Menstruating in our Current Culture
Never before have women been under so much pressure. The high demand of society, jobs, social media, careers, home life, relationships, raising children, keeping our heads above water, not to mention the environmental toxins, sub quality food and body products all can be linked to wrecking havoc with the functioning of our endocrine systems.
The world we live in today is what I like to call, ‘The Age of Liver Qi Stagnation’. And where does this show up? Most commonly with our periods and menstrual cycle.
In today’s day and age it is hard to find women who experience absolutely no pain, discomfort or unpleasant symptoms with their menstrual cycle (although it is totally possible). This isn’t due to an inherent brokenness with our menstrual cycles as a whole, but is due to deeper imbalances in the body's expressions as signs and symptoms coming to the surface during menses. What many women don’t know is that period pain and PMS isn’t normal - It’s very common, but not normal.
Discomfort is the body’s way of communicating with you that something deeper is going on internally. Pain, migraines, headaches, acne, diarrhea, constipation, breast tenderness, mood swings, fluid retention - Do any of these sound familiar? For many women, an onslaught of these type of symptoms will come every cycle and hang around for far too long.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Liver
From a Chinese medicine perspective, our Liver health has a big role to play. Loving your liver will give you better periods. Yes, big claim, but it can really be as simple as that and is something I see evidence of every day in the clinic, as well as in personal experience healing my own menstrual cycle.
In Chinese medicine, the Liver is in charge of the smooth flow of blood and energy throughout your entire body. If your Liver isn’t happy and flowing freely, there’s a big chance your body is going to let you know real fast, and almost always around the time of your period.
In both western and Chinese medicine, the liver’s main functions include the storage and filtration of blood along with metabolism and detoxification of hormones. A healthy Liver organ system will ensure balanced, unobstructed hormones with symptom-free periods. If the Liver is not functioning smoothly, neither will our hormones. Stagnated Liver energy can cause oestrogen to build up in the body; excess oestrogen commonly plays an underlying role in many reproductive system conditions like endometriosis, fibroids, menstrual irregularities and PMS.
The Liver organ system channel begins at the big toe, travels up the inner leg, circles through our womb and reproductive system, up through our abdomen to our ribs and breasts. Any stagnation within the Liver organ system could show up as hormonal signs and symptoms, but also as physical, tangible pain along the channel whether it be where the channel passes through the uterus (maybe you get period pain), or along the part of the Liver channel that flows through the breasts (hello swollen, sore, tender, pre-period boobs!).
Functions of the Liver
- Controls the smooth flow of Liver Qi. This is essential to all physiologic processes in every organ and every part of the body
- Ensures the smooth flow and distribution of Blood throughout the entire body
- Responsible for all transformations in the body, including ovulation and menstruation
- Provides the Blood for menstruation
- Affects expression of emotions
- Calms emotional energy
- Ensures regular menstruation
- Creates smooth flow of Qi in the uterus, ovaries and Fallopian tubes
How Liver Stagnation Affects Your Menstrual Cycle
- Premenstrual pain, headaches/migraines, irritability, breast swelling/tenderness
- Period pain
- Feeling period pain externally around the vuvla
- Thick, dark, slightly purple menstrual blood
- Irregular periods
- Light periods
- Stop/start menstrual bleeding
- Clots in menstrual blood
- Ovulation pain and bloating
- Breast sensitivity at ovulation
- Irritability around ovulation
- Frequent feelings of anger, frustration and stress
- Emotionally bound up
- Inability to plan life and feeling a lack of direction
- Feeling a constant lump in the throat
- Tongue may have a slight purple tinge or have red sides
What Can Cause a Stagnated Liver?
- Emotional constraint, not being able to express yourself
- Prolonged stress and emotional pressure
- Repressed anger or resentment over a long period of time
- Excessive worry
- Severe blood loss (eg. after childbirth)
- Excessive consumption of inflammatory foods (eg. gluten, cow’s dairy, processed sugars, alcohol, caffeine, fried foods, heavily processed foods)
- Over eating
- Under eating
- Regular use of pharmaceutical drugs
- Environmental toxins
- Non-organic food, high intake of pesticides and chemical sprays
- Endocrine disruptors (xenoestrogens) in body products and household products
- Lack of physical movement
- Excessive screen time (phones, laptops, TV etc)
- Busyness, not enough down time
- Placing everyone else’s needs before your own
How to Soothe the Liver for Better Periods
Eat your greens! In Chinese medicine, the colour associated with the Liver organ system is green, meaning that this organ is balanced and nourished with enough green, especially when it comes to food. Green vegetables have an affinity with the Liver and have the ability to up-regulate liver detoxification pathways, ensuring that our hormones are excreted properly, especially oestrogen. Brassica family vegetables are particularly good at this (including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and bok choy).
- Avoid inflammatory food/drink. These can burden the liver's excretion and metabolism processes and result in hormonal imbalance. (ex: gluten, cow’s dairy, processed sugars, caffeine, alcohol, vegetable oils, fried foods and overly processed foods).
- Avoid xenoestrogens. These chemicals mimic oestrogen in the body and can create stress on the liver and hormonal imbalance. Xenoestrogens can be found in various products such as plastic food containers, plastic water bottles, makeup, cleaning products, body products, nail polish and non-organic food.
- Focus on the breath. When someone is stressed and bound up, do you imagine them breathing freely and deeply? Probably not. The more likely picture that comes to mind is someone taking short, shallow breaths or even unconsciously holding their breath. Deep abdominal breathing helps to calm the nervous system and soothe the Liver energy. Creating a daily practice of 10 mins for conscious deep abdominal breathing can do wonders for our Liver energy and hormonal balance.
- Create space for yourself each and every day to check in with yourself. Whether it is 5 minutes or 1 hour. Connect back into yourself and see how you are truly feeling. Are there any underlying emotions that have been building up and not expressed? We want to ensure our emotions are dealt with, felt fully and then released so they do not build up as nervous system tension creating hormonal imbalance.
- Move your body. Liver energy can become easily stagnated from lack of daily movement. Stretching your body and moving in a way that feels good to you encourages the smooth flow of Liver qi. Stretches and movements that specifically target the ribs and inner legs are especially useful and invigorating for the Liver.
- Try acupuncture. Acupuncture is wonderful for helping the body restore it’s natural balance and harmony. It specifically has a profound effect on balancing and soothing the endocrine system and helps pave the way for happier periods and menstrual cycles. As an acupuncturist who primarily works in the field of women’s health and fertility, I see Liver imbalances with almost every patient. Connect with a local acupuncturist and see how they may be able to help bring some liver love into your life for happier and healthier periods.
Lauren Curtain is a Dr. of Chinese medicine with a strong focus on women’s health and fertility. Her mission is to help women understand their bodies, embrace their menstrual cycles and learn how to have happy, healthy periods and supercharged fertility.