Understanding The 4 Period Archetypes Can Help You Have A Better Cycle
Identifying your period symptoms and how they're related and figuring out the order of operations can be complicated because, well, our bodies and ecosystems are complicated. I mean that in the best way; if we weren't complicated, we would be dudes.
OK, sorry, that was a little joke.
Seriously, our systems are complex because the act of making humans is sophisticated stuff. These four archetypes come straight out of Chinese medicine and can help you see some of your basic patterns and how to go about making a few changes.
Note: You are very unlikely to be just one archetype. As I said, you and your body are complex, so don't be deterred if you see some of yourself in several of the patterns. I want you to be able to understand that you're not just one symptom or another but rather groups of symptoms that are, in turn, parts of larger groups of symptoms.
There are also many more archetypes, and you should know that as you feel better, your pattern will change. That's a good thing.
Read through the archetypes, and see which profiles seem the most like you. (You don't have to have all of the symptoms to fit into a category.) Then you can continue to learn about what strategies and foods will be most supportive for your archetype(s).
Let's look at the four archetypes I see most commonly:
I'm pretty much out of gas.
Symptoms: You feel tired most of the time, you prefer to stay home, it takes a lot of work to motivate yourself to exercise, you have a tendency toward gas and bloating, and you have scanty and even pale menstrual blood. You may feel as though "I'm just not in good enough shape." This is super common. You think that if you work out more, you'll feel more energized, but in reality, you're just exhausted and probably running on adrenaline.
Your first steps should be:
- Sleep as much as humanly possible. Anytime you can lie down and go to sleep—even if that means going to your car at lunchtime and napping there—do it. There is so much shame attached to resting. It looks lazy, but the reality is that the better rested you are, the better and more focused your performance will be.
- Eat specific foods to help you make blood. We're talking foods with iron and vitamin B12 in them, such as organic red meat and sockeye salmon. If you're vegan, this can be extremely difficult to do. Without animal products in your diet, the only source of vitamin B12 is from a supplement, which, in my clinical experience, won't cut the mustard for most women. Even vegans can, however, focus on iron-rich foods such as kale and spinach, all the dark berries, blue-green algae (take this in a tablet form—it's too gross otherwise), parsley, and dried apricots.
- Exercise very moderately. Your best bets will be walking, gentle yoga, and, even better, restorative yoga and meditation. Anything more intense will just continue to empty the tank and keep you from making progress. At some point you'll start feeling stronger and may want to add a bit more exercise time and intensity. I encourage you to take your time with intensity.
I think I'm super healthy, but I'm running mostly on adrenaline and caffeine.
Symptoms: You probably look pretty healthy from the outside. With caffeine, you probably don’t feel that tired, but you also don’t sleep very well. You can get a lot done, but you’re often annoyed, agitated, or anxious. You have too much to do, but you try your best to cram it all in. When your period comes, there’s hell to pay in the days beforehand, and your cramps could be quite intense.
Your first steps should be:
- Start reducing your caffeine intake. Start substituting a 25% decaf blend for the next week or two. Then switch to 50/50 caf/decaf, and after a few more weeks switch to 75% decaf. Finally, switch to straight decaf. This is essential because until you get off caffeine, you won't be able to help your adrenal glands turn off the fire hose of adrenaline that's making you feel OK every day. Without the caffeine to keep you pumped up, your energy reserves will bottom out. At that point you'll start to feel tired. This is good. It means you have gotten to the next level, probably even crossed over into the "Out of gas" archetype.
- Eat real food. I know that seems obvious, but this archetype often drinks a lot of smoothies and lives on protein bars. You're moving so fast that there isn't time for anything else. In order to start to heal your system, your body needs a lot of vegetables and organic animal products to make energy and blood to replenish what has been burned out by overactivity.
- Back off from your intensive exercise regime. Again, your best bets will be walking, gentle yoga, and, even better, restorative yoga and meditation. At some point, you'll start feeling stronger and may want to add a bit more time and intensity. Just baby-step it here.
- Take the right supplements. Supplements that will really help your adrenal glands recover are astragalus, ashwagandha, and licorice. I like using a tincture because then you know that they're already properly dosed and you can just shoot a dropperful directly into your mouth.
I feel cold all the time, and I struggle with my weight.
Symptoms: It's the middle of summer, and you're still wearing a sweater or even a light jacket! Your feet are often cold, and you're kind of pale. You frequently feel hungry but aren't very satisfied by your food. You often have sweet cravings, and sugary food scratches the itch for a while—until the next craving. You try to lose weight, but it's very slow going. You want to work out more, but it's hard to generate the motivation. You tend to have a lot of bloating after meals and, in terms of your period, have regular bleeding but with a lot of clots and mucus. Your cycle is likely to be irregular. You have more pain than PMS but may have both.
Your first steps should be:
- Start focusing your diet on easy-to-digest foods and cooked foods. Try to consume more soups (these are easy to batch cook on the weekends and freeze). Start significantly reducing your intake of carbohydrates, including bread and sweets. Reduce your fruit consumption to one serving a day, and limit your alcohol intake. Eating more cooked foods will help you turn what you're eating into energy more effectively and allow you to extract nutrients better to produce a higher quality and quantity of blood. Also eat more warming foods such as cinnamon, garlic, onions, and curry.
- Stay warm. We talked about this before, but cold folks use up a lot of their energy just trying to stay warm. That energy is squandered when you could be using it to make more energy. Remember, it takes heat to transform food into energy, and when your body temperature is too low, food sort of percolates in your gut instead of getting the spark it needs to be powerfully metabolized.
- Increase your exercise. Obviously, if you're already exercising, go back to the notes for the "Out of gas" archetype, but if not, now is the time to start walking every day. It's one of the most effective ways to begin improving your temperature and metabolism. Just take it easy.
I think I'm pretty normal, but my period is still horrible every month.
This is a category that many people fall into. You look really healthy on the outside. You're working out, going to yoga, drinking smoothies, and eating food, too. When you go to the doctor, he or she says, "Everything looks great."
But when I ask you about your period, you tell me that it's a catastrophe. You have an irregular cycle, your PMS is hideous, you lie down in the shower because you're bleeding and cramping so badly. But hey, that's normal, right?
Though you're a specific archetype, improving this situation is highly personal. Because this archetype's issues are often driven more by very specific diet and lifestyle habits, it's difficult to give you suggestions about where to start. You can start by taking this quiz to get some customized feedback or looking for a reproductive acupuncturist to help you sort out a more customized plan.
The reason this archetype is so difficult to plan for is simple: There aren't enough symptoms that group together to make it easy to create a plan of attack. That's actually a good thing. Typically, there are one or two interventions that can make a big difference in a few months, as opposed to the other archetypes, which have deeper issues to resolve.
Excerpted from Seeing Red by Kirsten Karchmer, LAc. Published by Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2019 Kirsten Karchmer. All rights reserved.
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Kirsten Karchmer, LAc, is a Board Certified reproductive acupuncturist and former President of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine. Founder and CEO of Brazen, she is leading a women’s health revolution committed to significantly improving the lives and clinical outcomes of women with PMS, menstrual cramps, PCOS, endometriosis, and infertility. She earned her Master's degree from the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine. The author of Seeing Red, Karchmer has helped more than 10,000 women over the last twenty years to improve their health, menstrual cycles, and fertility.
In 2013, Kirsten translated her successful clinical programs into her technology enabled platform that uses machine learning/ AI to provide affordable and impactful reproductive solution. Conceivable was named one of the most innovative health tech start-ups from MedTech in 2015, and has been featured in Washington Post, New York Magazine, Tech Crunch, and the Huffington Post. She currently launched her new company Brazen to provide game changing software and products to improve the way people experience their periods.
Kirsten lectures internationally on women’s health, the future of integrative medicine, and using technology to better serve patients, providers, and healthcare systems. Kirsten has been recognized as one of the top female start-up founders to watch, the recipient of the Texas Trailblazer award for her innovation in health care.