It is not uncommon to have irregular periods, one in three women experience this at some point. Irregular periods can mean that sometimes it arrives early and sometimes late in an unpredictable manner. The key is to understand and know what is a regular period for you, within the healthy parameters. Once you know what is normal for you, when anything changes, you know that something is not right.
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 (organs that secrete hormones into the body) involved during the process of menstruation include the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and 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:
Perimenopause (close to menopause) / Menopause
Weight gain or Weight loss
What is the conventional treatment:
Contraceptive Pills: 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 nearly 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.
How can acupuncture help?
Acupuncture will help to restore your body's natural balance and therefore a more regular and less painful period. As each person is different we will tailor your treatment to your needs. After a history has been taken and lifestyle taken in to account we will be able to assess which channels are affected and chose points to reflect this.
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. Throughout the month try to exercise daily; anything that gets your heart rate up.
During your period make sure you keep nourished and if you are experience cramps apply a warmth to your lower abdomen. Hot baths and showers will also ease the cramping. Gentle stretches shown below will also help to alleviate cramps (Image courtesy of Yoga Download). Basically, any movement will increase blood flow and help to ease the pain.