5 THINGS TO STOP DOING IMMEDIATELY TO IMPROVE YOUR PERIODS
Cramps. Clots. Bloating.
Feeling like your uterus is falling out.
These may be symptoms women COMMONLY experience but just cuz it's common, doesn't mean it's healthy or "normal".
<steps up onto soap box>
You see, we tend to "normalize" unhealthy symptoms just because there's a lot of other people who experience it too:
-brain fog, fatigue, or the need to unbutton our pants after a huge meal (Thanksgiving, Super Bowl, etc)
-burnout and feeling wired but tired
-headaches, nausea, brain fog after late night out drinking
-diarrhea or acid reflux after spicy foods
-monthly headaches or migraines from "dehydration" or heat
-text neck or wrist pain from computer/texting
These are all signs that your body is not happy or healthy in it's current state. It's responding to something in it's environment and a sign that something is off. Sure, you may write these things off as a one-off that *rarely* happen but take a minute and think of how often it's actually occurring. Is it REALLY only once every few months? Or is it more than that?
We often don't realize how frequently we experience uncomfortable symptoms because we brush it under the rug until it happens again. Don't believe me? Start logging your symptoms and you'll begin to get a clearer picture of patterns and frequency. Many of my patients do this and are alarmed at how many days out of the month they're experiencing discomfort.
Symptoms are like the "Check Engine" light of your car. If you keep ignoring it, you're eventually gonna end up at the mechanic or body shop with a hefty bill to pay.
<steps off soapbox>
So.... those monthly cramps, clots, and bloating?
Well they fall into that same category and girl...
your check engine light is on.
In Chinese Medicine, we consider your period your "5th vital sign".
(others are Body Temp, Pulse Rate, Respiration Rate, Blood Pressure)
That's why when you come in for your sessions we ask you all the nitty, gritty details like:
-color of menstrual blood
-heavy, med or light flow
-if clots are present
-how many days of bleeding
-how many days each cycle is from day 1 of bleeding to the next day 1 of bleeding
-if you have any PMS symptoms
-if you have any ovulation symptoms
In the world of a TCM practitioner, TMI doesn't exist. Try to gross us out with your bodily functions, I dare you! Smells, colors, consistencies and quantities of your bodily fluids (snot, vaginal fluid, poop, tongue coating, rashes, pimples) are all information that tells us WTF is up with your insides. If you don't pay attention to the color or consistency of your menstrual blood or vaginal fluids, today is the perfect day to start.
When you're aware of what your body is trying to tell you, you'll be better equipped to finding a solution to feel better!
*Important note before we begin*:
Many of the things I suggest below are to do BEFORE your period starts not just during. This is because your period is CYCLICAL. Your hormones fluctuate in cycles throughout the month and things that happen in one part of the cycle (food, stress, supplements, alcohol, etc) can affect things that happen in the later part of your cycle.
Does this chart make your eyes gloss over?
Don't worry. I get it. The takeaway here is that your hormones work like an assembly line. If one part gets messed up, it's likely that other parts down the line will get thrown off too. That's why we need to support our hormones in ALL phases of our menstrual cycle.
This means having a pain-free healthy period requires maintenance ALL MONTH LONG and not just during "Show-Time" (or.... Flow Time)?
The foods you eat, the way you manage stress, if you take supplements/herbs before your period comes... they all have an effect!
5 things you should stop doing to improve your periods:
(and your overall health! Cuz... don't forget...
that's what periods are... a sign of your overall health)
1. EATING RAW AND COLD FOODS
This is important for digestive health in general but is especially important the week before and during your period (or if you have any digestive issues). Eating COOKED and WARM foods consistently will improve your cramps and bloating. Cooked and warm foods provide more-readily-available energy for your body.
When you eat cold or raw foods (sushi, salads, ice cream, cold leftovers, smoothies, ice water, etc) you're lowering the temp of your stomach and because your stomach only digests at specific temperatures it causes the body to work harder and use more energy to warm up the stomach before it begins digestion. MEANING your food will sit in your gut longer, fermenting and causing bloat, poorly digested food, poorly absorbed nutrients and constipation or diarrhea.
We also say in TCM that this "cold" enters the body and can stay in the stomach/uterus. A sign that you have cold in your body is if a heating pad improves your symptoms or if your abdomen feels cold to the touch. It's important to be warming up the insides of your bod all cycle long if you tend to experience these symptoms but it's ESPECIALLY important to avoid right before and during to make sure the symptoms don't get worse!
Many people struggle with this one because of their attachment to quick and easy fixes - especially with smoothies. I promise once you commit to this you will feel loads better. If you can't 100% commit, at the very least:
-use fresh fruits/veg (not frozen)
-leave out the ice and drink room temp
-add warming herbs like ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, or clove
-switch to soup instead of smoothies
2. BARING IT ALL
We ain't done with the cold convo just yet! Quick! Jump into your DeLorean and travel back in time to high school physics class. We are talking about molecules and energy and using water as our example. When water is cold, those molecules move slowly and are more solid, forming ice. When things are warmer, the molecules move faster; if at room temp -- it's water and if REALLY hot those molecules move super fast and become steam.
Fast-forward back to present day and apply that theory to your blood which is 90% water (and generally at 'room temperature'). When your blood is cold, it moves sluggishly and has the tendency to stagnate, not quite turning to ice but instead it clots, and is thicker, darker blood. When it's warmer, it flows more fluidly and is a brighter red.
<P.S.This is also why in Chinese medicine we rarely/never recommend using ice on injuries and recommend using heat instead (unless within the first few hours of injury). Our blood contains nutrients and healing properties and slowing that flow down with ice will also slow down our healing processes.>
We want to keep our sensitive lady bits WARM AND COZY to keep that blood flowing instead of stagnating. This means keeping our:
1. Bellies and low backs covered the week before + during our periods (yes, that means no crop tops - even in summer).
2. Keeping our feet warm because the acupuncture channels that connect with our reproductive organs start at the feet
Cramps. Clots. Bloating. 3 Leg Yin" acupuncture channels, the Spleen, Kidneys and Liver. The acu channels in TCM are like electrical wires in the wall, transporting energy around the house or our body. Along the channels are the acu points where we can tap into that energy and utilize it much like electrical sockets in the wall. The 3 yin channels (Sp, Kd, Lv) all have internal connections to your reproductive organs. They are some of the most used channels for treating fertility and reproductive health concerns. Yin makes up the fluids in the body like your blood, joint lubrication, and other fluids that keep things moisturized and act like coolant in your car/body. As you can see, they ALL BEGIN IN THE FEET. Which is why we want to keep that Qi/warmth flowing all the way from head down to our toes. Qi moves the blood and if Qi (energy) gets stagnated or slows, so will the blood.
Some tips to help with this:
-warm baths/hot tubs instead of cold pools/showers the week before/during
-wear socks especially on hard wood floors, concrete and to bed
-wear socks as much as possible if feet get cold easy
-magnesium baths with essential oils the week before/during -exercise until you break a sweat a few times a week
3. GOING AGAINST THE FLOW
We have a work hard, play hard, don't-stop-til-ya-drop mentality in the US. We also have a RIDICULOUSLY high rate of burnout, chronic disease, auto-immune and fatigue. Your energy fluctuates with your menstrual cycle and it's important to learn to listen to and respect it.
The first few days of your period should be restful: avoiding heavy lifting days, HIIT workouts or extreme cardio. Instead go for walks outside, yin yoga or at the very least - stretching. It's super important to still MOVE YO BODY to help keep that blood flowing but taking those first few days of your period to rest and chill will allow you to feel better all month long. Pushing yourself when your body has low energy is like spending money you don't have. That energy debt will catch up with you eventually.
It's important to be graceful with yourself, respect your energy and recharge. Women are generally most energetic and focused around ovulation time and once you start to notice this monthly cycle, you can advantageously plan your workouts and work schedules accordingly. It's called "Cycle Syncing" and there's a lot of info out there about this so if you want to dive in deeper, check out these blogs:
4. PUTTING A CORK IT IN
Let's talk tampons...
Convenient for swimming, bathing suits, certain outfits, less mess than other options
Many made from toxic chemicals (reproductive toxins, irritating fragrance, chlorine, pesticides, synthetic fibers), risk of bacterial accumulations, blood stagnation
Now somewhere along the line we were convinced that our periods are gross and shameful
-- that it needs to be plugged up and hidden. Let's take a minute to that analyze that mindf*ck we started believing, shake it out, and have a rethink about that. Women, who make up half of the population, bleed, almost every month. It's a bodily function and nothing to be ashamed of and is necessary for survival.
By shoving in a tampon, we are doing 2 things:
1. Exposing that internal mucous membrane to whatever our tampons are made of
2. Creating a habitat of stagnation
As mentioned above, most generic tampons are made out of a lot of stuff you don't want absorbing into your body (see pic below). Mucous membranes (ex: inside of your mouth, nose, digestive tract, vagina) are filled with blood vessels and are highly absorptive, meaning they pick up what you're putting down (there). If you're gonna use tampons PLEASE be sure you're choosing a company that uses organic cotton and are transparent with what are in them. Tamps are NOT highly regulated and big companies like Tampax, Kotex, Playtex are pumping out cheap products that are not in your vagine's best interest.
That blood sits in the tampon like a sponge for hours on end. Ever get mad at your partner or roommate for not wringing out the sponge and/or leaving it soaked in the sink? Same same but a little different.
Your vag is a sensitive mucus membrane. That 'brining' blood (and other material) can alter the pH of our coochies (especially if it's a non-organic, bleached, synthetic fiber tampon), allowing bacteria to grow and contribute to things like BV, candida and blood stagnation.
Blood stagnation? If you've got a ? hovering over your head, let me explain.
We use this term in TCM when... the blood is not moving fluidly. Imagine breaking your arm, you break blood vessels amongst other tissues and halt the flow of blood, it bruises or coagulates as it heals. Like a dam in a river or a traffic jam, there's stagnation or a blockage and the result is overflow above the dam with just a trickle downstream. Blood stagnation in the uterus or lower abdomen is related to menstrual cramps and other irregular periods, PCOS, endometriosis, and fibroids. I'm not saying that tampons are the sole cause of these symptoms but I am saying that they can exacerbate the issue. Your blood is meant to flow down and out. It's not meant to sit and marinate like a flank steak.
Now I totally agree that every now and again, a tampon is just the easiest, most convenient way to go. But I present to you other options that you should try to incorporate as much as you can to limit the amount of time you're stopping Aunt Flow in her tampon tracks:
<I love the thongs for light days, boyshorts for sleeping and around the house. I have multiple pairs that I switch out if it starts to feel like a wet diaper. You just rinse them out and wash them.>
3. Always wear pads or period underwear to sleep. No Tamps Allowed!
(That's 7-8 hours of marination)
4. Try Diva cups or other alternatives
I did the cups for awhile but didn't love them. For me there was occasional leaks, changing them in public was a gross nightmare, and getting them to un-suction sometimes felt like an invasive procedure. Lots of people love them and they're a good alternative to tampons but for me, I just prefer my free-bleed diapers aka period panties
5. eating junk
I know, not giving in to our cravings can feel like out right torture some times. I've been there! But cravings arise from nutritional deficiencies we are experiencing. So making sure we are nourishing our body and providing it with all the minerals and nutrients it needs helps to limit these cravings. It's like an addiction to where the more we give in to our cravings of ice cream, french fries or whateva yo flavor, the worse our come-down, hangover or symptoms will be later.
I mentioned cycle syncing above which you can do for exercise or planning your work meetings/projects based on your motivation and energy cycles during the month but you can (and should) also EAT for your cycle.
By feeding your body exactly what nutrients it needs in each part of your cycle, you help it to work more efficiently and experience less cravings.
During your period, you want to nourish that blood that is lost by high quality animal products (this is the most efficient, nutrient dense way to do this. Eat what you want to replenish). You want to limit fatty food, alcohol, caffeine so your liver isn't working overtime. It's already working hard to process and detox your hormones so adding on those extra TPS reports is going to drive it straight into burnout.
If you are trying to get pregnant OR are working to regulate your hormones, I 1000% recommend you make dietary changes. If you look at the recommendations there is one clear pattern. EAT REAL, NUTRIENT DENSE ORGANIC FOOD. Eliminate processed foods that wreak havoc on your hormones and liver's detox abilities.
And of course, last but definitely not least.
GET SOME ACUPUNCTURE IN YOUR LIFE.
I often use the analogy of us acupuncturists are like a trainer at the gym. You can do a lot of great workouts on your own but when you come in for acupuncture, it takes your health to an entirely new level and unlocks deep healing properties in your body that can be challenging to get to on your own. Not only is acupuncture mitigating those hormonal changes and balances but we are regulating your nervous system which has a direct effect on your hormones and cortisol. We also relieve pain and get that Qi and Blood flowing so you feel good all cycle long.
Herbal medicine is another incredibly powerful tool for women's health conditions. Find an acupuncturist near you to help you transform your health!
If you're local in OC, I'd love to chat about where you're at in your wellness journey and how we can work together to achieve your health goals!
Please let me know if you have any questions!