It’s not unusual to have irregular periods. About 30% of women have them. Irregular periods are sometimes early and sometimes late. The thing is that they are unpredictable.
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.
Other indications of a good healthy period is for it to be not too heavy and not too light, a bright red color, no big clots and no pain/cramping. The consistency of the menstrual blood shouldn’t be too thick and also not too watery. It’s also ideal to not have PMS (moodiness, breast tenderness, fatigue and bloating before the menstrual period).
Irregular Periods occur when hormone levels are thrown out of sync.
The glands affected with the process of menstruation include the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the ovaries. This is often referred to as the HPO Axis.
Irregular menstruation is generally related to disruptions in the balance of hormones.
Most doctors will put a woman with irregular periods on the contraceptive pill (birth control pill). This will regulate menstrual cycles but unfortunately doesn’t treat the root cause of the irregularity. Consequently, when a woman discontinues the pill, the irregularity will most likely return.
The oral contraceptive pill works by tricking the body into thinking that it’s pregnant and suppresses ovulation. No egg is released from the ovary and pregnancy can’t occur. Essentially, the hormones override the body’s natural hormone balance.
According to Chinese medicine, there are three organ systems involved in irregular periods. These are the liver, spleen and kidney organ systems.
Liver: The liver controls the smooth flow of Qi (energy) in the body. Qi moves the blood so Qi and blood are interconnected. The liver also stores the blood so it’s referred to as the “woman’s organ” in Chinese medicine.
Spleen: The spleen has the function of making Qi and blood. It also keeps the blood within the vessels.
Kidneys: The kidneys are in charge of making the reproductive essence which is a vital substance closely involved in the menstrual cycle. The kidneys have a direct connection to the uterus.
“It is the rhythmic ebb and flow of blood and essence that give rise to periods”.
When these three organ systems are balanced, the cycle will be regular.
Let’s now talk about what causes the liver, spleen and kidneys to become imbalanced.
In my clinical practice, the I often see an element of Liver Qi stagnation in my patients who experience irregular periods.
Liver Qi stagnation is very easily treated with acupuncture. Acupuncture works by moving and regulating the Qi and the blood by stimulating particular acupuncture points.
Chinese Herbal medicine is another modality used in my clinical practice and is extremely successful when treating hormonal imbalance and irregular cycles.
Causes: Constitutional kidney Qi deficiency (genetic deficiency), prolonged illness, too many deliveries (childbirth), sexual overstrain, decline of kidney Qi with old age
Symptoms: irregular periods with small amount of menstrual blood, light color, profuse white thin vaginal discharge
Other symptoms may include restlessness, tinnitus, soreness and weakness in lower back and knee’s, frequent clear long stream urination especially at night, pale tongue with white coating, thready weak pulse
Liver Qi Stagnation
Causes: stress, anxiety, anger, frustration
Symptoms: include irregular cycle with heavy or scanty menstrual blood, normal or purplish color, menstrual flow comes and stops, clots appear in blood, distension and soreness in breasts and lower abdomen which is relieved when menstrual flow comes
Other symptoms include depression, irritability, frequent sighing, fullness in the chest, distension in the ribs area.
Spleen Qi Deficiency
Causes: over worrying, improper diet, over physical work
Symptoms: include irregular cycle with heavy or scanty menstrual flow, light color of menstrual blood, thin quality
Other symptoms include dull complexion, poor appetite, bloating after meals, bloating in abdomen
If you’re a younger woman (in your 20’s) with irregular periods, mostly likely it’s due to a liver & spleen disharmony.
If you’re in your mid 30’s, irregular periods continues to be due to liver Qi stagnation at the root but also coupled with some kidney weakness as the kidneys become weaker as we age.
If you’re in your late 30’s and 40’s, then kidney deficiency will definitely be addressed with Chinese herbal medicine.
I give detailed nutritional advice depending on your Chinese medical pattern.
Women with irregular periods won’t necessarily have identical patterns according to Chinese medicine. That’s why it’s important to treat the individual and not the disease.Doing this also makes the results of the treatments extremely effective because the protocol is customized.
Regarding some general health recommendations, I tell my patients that a well-balanced diet is so important to regulate periods. If you miss meals, eat very little or eat a lot of fast foods and deprive your body of proper nourishment, the body goes into starvation mode causing irregular periods or no periods.
Here are a few dietary tips:
Take time for yourself. A tired and stressed out body will definitely have an effect on the menstrual cycle. Try meditation, journalling, hobbies, gardening and anything else that brings you joy.
Also, try to moderately exercise daily. Anything that gets your heart rate up. Good ways to move your body is walking for at least 30 minutes every day, hiking, swimming, yoga, biking and dancing.
Avoid excessive exercise as this can cause a disruption in your hormonal balance.
In my clinical practice, when dealing with irregular menstruation, I find that the combination of herbal medicine and acupuncture treatments are most effective.
Acupuncture sessions are commonly on a weekly basis and last about 45 minutes to one hour. Once your periods start to regulate, the frequency of the acupuncture treatments will lessen.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of tiny needles into specific acupoints – for irregular periods the points are typically on the arms, legs and lower abdomen.
Acupuncture regulates the hormones, reduces stress significantly adn improves blood flow to the reproductive organs.
The herbal medicine I give in my clinic is in a concentrated powdered extract and comes as a formula of many herbs combined together in very small dosages customized for the individual. This makes the medicine extremely effective and free of the side effects that could possibly happen when dealing with single herbs in high concentrations.
The herbal medicine can be taken without interactions if you’re on the contraceptive pill or any other medications as well.