As many women know, menstrual cramps can be quite painful and disruptive to daily life. The constant aching and pain that may last up 7 days can really take a toll on a woman’s quality of life. Of course, there are plenty of medications on the market that can ease the pain but do not treat the root of the problem. From a traditional Chinese medical standpoint, menstrual cramps are the result of energy (qi) and blood not able to flow freely. (We call this qi and blood stagnation) There are many different ways to help promote movement during this time of the menstrual cycle that really help with painful periods.
1. Rosehip Tea: Available at many Middle Eastern or Asian grocery stores, rosehip is an herb that promotes movement of qi and blood in the low abdomen. (And they are pretty, too!) Just steep a generous tablespoon of rosehips in about 30 ounces of boiling water. Let the tea steep for about 20 minutes before drinking. The flavor may be new to the taste buds but try not to add any sweeteners, if possible. Chinese herbs are categorized based upon their taste so try to enjoy the sweetness of the rosehips alone.
2. Wine: In moderation, of course! Wine is also part of the traditional Chinese materia medica (pharmacy). When certain herbs are cooked in wine, they promote more movement of qi and blood. In small amounts, wine is used to promote movement of blood and should be used for menstrual cramps, NOT premenstrual cramps. The difference is that premenstrual cramps are more often the result of qi stagnation, whereas cramping with the period is more likely to be from blood stagnation. Although wine is effective in promoting the movement of blood, it can exacerbate qi stagnation.
3. Fish Oil Supplements: Fish oils are an excellent source of essential fatty acids. Generally, these help reduce overall inflammation in the body and we often recommend a fish oil supplement for most of our patients. In terms of blood flow, fish oils reduce blood clotting and vasoconstriction (when blood vessels become more narrow, which makes blood flow more difficult). As a supplement, fish oils should be taken daily and can be taken in doses up to 4,000 mg/day. However 1,200- 2,000 mg/day is sufficient.
4. Chinese Herbs: Chinese herbs are an excellent choice for reducing menstrual cramps. Herbs are administered as formulas, which is a specific combination of herbs designed to achieve a specific treatment goal. Formulas are custom tailored for each patient and can address a variety of premenstrual and menstrual irregularities. It is important to discuss your symptoms with an herbalist before taking any Chinese herbal formula.
Of course, diet should not be overlooked in treated menstrual cramps. Make sure to avoid excessively cold foods and drinks and dairy products during the period. (Ice cream is the WORST offender!) Cold foods and dairy lead to constriction to healthy flow and will likely exacerbate any preexisting stagnation. Make sure to drink plenty of water and eat green leafy vegetables. Keep exercising during the period, but make sure not to push yourself too hard. Your body is losing blood and working out too rigorously can further deplete the body of qi and blood. Gentle movement, however, can help to circulate qi and blood.