts of estrogen. Symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, fatigue, mood swings, memory loss, vaginal dryness, headaches, joint pain, and weight gain.


According to Chinese Medical theory, menopause occurs when a woman’s body begins to preserve blood and energy in order to sustain her vitality and allow for the maximum available nourishment for her body, especially her kidneys. The kidney is the organ Chinese Medicine sees as the root of life and longevity. Therefore, the body, in its wisdom, reserves the flow of a channel in the center of the body which sends blood and energy down to the uterus. Instead, blood and essence from the kidneys are conserved and cycled through the body to nourish the woman’s spirit and extend her longevity. Thus, in the Chinese Medicine, menopause is seen as true change in life from mother to enlightened and wise being.


Diagnosis and Treatment of Menopause


Few areas of women’s health stir up as much confusion and debate as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which is normally started when the first symptoms of menopause appear. While they may alleviate hot flashes and prevent osteoporosis, they will also increase the risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer, and have a number of significant side-effects. But HRT isn’t the only solution. Menopause is an area in which Oriental Medicine shines. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have the ability to detect energetic changes that occur in the body and quickly relieve symptoms such as hot flashes, foggy mind, and irritability.


Evidence that Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine have been used for women’s health can be found in early medical literature dating back to 3AD.


Traditional Chinese Medicine does not recognize menopause as one particular syndrome. Instead, it aims to treat the specific symptoms that are unique to each individual using a variety of techniques such as acupuncture, Chinese herbs, bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations and energetic exercises to restore imbalances found in the body. Therefore, if 10 women are treated with Oriental medicine for hot flashes, each of these 10 women will receive a unique, customized treatment with different acupuncture points, different herbs and different lifestyle and diet recommendations.


How Acupuncture Works


The mental and emotional symptoms that you are experiencing will help create a clear picture on which your practitioners can create a treatment plan specifically for you. The basic foundation for Oriental medicine is that there is a life energy flowing through the body which is termed Qi (pronounced chee). This energy flows through the body on channels known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced. Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to achieve the desired effect.


The Acupuncture Treatment


Acupuncture points to treat the emotional and physical effects of menopause are located all over the body. During the acupuncture treatment, tiny needles will be placed along your legs, arms, shoulders, and perhaps even your little toe!


There seems to be little sensitivity to the insertion of acupuncture needles. They are so thin that several acupuncture needles can go into the middle of a hypodermic needle. Occasionally, there is a brief moment of discomfort as the needle penetrates the skin, but once the needles are in place, most people relax and even fall asleep for the duration of the treatment.


The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary. Typical treatments last from five to 30 minutes, with the patient being treated one or two times a week. Some symptoms are relieved after the first treatment, while more severe or chronic ailments often require multiple treatments. The style of acupuncture that your acupuncturist has been trained in will play a roll in length of treatment, number of points used and frequency of visits.


Studies on Acupuncture and Menopause


Since the early seventies, studies around the globe have suggested that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are effective treatments for hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia, vaginal dryness and many other symptoms associated with menopause. Recent studies show extremely positive results:


From 1997 to 1999, one of the first studies in the United States to explore the effectiveness of acupuncture in alleviating hot flashes, insomnia and nervousness, conducted by Dr. Susan Cohen, D.S.N., APRN, associate professor of the University of Pittsburgh, it was found that during the course of acupuncture treatments, hot flashes decreased by 35% and insomnia decreased by 50%. A follow-up study revealed hot flashes significantly decreased in those receiving acupuncture, compared to those receiving routine care.


A 2002 pilot study in England found that acupuncture reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes in women being treated with tamoxifen for breast cancer.


While these results are promising and the United Nations World Health Organization has approved acupuncture as a treatment for symptoms associated with menopause, further clinical trials with larger samples are currently underway


A 2003 study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, involves a larger number of participants than previous studies. Participants will be divided into three groups; one will receive menopause-specific acupuncture, one will receive non-menopause-specific acupuncture, and one will receive usual care.


Stanford Medical Center researchers are now studying whether acupuncture can help alleviate hot flashes. During the one-year, placebo-controlled study at Stanford, volunteers may receive 10 treatments over an eight-week period.


Lifestyle and Dietary Instructions


Menopause patients are encouraged lose that extra weight and to follow a diet with a high content of raw foods, fruits and vegetables to stabilize blood sugar. Some foods may exacerbate hot flashes or increase mood swings. Steer clear of dairy products, red meats, alcohol, sugar, spicy foods, caffeine, and don’t smoke. Lastly, try to eliminate stress, tension and anxiety or learn techniques to cope with stress so that you can diminish the effects that it has on your body and mind.

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