This Ancient Remedy May Be The Secret To Eliminating Cramps & Other Period Problems

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I could go on for days when it comes to the countless benefits of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), one of the oldest and most renowned forms of medicine, alongside ayurveda. Although it's taken some time for TCM to make its way from the east side, I'm so happy to see the Western world embracing it since it has been shown to be effective in treating a myriad of different diseases and health issues, including chronic pain, indigestion, hormonal imbalances, infertility, arthritis, and even PMS. That last one is important to the three in four women who report experiencing PMS symptoms each month including fatigue, mood swings, abdominal cramps, and joint pain along with a slew of other unpleasant symptoms from acne to depression. Luckily, TCM can help. Here are some of the ways I like to incorporate TCM in my treatment of patients' PMS symptoms:

1. Eat vitamin E.

This nutrient is known to boost progesterone levels, the hormone released by your ovaries that plays a critical role in your monthly cycle. Progesterone is responsible for pregnancy as well. Low progesterone can make PMS symptoms worse and even cause hot flashes, night sweats, trouble sleeping, and irritability. Sunflower seeds, almonds, avocado, and salmon are all rich sources of vitamin E, but you can also take a 200-IU supplement the few days before your period is scheduled to arrive to help relieve cramping.

2. Increase your protein.

Remember, painful periods in TCM are associated with chi (a term we use in Chinese medicine that means "life energy") and blood stagnation (or your energy not moving as well through your body). For this reason, digestion may be affected. TCM recommends removing raw, cold foods the week prior to your period and increasing protein through chicken, fish, beef, or lamb to increase chi. If you have trouble digesting protein well, you may consider adding a digestive enzyme to help break down your food—especially with heavier meals.

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3. Get moving.

Exercise might be the last thing you want to do when you're crampy, bloated, and plain irritated, but it's actually one of the best thing you can do to feel better fast. The best way to go about this is to start small—even a relaxing type of exercise such as yoga or swimming is enough to get blood and chi moving throughout your body. When we're stagnant, so is our chi, so I encourage women to at least try to get moving to naturally fight the uncomfortable symptoms caused by menstruation.

4. Arm yourself with magnesium.

This wonderful micronutrient plays an important role in so many aspects of our body and seems to be a magical cure when it comes to PMS and period pain, as well as sleep issues that can be enhanced during that time of the month. Magnesium helps relax your muscles, including your uterus (which is a muscle, by the way!). Since your uterus is what cramps to shed the lining for your next cycle, magnesium can help ease the pain. Unless you're taking a multivitamin, chances are you're not getting your fair share of the stuff. That's why I recommend 200 milligrams of magnesium in a chelated form as a good starting step. There are many types of magnesium, so for muscle relaxation, I suggest magnesium chelate or glycinate form.

5. Hydrate!

Photo by @LightFieldStudios / iStock

You can never underestimate the importance of getting your daily dose of H2O, especially when you're battling bouts of menstrual cramps. In fact, your body is made up of more than 60 percent of it—and it aids in tissue hydration and detoxification, which are both important each day of the month, not just when Aunt Flo is in town. A general guideline is to follow the eight-by-eight rule—drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. When possible, sip your water in between meals to help your body better digest—and start first thing in the a.m.!

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6. Try acupuncture.

It's rooted in research that acupuncture can work wonders for relieving period pain. In fact, one Australian study published in the journal Human Reproduction Update tested the effectiveness of alternative medicine in relieving period pain and found that it was most effective when conducted in frequent sessions. Another more recent study published in the journal Medicine found acupuncture to be effective in treating pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a condition in which the female reproductive organs become infected. As an acupuncturist, I've seen firsthand how needling treatment can help alleviate symptoms of menstruation, mainly by increasing and balancing your flow of chi.

7. Deal with your emotions.

Last but not least, TCM recognizes that emotions can make periods worse. Emotions like trapped resentment, anger, and frustration may lead to an increase in painful periods. No matter what health condition you're tackling, I believe emotional health directly correlates with your physical health! So don't ignore if you're a "hot head," "easily angered," or constantly "offended" throughout the month. Consider adding in meditation, counseling, life coaching (so you can process your emotions with a trusted source), EMDR, or even just the simple daily task of journaling. The healthier you become at processing your feelings and taking care of yourself emotionally, the less burden you place on your body to store all of the "feelings" or "energy."

Following these Eastern principles can help lessen cramping and help balance your overall health, as can understanding more about your power type. Just like a blood type, hormone type, or body type, I've discovered after seeing thousands of patients that most women tend to fall into distinct power types. Understanding yours might not only help balance hormones and ease period problems, but it may also help create a formula for you to follow to achieve optimal health.

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Taz Bhatia, M.D.

Integrative Medicine Doctor
Dr. Taz Bhatia, MD, is a board-certified physician, specializing in integrative and emergency medicine, pediatrics and prevention, with expertise in women’s health, weight-loss, hormone balance and nutrition. She is the author of the best-selling books “Super Woman RX” and “The 21-Day Belly Fix.” Personal health challenges in her twenties combined with a broken health care system motivated Dr. Taz to pursue an alternative definition of health and healthy living. As a young resident, she was sick and without answers, and began searching for help to heal her health issues. Studying various systems of medicine including Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Ayurveda, she found a wealth of information not yet taught in conventional medical schools. It led her to opening her now nationally-recognized practice, CentreSpring MD (formerly Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine). Today, Dr. Taz and her team work relentlessly to find a patient’s core health problems, their centre, in order to spring them forth in health, pulling from multiple systems of medicine, including integrative, functional, Chinese and holistic medicine.
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Taz Bhatia, M.D.

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