Real talk: no one is a big fan of their period. It’s messy and inconvenient, and (if you’re anything like me), you’re uncomfortable, bloated, groggy, and grumpy. While many women just accept these symptoms as a part of their menstrual cycle, they can be indicators that something is off in your body.
The good news is that there are many easy home remedies and foods that you can eat in order to benefit your cycle. Here are some common causes of painful or difficult menstruation from an east Asian medical perspective and some easy at-home foods or remedies to help.
(Disclaimer: This is a brief overview of how east Asian medical theory may be influencing your menstruation, and is not a substitute for care from your provider. If you are experiencing severe discomfort with your menses, please talk to your doctor or practitioner so that they can rule out any serious conditions. Please also keep in mind that this is from the east Asian perspective of your organs – if you are showing some signs of Liver qi stagnation, it does not necessarily indicate a pathology with your biomedical liver, so don’t panic! If you have any foods that you need to avoid, please continue to do so, even if they are listed here.)
Liver Qi Stagnation
Signs: Before your period, you’re irritable. Your partner, children, and even your pets know that they are walking on thin ice with you during that time. You may also experience breast tenderness or distention, or tightness and pain along your rib cage.
Foods to eat: Artichokes, beets, dark green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, grapes, lemons and limes, lychee fruit, plums
Home remedies: Brew a tea with dandelion greens and milkthistle. You can also drink hot water with a lemon slice.
Spleen Qi Deficiency
Signs: Folks with Spleen qi deficiency are worriers – you probably tend to overthink things. You may have loose stools (often worse with the onset of your period), and generally feel fatigued or like your body is very heavy. Before your period you may experience abdominal bloating, and your periods may be either long and heavy, or short and light. You may also have spotting before, after, or between your periods.
Foods to eat: Sweet potatoes, winter squashes, green beans, Chinese dates (jujubes), oranges, papaya, amaranth, spelt*
Home remedies: Make a tea out of alfalfa sprouts or dried hawthorn berry. You can also dry orange peels make tea from them.
Signs: I am someone who just drops things before my period, and that premenstrual clumsiness is a definite sign of blood deficiency. You may experience insomnia before your period, or just generally be a light sleeper. You may also frequently be aware of your heartbeat, and tend towards anxiousness. Your periods may be very scanty and light in color. They may also be irregular or absent.
Foods to eat: Beef, lamb, bone broth, beets, lychee fruit, pomegranate, amaranth, buckwheat, black beans, Chinese dates
Remedies: Make a tea out of hawthorn berry and Chinese dates
Cold in the Body
Signs: Are you someone who walks around barefoot on cold floors? (Put socks on!) Generally, either your hands and feet or whole body are very cold. You are always piling on extra layers or turning the heater up, and your low abdomen is usually cold to the touch. Your periods may be accompanied by sharp, severe cramping with lots of clots in the blood, and the pain is relieved by using a heating pad.
Foods to eat: Ginger, cinnamon amaranth, quinoa, chicken, lamb, scallions, walnuts, eggs, black beans, parsnips, sesame seeds
*Make sure to eat foods that are cooked and avoid cold foods such as yogurt, cold water, or ice cream – especially just prior to and during your period.*
Home remedies: Make a tea with cinnamon and ginger
Signs: You may have a tendency towards loose stools (especially early in the morning) or constipation with dry stools. You may also notice that your low back and knees are often sore, and that you have frequent urination (regardless of your water intake). Your periods may be irregular and accompanied by dull, persistent cramping.
Foods to eat: Lamb, black chicken, walnuts, cooked fish, goat’s milk, chives, green beans, blueberries, cranberries, goji berries**, raspberries
Home remedies: Make a tea with goji berries.
These are just a few common patterns that I see in women with menstrual difficulties or other women’s health issues. They don’t exist in a vacuum, so you may find that you are showing signs from two, three, or more patterns. In that case, mix and match these foods! If you feel like you have Spleen and Kidney deficiency, make a yummy spelt oatmeal with goji berries and walnuts. If you’re showing some Liver qi stagnation and cold signs, cook up some lamb with a side of artichoke hearts and dark leafy greens. This is your body and your medicine, so use it how it works for you.
Ni, M., & McNease, C. The Tao of Nutrition, 3rd Ed. Los Angeles: The Tao of Wellness Press; 2009.
Andrea Lane is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and certified Pilates and GYROTONIC(r) instructor in Portland, Oregon. Her practice focuses on treating autoimmune disease, reproductive health, and pediatrics. She is passionate about maintaining good health through a whole-food diet, mindful movement, and meditation. When she is not practicing, she loves to cook, listen to podcasts, read her way out from under the small mountain of books she's accumulated, and cater to her cats' whims.