Dr. Maryam Mahanian Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Clinic
It is not unusual to have irregular periods. About 30% of women have them. Irregular periods are sometimes early and sometimes late in an unpredictable manner.
What is a regular period anyway?
Before we can talk about irregular periods, we should define exactly what a regular period is. It usually occurs every 28 or 30 days and lasts anywhere from 3 to 7 days. Every woman's cycle is a bit different. You may get your period every 21 days or every 35 days, but as long as they occur with roughly the same number of days between each cycle, they are regular.
How do irregular periods happen?
Irregular Periods occur when hormone levels are thrown out of sync. The glands affected with the process of menstruation include the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the ovaries. This is often referred to as the HPO Axis.
Irregular menstruation is generally related to disruptions in the balance of hormones. Delayed periods may be signals that ovulation has not occurred and, consequently, that the endometrial lining has grown thicker. Delayed periods usually involve heavier bleeding due to this increased thickness. Lighter periods or bleeding between periods may arise when hormone levels are not sufficient to nourish the endometrial lining.
Some causes of irregular periods:
- Poor diet
- Intense exercise
- Perimenopause (close to menopause) / Menopause
- Weight gain or Weight loss
- Pelvic infection
- Uterine polyps
- Uterine cancer / Uterine abnormalities
- Dysfunctional bleeding
Most doctors will put a woman with irregular periods on the contraceptive pill. This will regulate menstrual cycles but unfortunately does not treat the root cause of the irregularity. Consequently, when a woman discontinues the pill, the irregularity will most likely return. What happens is that the pill tricks the body into thinking that it is pregnant and does not allow for ovulation. No egg is released from the ovary and pregnancy cannot occur. Essentially, the hormones override the body's natural hormone balance.
Irregular Periods according to TCM:
An irregular cycle is always due to an imbalance of the liver and kidneys according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. "It is the rhythmic ebb and flow of blood and essence that give rise to periods".
Emotional stress causes the liver Qi (or energy) to stagnate causing blockages in the body. The liver is referred to as the "woman's organ" as it stores the blood and is the main organ responsible for the menstruation. Anger, frustration, tension, and anxiety all will have an effect on the liver organ as it is also in charge of the emotions. As one of the functions of the liver is to promote Qi flow through the body, emotional stress leads to blockages in the meridian system resulting in organ imbalance.
Overwork can lead to a deficiency in the kidney system. The kidney system is involved in reproduction and development. As far as the meridian system goes, the kidneys and uterus are directly connected. If there is a deficiency in the kidney system, this causes the uterus to become depleted leading to irregular periods.
Detailed nutritional advice will always be given depending on your TCM pattern. Women with irregular periods won't necessarily have identical patterns according to TCM. That is why it is important to treat the individual and not the disease.
A well-balanced diet is so important to regulate periods. If you miss meals or eat a lot of fast foods and deprive your body of proper nourishment, the body goes into starvation mode. When this happens, the body's unnecessary systems shut down and the cycle becomes irregular. Supporting the growth of a child is a secondary system…and thus shuts down when the body is in starvation.
Take time for yourself. A tired and stressed out body will definitely have an effect on the menstrual cycle. Also, try to exercise daily. Anything that gets your heart rate up.
Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture
In my practice, when dealing with irregular menstruation, I find that the combination of herbal medicine and acupuncture treatments are most effective. Acupuncture sessions are commonly on a weekly basis at the beginning and last about 45 minutes to one hour. Herbal medicine is given in a concentrated powdered extract and comes as a formula of many herbs combined together in very small dosages customized for the individual. This makes the medicine extremely effective and free of the side effects that could possibly happen when dealing with single herbs in high concentrations. The herbal medicine can be taken without any interactions if the patient is on the contraceptive pill or any other medications as well.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Patterns
Kidney Qi Deficiency
constitutional kidney Qi deficiency (genetic deficiency), prolonged illness, too many deliveries (childbirth), sexual overstrain, decline of kidney Qi with old age
Symptoms: irregular periods with small amount of menstrual blood, light color, profuse white thin vaginal discharge
Other symptoms may include restlessness, tinnitus, soreness and weakness in lower back and knee's, frequent clear long stream urination especially at night, pale tongue with white coating, thready weak pulse
Liver Qi Stagnation
Causes: stress, anxiety, anger, frustration
Symptoms: include irregular cycle with heavy or scanty menstrual blood, normal or purplish color, menstrual flow comes and stops, clots appear in blood, distension and soreness in breasts and lower abdomen which is relieved when menstrual flow comes
Other symptoms include depression, irritability, frequent sighing, fullness in the chest, distension in the ribs area.
Spleen Qi Deficiency
Causes: over worrying, improper diet, over physical work
Symptoms: include irregular cycle with heavy or scanty menstrual flow, light color of menstrual blood, thin quality
Other symptoms include dull complexion, poor appetite, bloating after meals, distending sensation in lower abdomen
Ever since puberty, I have never had a consistent regular period. I never knew when my period was coming. Sometimes it was early and other times was weeks late and I would be worried that I was pregnant. I never liked how the birth control pill made me feel either. It caused me to gain weight and I would constantly break out when I tried going off of it. I would also have really heavy bleeding and bad cramps. I heard a lot of good things about Chinese medicine but was afraid of needles. It wasn't until a girlfriend told me that it helped to regulate her period and she didn't have to take the pill was when I considered trying it out. After just a short while of treatments with Dr. Mahanian, I noticed my periods coming on time and it wasn't so painful anymore…and the needles didn't even hurt! It was so relaxing.