Published February 10, 2015 The video is finally here! If you’re more of a visual/audio learner, watch the video below instead of reading Parts 1 & 2! I remember as a child, I was so excited to get my first period. I couldn’t wait to be one of the grown-ups; to be finally be considered a woman instead of a girl (and get to eat as much chocolate as I wanted!) I read books on the subject and asked my mom hundreds of questions, anticipating the incredible feminine experience I’d be receiving. I waited and waited, until the fateful day arrived. It was one I’ll never forget. I was in the 6th grade at the time. I had just taken a flight to North Carolina to visit my best friend and was so excited for a week of fun and sunshine. But as soon as I plopped down on her couch, I was greeted with the opposite of the enjoyment I expected: the most excruciating back and kidney pain I could have ever imagined. What on earth was going on? I was only 11, so why was I having back pain? Surely I couldn’t have been getting old already?! In the middle of the night while getting up to pee, I found my answer loud and clear. At first, I was positive that I was hemorrhaging slash dying… until something clicked. This was it – this was my moment!…. Except for one little thing. Why did it have to hurt so bad?! Why are we in pain if it’s a natural part of life? Menstruation is an amazing cycle that allows you to be in tune and connected with nature. Unfortunately, at the time of my first (and what I hoped was my last) period, I couldn’t see that. After years of trying to understand what my body was telling me, I finally appreciate the message in the pain, and I hope that after reading this you will too. Bringing up ‘that time of the month’ to 95% of my girlfriends is met with groans and complaints, and that’s something I want to change. The only I know how is through knowledge and understanding, and thanks to Traditional Chinese Medicine, I can explain exactly why so many women experience such severe pain. I can also tell you, with certainty, that it shouldn’t be that way. There is a problem here – but there’s also a solution! 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 it? I know maybe one woman that enjoys her period. And yes, we should be enjoying it! We are perfect, symmetrical, incredible creatures designed by an intelligent force that knew exactly what they were doing. Somehow our lungs know just how to use oxygen to supply life-giving blood to the heart. And somewhere in the mix of all our bodily functions, our small intestine knows how to transform nutrients in food into energy that can power us through a marathon. 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 the moon – some women cycle the new moon, and others with the full. My cycle comes every single month right on the full moon. There are no coincidences! Everything is connected: as above, so below. So why should we have to suffer through this amazing moon cycle that connects us to nature and the earth? Why should we have to feel pain because we have the ability to give life? The answer is: we shouldn’t. And we don’t. 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. Embrace your pain as a lesson and use it to figure out how to heal. Following the Signs Chinese Medicine offers such amazing explanations for every single 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 symptom that comes to mind? The emotional roller coaster, of course! Everyone knows the classic symptoms in women who are about to get their period: we get moody and unpredictable. Although this is true for so many of us, it by no means makes it normal. Remember, there are no coincidences and everything is a clue! Emotion = Liver Anything that relates to emotion, whether it’s depression, anxiety, sadness, PMS, PMDD, bipolar disorder, etc., is related to the liver. The liver is the seat of emotion (and irritability/anger) in TCM. When the liver is healthy, the liver meridian naturally balances your mental state and releases suppressed emotions via your flow of Qi/energy/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 come with difficult periods: – Cravings, particularly for sweets/carbs/salt – Water retention – Fatigue – Diarrhea/Constipation – Abdominal bloating – Breast swelling + tenderness – Headaches – Insomnia – Sore throat – Nausea – Menstrual irregularity – Painful menstruation Each and every one of these symptoms can be explained by Chinese medicine, and can also be traced back to the liver! It’s the Liver, Stupid! (The fitting title of one of my favorite books…) 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 is Liver Qi Stagnation. In Chinese medicine, the liver (which has the word LIVE in it) is responsible for “spreading the Qi” (also known as LIFE force) throughout the body and maintaining its smooth and unobstructed flow. This unobstructed flow of Qi implies that the right energy arrives at the right place at the right time. Remember the Chinese body clock that I talked about a few months ago? At 2 hour intervals all day and night, our Qi moves into different organs/meridians of the body to do its active 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! In TCM, the Liver is said to “treasure” or store the Blood. The Uterus is also referred to as the Chamber of Blood. The uterus in females is basically an extension of the liver’s function, since it joins in the task of blood storage. Since they are so connected in function, Liver Qi stagnation will immediately cause stagnation in the pelvis/uterus as well, leading to cramps and blood clotting (cysts, etc). Here’s how it works: Liver is supposed to spread Qi… ↓↓ so congestion in the liver, ↓↓ always causes congestion of Qi (energy) in the lower abdomen. ↓↓ The Qi is responsible for moving the blood, ↓↓ so when the Qi becomes stagnant, the blood also stagnates. (Congested Qi = Congested Blood) ↓↓ Over time, congested or ‘stuck’ blood will lead to ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, myomas, chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, and painful menstrual periods because the body is cramping/seizing 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 (which stagnates the lower abdomen) the Thrusting Channel is also affected (which you can tell from the photo is where your menstrual flow would exit). Symptoms in the Chest The second area of the body that can manifest symptoms of Liver Qi Stagnation is the chest. This can manifest as tightness or pressure in the chest below the diaphragm (those times when wearing a bra REALLY hurts). It also explains the chest symptoms we see with PMS: breast swelling, pain, tenderness, and lumpiness. Frequent sighing is another classic diagnostic sign of Liver Qi Stagnation because the sighs are subconsciously seeking to relieve this thoracic congestion. It’s funny looking back – my dad has one of the worst cases of Liver Qi Stagnation I’ve ever seen (because he refuses to exercise or eat his vegetables!) He sighs and huffs all day long. I have to ask him to stop because it makes me so uncomfortable that he’s always sighing and sounding disappointed. Most of the time he doesn’t even realize it, but now I see that it’s an indication of just how badly his liver is congested! (Check out the time I gave him just one dose of sulfur and he got flukes out of his liver) Symptoms in the Throat Liver Qi Stagnation also manifests as stagnation in the throat. This can lead to hypertrophy of the thyroid gland and goiter, along with all types of thyroid imbalance! In Western terms, this can damage metabolic rate and lower body temperature (cold hands and feet, weight gain, etc). Sometimes, Liver Qi Stagnation can manifest as constriction of the throat or the sensation of something being stuck in the throat. After healing my intense liver issues a few years ago, I haven’t had any PMS symptoms or menstrual cramping. However, last month I went up to New Hampshire for a weekend getaway. It was absolutely freezing cold and I laid in the snow for hours enjoying the silence of the woods. This made my body extremely cold/yin (cold = stagnation and seizing up, think of how frigidity feels) and definitely affected the warmth and flow of Qi in my kidneys/liver. On top of that, I was fasting the week before (in the winter time – big mistake, it made me even colder!), AND I decided to break my fast with fresh home-made scones. I never, ever eat gluten or white flour but I treated myself on vacation and it was a big mistake. After being out in the snow I should have stuck to soup and stew only, not a cooling white/sugary treat. The scones sat in my stomach like rocks and I knew it was a mistake to shock my body like that after eating clean for so long. I could feel a fullness in my liver and stomach that wouldn’t quit. Needless to say, I interrupted the flow of Qi in my liver and stomach, and the next morning I woke up to the worst cramps I had ever experienced my entire life. Although the cramps passed as the day went on, at night I couldn’t sleep a wink because it felt like I was choking on something! I had this constriction in my throat like something was stuck and I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t have my liver herbs (Xiao Yao Wan – coming soon to my shop!) or dandelion root tea. Instead I grabbed the only thing I had, some fermented cabbage (strange, haha I know) and ate it so that the sulfur in the cabbage would open up my liver pathways. It did the trick and I finally got some shut eye. Symptoms in the Stomach or “Spleen” In TCM, the “Spleen” stands for the entire process of digestion. Think of the “spleen” as the stomach whenever I mention it. When the Liver Qi becomes congested, it directly effects the stomach or “spleen.” Energetically, Liver Qi Stagnation is a fullness of energy in the liver. And unfortunately, this fullness gets vented onto the Spleen. In this case, the liver invades the spleen, or the “liver attacks the stomach” as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts. The liver is the main organ that can “attack” stomach. The real cause of IBS and stomach pain is actually the liver’s attack, because it’s ‘overcharged’ with heat due to being stagnant and full. The liver will vent its fullness/overcharging on the stomach whenever it gets the chance. 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! Result: When the liver becomes full (stagnant), the spleen becomes empty. This is because, like I said, the liver is venting its fullness on the spleen leaving no room for the spleen to do its digestive work. This is why your digestion is funny around your menstrual cycle. “Spleen Emptiness” can manifest as loose stools if the spleen’s transformative function is affected, or as constipation if the transportive function is affected. If both are affected, you will have alternating constipation with loose stools. Craving for Sweets Since the flavor that “tonifies” (aka 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, butternut squash, and corn (organic of course). Water Retention The Spleen is also in charge of transforming and transporting water in the body. If the spleen is impaired (i.e. empty due to Liver Qi Stagnation), there will be water retention in body tissues: facial edema, swelling of the hands and feet, or stagnation of water in the stomach (bloating). In addition, the Spleen is responsible for transforming food into usable energy (Qi) that builds the blood. When the Spleen becomes weak and empty due to an overbearing clogged liver, insufficient Qi is the result, which leads to fatigue. Since we learned that Qi moves the blood, without sufficient Qi one will not have sufficient blood. This leads to anemia, insomnia, headaches, and a drained, empty feeling that some also experience with menstruation. 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 the main cause of all emotional problems, including anger and depression. If this stagnant heat ‘wafts’ up to disturb the heart, it causes restlessness and anxiety. This is why it’s so important to constantly keep your Qi flowing. You don’t want heat or stagnation to get stuck and invade any organ due to the physical and emotional consequences. Cold in the Uterus Yang deficiency (a deficiency of heat) in the uterus is another huge contributor to the stagnation of your blood. Over-eating raw fruits and vegetables, chilled, iced, and 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 congelation and be harmful to healthy menstruation if they are eaten just before or at the onset of menstruation (when they are often craved). This includes sugar, which is very yin and cooling energetically. Cold food, cold beverages, cold weather, and being in cold water can “invade” the uterus and cause cramping and spasms that can be quite severe. Parasites Parasites, parasites, parasites! I swear my tombstone will say “the parasite girl.” When we eat too many cold/damp foods, and when our blood, liver, and bowels are stagnant, we create the perfect environment for parasites to live and breed in our bodies. Negative emotions (that come with Liver Qi Stagnation and the stress of daily life) lower our immune systems, making us instantly more susceptible to pathogens and parasites. Parasites love to live in the uterus because it’s dark and damp (the same reasons they like the stomach). Think about where bacteria and mold grow best – same thing. Many times our cramps are made worse by the parasites living in either our uteri or our livers! In my opinion, parasites in the liver are one of the biggest causes of Liver Qi Stagnation, which I’ll discuss tomorrow. I suffered from debilitating IBS after receiving the Gardasil vaccine (you can read about it in my story). As I mentioned before, painful stomach conditions are actually a result of a clogged/stagnant/toxic liver “attacking” the stomach. 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. Once I got parasites/stones out of my liver and cleaned up my diet, my IBS disappeared. Here is my friend’s experience with 2 parasite cleanses and uterine cysts/tumors (names removed for anonymity): She did two parasite cleanses two months in a row (which is usually very necessary because we’ve never parasite cleansed before – even though other cultures do since birth!) I am very passionate about parasite cleansing because of how much it helped my IBS, acne, and so much more. You can read about my first experiences here. That post talks about a tincture I used, which unfortunately tastes horrible! If you can handle the taste – go for it – but since so many people were complaining about the bitter tincture, Lily (my TCM doctor) and I came up with our own parasite kit that really gets the bugs out. We hand make each kit and release 400 each month on a first come first serve basis. You can read all about parasites and our cleansing kit in our free e-book. In this e-book we also have a link to sign up for the e-mail notification list when the kits are ready: PARASITE EBOOK. Phew! That was long, but I hope it gave you the answers you’ve been waiting for. Tomorrow I’ll be filming a YouTube video with all of this information since some people like to read, and others are visual/audio learners and enjoy my videos. The video will include Part 1 (this post, the cause) and Part 2 (why we get Liver Qi Stagnation and how to fix it), which I’ll release in blog form tomorrow as well. Stay tuned for Part 2, which explains what exactly causes Liver Qi Stagnation and how to fix/prevent it. Don’t forget to subscribe to keep updated!