Have you ever wondered why PMS is so common among women today? What about why it so often comes with additional symptoms and disorders like PCOS, endometriosis, IBS, ovarian cysts and depression? There is a very simple truth behind these complicated and often debilitating issues: the liver. Stagnation and lack of proper energy flow in the liver is at the root of almost all reproductive, gastrointestinal, and even emotional conditions. And thanks to Traditional Chinese Medicine, we can all be on the road to healing.
Why are we in pain if it’s a natural part of life?
PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) is just what the name implies – a syndrome. It’s a disorder, meaning out of order/out of the ordinary. So why does everyone seem to have at least some of the symptoms? Our bodies were created to perfection; we literally have the power to regenerate and heal ourselves. There are no mistakes here. We wouldn’t have a period in the first place if it was meant to hurt us. After all, periods are the reason women live longer than men! We lose old, stagnant blood every month so that our incredible bodies can replace it with fresh, clean blood to nourish our organs. It’s a time of renewal where we’re connected to the feminine energy of the moon, where we shed what we no longer need and start fresh. In fact, we actually menstruate according to nature and the moon – some women cycle with the new moon, and others with the full. There are no coincidences!
We shouldn’t have to suffer through this time of regeneration, and the truth is that we never have to again. Every symptom that your body produces is a signal. Every ache and pain is a trail of clues that leads you to a root cause if you figure out how to follow the patterns. Symptoms are not meant to be muffled with pain relievers and Midol. Symptoms are meant to be observed and thanked, because your body is telling you exactly what you need to do in order to get well.
Following the Symptom Trail
Chinese Medicine offers such amazing explanations for illness because it does exactly what I mentioned: it uses your symptoms as clues to a bigger issue. Let’s think about PMS. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? The emotional roller coaster, of course! Women can often tell when we’re about to get our periods because we get moody and unpredictable.
Emotions = The Liver
Whether it’s depression, anxiety, sadness, PMS, PMDD, or even bipolar disorder, it’s related to the liver in TCM. The liver is the seat of emotion, especially irritability and anger.
When the liver is healthy, the liver meridian naturally balances your mental state and releases suppressed emotions via your flow of Qi/energy (also known as life force). The fact that depression, frustration, irritability and anger are major symptoms of PMS leaves us the clue that disharmony in the liver is to blame.
Let’s look at the other symptoms that come with difficult periods:
– Cravings, particularly for sweets/carbs/salt
– Water retention
– Abdominal bloating
– Breast swelling + tenderness
– Sore throat
– Menstrual irregularity
– Painful menstruation
Each and every one of these symptoms can be explained by Chinese medicine, and will be traced back to the liver below.
The Liver & The Flow of Qi
Qi is the ‘prana,’ energy, or ‘life force’ that flows through our organs each day and keeps us alive. When the Qi is free flowing, we have a healthy body with no issues. When it’s not free flowing, we have a problem. This means that whenever there is an issue, no matter what it is, the Qi is somehow blocked and there is an underlying imbalance in one of your organs/meridians.
The basic energetic imbalance that causes PMS and reproductive/emotional disorders is Liver Qi Stagnation. In Chinese medicine, the liver is responsible for “spreading the Qi” throughout the body and maintaining its smooth and unobstructed flow. This implies that the right energy arrives at the right place at the right time.
The chart displayed above depicts the “Chinese Body Clock.” At 2 hour intervals all day and night, our Qi moves into different organs of the body to do its active or repair work. This cyclic, uninterrupted flow of Qi through every organ at the right time represents the Western view of the endocrine system and the rise and fall of hormones in the body. We secrete different hormones at different parts of the day for very specific reasons.
Anything that harms the liver obstructs the flow of Qi (since I mentioned that the liver is solely responsible for “spreading the Qi.”) Because Qi mirrors the Western concept of the endocrine system, this can be translated as: anything that harms the liver obstructs the flow of hormones. This makes perfect sense since, after all, hormones are indeed metabolized by the liver! And of course, all the issues we’re talking about here (cramps, PCOS, cysts, etc.) have an underlying hormone imbalance and relate to the reproductive system.
Here’s how it works:
The liver’s job is to spread the Qi…
so if there is congestion in the liver,
there is congestion of Qi.
The Qi’s job is to move the blood,
so when the Qi becomes stagnant, the blood also stagnates.
Over time, congested or ‘stuck’ blood will do exactly as it sounds: clot and stick in places it shouldn’t. This leads to ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, myomas, and painful menstrual periods because the body is cramping up to expel your period. There is a lack of Qi to assist in moving the blood out. In such cases, the menstrual discharge is often dark or clotty.
The Chong Mai, or “Thrusting Channel,” is an energy pathway that runs up the core of our body. It is also known as the “Sea of Blood.” When there is Liver Qi Stagnation, and thus stagnation in the lower abdomen, the Thrusting Channel is affected (which you can tell from the photo is where your menstrual flow would exit).
Symptoms in the Chest and Throat
The second area of the body that can manifest symptoms of Liver Qi Stagnation is the chest. This explains the chest symptoms we see with PMS: breast swelling, pain and tenderness.
Fullness and stagnation in the liver will thrust up past the chest and then manifest in the throat. This can lead to hypertrophy of the thyroid gland and goiter, along with all types of thyroid imbalance – something else that’s common in those with PMS, cysts and the like.
Symptoms in the Stomach or “Spleen”
In TCM, the “Spleen” stands for the entire process of digestion. Just of the “spleen” as the stomach. Energetically, Liver Qi Stagnation is a fullness of stuck energy in the liver. And unfortunately, this fullness gets vented onto the spleen. In this case, the liver invades the spleen, or as it’s known in Chinese medicine, the liver “attacks” the stomach.
As shown above, the liver is the organ that can directly “attack” stomach. The root of IBS and gastrointestinal pain is actually the liver’s attack, because it’s ‘overcharged’ with heat due to being stagnant and full. This is why you shouldn’t eat while watching TV: Your eyes are connected to your liver. When you’re eating, you’re supposed to be focused on the food so that your spleen is charged and focused on digesting. If you are using your eyes to watch TV, you are charging your liver while your stomach is in motion. This gives your riled up liver a chance to attack!
This liver fullness makes the spleen empty. An energetically weak or ’empty’ spleen explains the symptoms of diarrhea and constipation that come with IBS, gastrointestinal disorders and PMS.
Craving for Sweets
Since the flavour that “tonifies” (or strengthens) the spleen is sweet, people with Spleen Emptiness due to Liver Qi Stagnation will crave sweets. Unfortunately, too many or too concentrated sweets will only further weaken the spleen. Avoid candy and high sugar fruits due to their concentration of sweetness, and stick to warming/mildly sweet foods like sweet potato, sweet rice, pumpkin and squash.
The Spleen is also in charge of transforming and transporting water in the body. If the spleen is empty, there will be water retention and bloating.
Emotions + Depression
The first thing I talked about was how depression, frustration and irritability come with PMS and Liver Qi Stagnation. However, Liver Qi Stagnation is responsible for any emotional troubles that come with or without PMS! The liver stores the “Hun.” In TCM, the Hun represents the psyche. When the liver becomes congested (and therefore stagnant with heat) the Hun becomes agitated due to the abundance of heat with no way to disperse it. Heat and stagnation in the liver are at the root of all emotional problems, including anger and depression.
If this stagnant heat ‘wafts’ up to disturb the heart, it causes restlessness and anxiety.
Cold in the Uterus
Yang deficiency (a deficiency of heat) in the uterus is another huge contributor to the stagnation of blood and Qi. Over-eating raw fruits and vegetables, iced or frozen foods and drinks, and drinking too many cold juices, are all contemporary Western causes for blood vacuity. This can cause blood stasis in the uterus due to cold invading the womb and be harmful to healthy menstruation if they are eaten just before or at the onset of menstruation (when they are often craved). Opt for lightly cooked vegetables, roots like sweet potato and hearty soups or stews.
Many people think that because we live in a first world country, we’re immune to parasites. This is quite the contrary and I urge you to look at the work Kerri Rivera and Dr. Kalcker are doing for children with autism. Through a parasite protocol, diet changes, hyperbaric chambers and so much more they have been able to successfully recover 162 children of autism. These children pass huge parasitic worms – and lots of them. One child (the before and after photos can be seen in Kerri’s lecture video) had 5 jars worth of worms by the time he was recovered. Once I started parasite cleansing I was shocked at the sheer number of liver flukes I passed. Have you ever seen ‘tomato skins’ or ‘carrot pieces’ in your stool even though you hadn’t eaten tomatoes or carrots that day? Those are liver flukes. They plug up the pores in our liver and excrete waste into our blood, making it extremely hard for our Qi and blood to flow and clean itself normally. It’s important to parasite cleanse bi-annually and eat a diet so healthy that your immune system kicks the bugs out!
So how do we get Liver Qi Stagnation in the first place?
1. Stress and Emotional Burden – Most, if not all women with PMS have more than an average amount of emotional stress in their lives stretching back at least to puberty. Stress = frustration and anger, and the burden we face just keeps building. Our world is faster than ever and it’s impossible to keep up.
2. Environmental Stress – Our lives are incredibly stressful on an emotional level, but there’s an environmental and energetic war being fought as well. Our entire lifestyle generates more stress than the human organism is capable of withstanding. Background noise from our computers that are constantly on, background music everywhere we go, blaring televisions, EMF radiation from our phones that are constantly on our bodies, driving in cars, pollution, denatured processed food, politics, and more. The media constantly projects fear on us to keep us controlled whether it’s Ebola, measles, shootings, or terrorism. We’re bombarded with advertisements that tell us we’re not good enough and need to rush out to buy a product or service to make us acceptable to society.
3. Birth Control Pills – Birth control pills add hormones that are out of phase with the body’s normal periodicity. These synthetic hormones adversely affect the Liver’s spreading function and thus the energy of the entire body. This is why birth control pills are implicated in high incidences of pelvic and breast tumors, which according to TCM always begin as Liver Qi Stagnation.
4. Poor Diet – You know the deal. We are a Liver Stagnation Nation because of the the food we eat as a culture. There has never been a better time or reason to ditch the junk and put whole foods into your body.
5. Poor Sleeping Patterns – Look at the Chinese body clock! You are not supposed to be up past 9 or 10 pm. This is so important. You will never be healthy if you are staying up until midnight or 1 AM every night, even if you’re sleeping late the next day. After 11pm we enter gall bladder and liver time, and being awake or active during these hours directly causes Liver Qi Stagnation.
6. Lack of Exercise – We need to go on more hikes to move the blood and Qi and breathe the fresh air. Do more yoga and move that lymph.
How to Treat Liver Stagnation and All That Comes With it:
– Coffee, black tea, energy drinks, soda with caffeine.
– Thick, creamy, or cheesy sauces.
– Alcohol. Don’t do it! It’s too yang and charges up your liver causing the Qi to ascend, just like anger. Actually, that’s why alcohol can make people angry and violent.
– Excessive sugar.
– Fried and oily food.
– Heavy, complicated, or oversized meals.
– Late dinner and eating before bed.
– Inactive lifestyle.
– Repressing your feelings. Journal it out. Writing literally brings emotional and physical healing.
– Excessive work and stress. Turn off the electronics!! In the last decade, electronics have taken over our lives in a whole new way. Constantly checking our smartphones creates agitation in our livers.
– Ice cream, chilled foods and icy drinks. Cold = stagnation.
– Eat real food! The best for liver Qi stagnation include:
– Exercise! When we sit, the Blood in our arms and legs returns to the liver for storage. This pooling of blood in the liver tends to aggravate the liver Qi stagnation. Exercise pumps this blood out of the liver and along with it, some of the stuck Qi.
– Spend time relaxing with activities or people you like.
– Breathe. One of the reasons why exercise is so helpful for Liver Qi stagnation is that you have to breathe harder and you get more oxygen into the body. Deep breathing is essential. Try lying in bed and breathing deeply 10 times before you fall asleep each night. At work, set an alarm at your desk to stop every 30 minutes and take 5 deep breaths. Or better yet, step outside and get 5 deep breathes of fresh air.
– Use your liver acupuncture/acupressure points.
Press these points off and on all throughout your day. You can use them when you wake up in the morning and especially whenever you are stressed or angry. Pressing on these points can also provide relief of menstrual cramps in the moment.
– Deep relaxation and meditation. What will get at the root of the full/stagnated liver Qi is deep relaxation. There is nothing that will do for your liver what meditation will do, if it’s done the right way. It must include the entire body: muscular relaxation – not just cerebral relaxation. It also must result in the center of consciousness coming out of the head as found in deep meditation. It then must be done for a minimum of twenty minutes per day, but does not need to be done more than thirty minutes. And finally, it must be done every single day without missing a day for at least 3 months or 100 days.
– Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine: Xiao Yao Wan. Xiao Yao Wan is the most amazing formula for Liver Qi Stagnation. The herbs in this formula disperse stagnant energy in the liver, regulating the secretion of hormones, especially estrogen dominance, which is so common due to pesticides, petrochemicals and xenoestrogens in items such as plastic. Preliminary research suggests that xiao yao wan may have antidepressant-like effects. In a study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2013, for example, tests on rats revealed that xiao yao wan may help fight depression by protecting against stress-related changes in biochemistry. It has been traditionally prescribed for anxiety, depression, headaches, menstrual pain, premenstrual syndrome, pain alleviation, and mood improvement. It is also used to stimulate the digestive system and treat digestion-related health troubles. The important thing is that it treats the root cause: stagnation in the liver!
1) PMS: Its Cause, Diagnosis & Treatment According to Traditional Chinese Medicine by Bob Flaws. Blue Poppy Press
2) Gao XX, et al. “An investigation of the antidepressant action of xiaoyaosan in rats using ultra performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry combined with metabonomics.” Phytother Res. 2013 Jul;27(7):1074-85.
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