PMS and Chinese medicine

By Melanie Cherng, Lic. Ac. MAOM, Eastway Wellness (Brookline, Wellesley, Norwood, Danvers and Boston)

Sponsored by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s Eastern Harmony program



What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)?

Premenstrual syndrome includes a variety of symptoms related to a woman’s menstrual cycle. These symptoms usually appear one to two weeks before your period (menstruation or monthly bleeding) and disappear soon after your period starts. Women can experience some or all of the following symptoms: mood swings, irritability, depression, fatigue, poor concentration, headaches or migraines, dizziness, breast tenderness, acne, increased pain, difficulty sleeping, night sweats, food cravings, low back pain, abdominal cramping, bloating, edema, loose stools or constipation. Some women only experience a few of these symptoms occasionally and mildly. For others however, the symptoms are much more severe and can impact their ability to function.


What are the causes?

The causes of PMS are unclear but. it seems to be influenced by the hormonal changes that occur during a woman’s menstrual cycle and affect some women more strongly than others. Mood changes may be attributed to chemical changes in the brain. Stress, depression, and high alcohol or caffeine intake may increase symptoms.


What are common treatment options?

Conventional approaches to treating premenstrual syndrome usually involve lifestyle changes and medication. Getting regular exercise, eating a well-balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and avoiding food with high levels of salt (sodium), caffeine and alcohol can help regulate hormones, which in turn provides symptom relief. Additionally, getting enough sleep and learning strategies to cope with stress, such as yoga, meditation or breathing exercises, can also help alleviate symptoms. If the predominant symptoms are pain related, over-the-counter pain relief medication may help. Some women experience more severe symptoms and may need to have medication prescribed to them. In these instances, their health care provider may recommend hormonal birth control as a possible option. It has been found that when some women are no longer ovulating, they experience fewer premenstrual symptoms.


Image courtesy of Esther Simpson.  圖片由Esther Simpson攝影。

Image courtesy of Esther Simpson.

How does Chinese medicine understand premenstrual syndrome?

Although every case is different, premenstrual syndrome in Chinese medicine is often related to the stagnation of liver qi in the body. In Chinese medicine, the liver both stores blood and regulates the flow of qi throughout the body. When there is not smooth and free flow of liver qi, stagnation occurs and results in emotional constraint and pain. In some cases, blood deficiency is also involved, leading to fatigue and dizziness before the period.



How can acupuncture help?

Acupuncture can help relieve premenstrual symptoms by stimulating points that smooth and regulate liver qi, relieve pain, nourish qi and blood, and calm the mind. The Chong Mai and Ren Mai are also often used to regulate the period and, in turn, alleviate premenstrual symptoms. When liver qi and blood deficiency are present, a Chinese herbal formula can sometimes be used.


Ms. Cherng or Eastway Wellness can be reached at 617-792-2136, 781-688-0138,


For more information to support your well-being, visit

and click on Health Education. To learn about Harvard Pilgrim’s Eastern Harmony program, which blends health and wellness practices of Eastern and Western medicine, please call (617) 509-8015.


The content of this article represents the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Always consult your health care provider before starting a new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment, or if you have questions regarding your medical condition.

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