Written by guest author: Dr Alice Morgan (TCM)
Out for coffee last week with two of my favourite guy pals, one started to chat about how he has just visited a friend who had recently had a baby.
Due to complications with endometriosis, his friend took a while to conceive, but now have a cute, little bubba. “What exactly is endometriosis?” one of my pals asked. It was my time to shine. I explained, as briefly and as much to my knowledge (which is a tad, go on, ask me!) what endometriosis is, how medicine believes it comes about, how prevalent it is in our society, and of course the horrific pain that comes along with it. Thankfully we had second coffee on the way, as I may have gone on a little…. However, the best part about this is all, is how much they paid attention, allowed me to say things like ‘the lining sloughs away off the uterus walls and out of the vagina” without looking at me with disgust, and how they empathised with women just hearing about the horrors they have to deal with. My guy pals are pretty great. Very forward thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing this to blow smoke up their ass, they don’t need a medal just for listening about periods. The women suffering from endo, who then go about their daily lives, deserve medals (and maybe some more understanding from their workplaces when they need a day or two off each month. And lots of chocolate). No, I wanted to tell you about this convo mainly because it is good to see that we can start to chat about issues that affect so many people, on a bloody (ha) monthly basis, in a cafe, with two humans who don’t ever have to experience it.
Dysmenorrhoea (the fancy name for period pain) can be caused by so many different issues, as equally as it is caused by nothing at all. Some people have endometriosis, others have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), others, fibroid scarring, and some may have just a couple of cysts on their ovaries. And then, there are those who never get answers to anything, they just get period pain with no reason at all. How infuriating. Painkillers are the number one go-to for many sufferers, so is surgery for those with huge amounts of endometrial tissue that is not inside the uterus where it is meant to be, and then for a high number, hormonal medicines like the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) and intrauterine devices (IUDs) are commonly prescribed. Western Medicine really offers great in bandaid style treatments. Which is totally ok, when we need them, Western Medicine is no way our worst enemy. That’ll be the period pain. But sometimes there just has to be better ways to work out and treat the root causes of the monthly nightmare. Doesn’t there?
Que Chinese Medicine. Your Chinese Medicine practitioner will ask about your period in depth and get you thinking. As much as it is important that we put nourishing things into our bodies, what comes out can show us so much more. Your poop is super important (stay tuned for an indepth look into your shit) and so is your urine and your sweat. Your period is also something that comes out of you. If it isn’t healthy looking, something must be up hey? Head to the GP and say you have period pain, get painkillers, a medical cert, maybe chat about hormonal meds, wham bam thank you mam, your out of there, all in like 10 minutes after waiting 70 minutes to see them in the first place. (This is weird right? We should spend more time with our health care practitioner!). Come and tell me that you can’t function a few days per month and boy, do we become personal.
The pain, is it sharp and stabbing or more dull and achy? When does the pain start and when does it stop? Where exactly is the pain? Does massage make the pain worse or better? Does heat make the pain worse or better? Does drinking cold liquids and eating cold foods (mmm ice cream) make the pain worse or better? What colour is the menstrual blood? Are there clots? What size are the clots? What colour are the clots? Do you feel relief once the clots pass? Do you get slightly constipated before your period starts and then once the period comes you have a bit of diarrhoea? (we heard a whole heap of you just shout ‘Hey! That’s me!’) Is there a lot of menstrual blood or not much at all? How many days do you bleed? Is there any spotting? What are your PMS symptoms like? Are you angry or sad? Any bloating before your menstruate? How ‘don’t touch my bloody boobs’ are you before the period? And most importantly WHAT DAY ARE YOU ON YOUR CYCLE? You will be asked this each time you see me, so get tracking (we totally keep tabs in my clinic notes, but you need to be in charge of your health way more than me. I’m just assisting!)
And these are just some of the questions. We haven’t even begun on ovulation and diet. We ask so many questions, because according to Chinese Medicine theory, there are a few different diagnoses for period pain. For your menstruation to be pain free and pleasant, your blood and Blood energy must be abundant and move freely. Free movement relies on the free-flow of the Gan (Liver) Qi and the free-flow of one of the extra Meridians, the Penetrating Meridian. During the premenstrual phase of your cycle, Yang is building and rising and the Gan (Liver) Qi is preparing to move, waiting for ‘the Uterus doors to open’ allowing the proper amount of blood to leave your body in a smooth and no problematic way. Now pain arises if your Qi and/or Blood energy becomes stagnant, the External Pathogen Cold invades your Uterus (‘What?’ Yeah, we know, different, just stay with me), your Qi and Blood energy are deficient, Yang levels are deficient, or your Yin is deficient. Now, this all means a whole heap to all my Acupuncturist pals who are supporting my blogs (thanks guys x), but not much if you thought that Yin and Yang were just a cool symbol overused in the 80s and 90s, or that Yin is definitely something to do with Yoga that you are wanting to try out. That’s cool, it’s a whole other way of looking at the body, so let’s look at how you can become deficient or stagnant.
More questions! Are you overworking? Both physically and mentally? Like are you really burning the candle at both ends? We know what happens to candles that burn at both ends. Well, maybe we don’t. That seems like a pointless candle. So yeah, working yourself into the ground is pointless. Look, sometimes we have a hustle, and hustling is great, we want to do it all and have it all. But if your health is diminishing, that’s not ‘having it all’. Overworking depletes your Yin, your Qi, your Yang, and your Blood. The trifecta (plus 1). And what about your emotions? Are you angry? Frustrated? Worried? Or perhaps you are full of resentment or guilt? When these emotions are out of control (because they are healthy emotions to have, in small, balanced ways) everything knots up and becomes stagnant and still. And how about the Cold invading your Uterus. Damn you Cold! This can occur when the lower abdomen is exposed to cold environments. Hands up who wore midriff tops with Paris Hilton in the early 2000’s, super low rise jeans during their teens and early years? It can also invade while swimming in super cold water or training for sport in thin tops in cold weather. The trick here is to always keep that lower abdomen warm during colder weather.
A combination of Acupuncture and Chinese herbs makes sure your Yin, Yang, Qi, and Blood is balanced and that everything is freely flowing as it should be. Answering these questions, feeling your Chinese System pulses and reading your tongue really helps me get an understanding of where the cause of your period pain is coming from. And we can do Acupuncture if you are on any contraception. We don’t judge and we are definitely not purists. What we do like to do in clinic though is chat positively about your period. If there was no pain or no shame around this amazing bodily function, wouldn’t it be easier to deal with? Let’s start breaking the walls down about being silent on something that so many suffer from. Let’s open the conversation up. One coffee at a time, one cafe at a time, one non menstruator at a time.