ŠPat O’Brien 2008
First North American Serial Rights


PMS, Irritability, Headaches, Breast Soreness, and Menstrual Irregularities: What You Can Do About Them

Are you plagued by headaches at the onset of your menstrual period?  Do you get cyclical breast soreness?  Is your menstrual cycle irregular (your periods are 33 to 45 days and sometimes 50 days apart)?  Do you experience irritablity and  unjustified anger as major pms emotions every month?  Do they make up a large part of your daily emotions in general?  If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, then read below to learn what causes these uncomfortable symptoms, as well as how to prevent them from reoccurring in the first place.

 Medical specialists and scientists have speculated for years about the causes for headaches, pms, breast soreness and menstrual irregularities, chalking the reasons up to hormone imbalances, such as not enough progesterone, too little body fat effecting estrogen production, or blood vessels that are overly dilated causing headaches, and so on.  However, ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine holistic practitioners recognize the symptoms described above as part of a pattern in the body known as “liver chi” stagnation or congestion.  Chi is the vital force governing all movement in the human body including the proper and healthy function of  the body’s organs, systems, and the proper release of  hormones during a woman's menstrual cycle.  

When chi flows smoothly, health is in a balanced state. When this vital force is interrupted or flowing in the wrong direction, health problems occur.  Liver chi stagnation is a term used to describe an unharmonious flow of the liver’s energy, or simply put, “a sluggish liver”.  The Chinese also believe that the liver plays a vital role in a woman’s menstrual cycle, influencing hormones, thus affecting the length of the cycle. (Progesterone is actually made in the liver and released from the liver.) The liver when congested, interferes with timing of the release of progesterone, and can also cause breast tenderness at the onset of a woman's menses. Furthermore, while the occasional headache can be brought on by over-exertion, running outside in the hot sun, being exposed to a cold draft, tense muscles, or muscle strain; most chronic headaches often indicate that the liver’s energy has become congested.  Anger, irritability, and frustration are emotions associated with a distressed liver, too.  The more stagnant or congested the liver chi is, the more likely the woman with this condition will experience irregularity in her menstrual cycle, making the number of days between one menstrual period to the next, very unpredictable.  Other factors such as pregnancy, cysts, tumors, and benign fibroids can also throw a woman’s menstrual cycle off, causing the menstrual period to disappear altogether, or make bleeding more frequent and heavy.  However, in most cases of menstrual irregularity, liver chi stagnation is often the cause and overlooked.

 So what sets this particular pattern in the body into motion?  Many women have a physical tendency towards liver chi stagnation because of their genetic makeup, according to Ayurvedic medicine.  However, the good news is that a woman’s diet greatly influences whether the condition actually develops or not, thus making the above distressing symptoms completely controllable or reversible!  Foods and substances that aggravate the liver are the most influential in this case.  Such substances, according to Ayurvedic medicine, include foods and beverages that are sour, spicy, or fermented.  Fermented foods aggravate the liver because they are also considered sour, such as yogurt or pickles.  Some other fermented foods and beverages include: alcohol, coffee, vinegar, sour cream, buttermilk, cheese (especially feta cheese, blue cheese and sharp cheddars), chutneys, miso, soy sauce, tempeh, and sourdough bread.  These items should be greatly reduced or avoided, along with: grapefruit, lemons, limes, rhubarb, sour berries such as strawberries, unsweetened raspberries, cranberries, unripe fruits, granny smith apples, kiwis, papaya, and tomatoes.  Fruits with sweet/sour combinations that are less aggravating, but can still be a problem if they are under ripe and more sour than sweet tasting, are: bananas, orange juice, pineapple, and plums.  When buying them, be sure to wait until they are fully ripe before eating.  Spicy foods, such as dishes seasoned with jalapeno peppers, hot salsa, horseradish, curry, clove, ginger, cayenne, chili powder, even too much black pepper or garlic, should be avoided by women whose bodies tend to be sensitive.

 Minimal use or avoidance of the above foods and substances will often help symptoms diminish greatly, along with a diet rich in foods that nourish the liver, keep its function healthy, and prevent its sluggishness. Such foods tend to be green, bitter, or sweet and can easily be found in the produce aisle of the supermarket. They include leafy green vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, dandelion greens, chicory, endive, kale, collards, bok choy, and other green foods like broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, artichokes, green beans, zucchini, sprouts.  Convenient bags of already mixed “specialty greens”, available in the produce section, are great also.  Sweet fruits include red sweet delicious apples, bosc pears, purple or red grapes, dried dates, fresh or dried figs, coconut, melons of all varieties, and purple raisins.  Sweeteners such as maple syrup and sugar, when used in appropriate dosages, can help decrease the sourness of some fruits and juices, making them less liver aggravating. Additional beneficial foods include sweet dairy products such as milk, vanilla pudding, and vanilla ice cream; tofu; and oat or wheat products such as oatmeal, granola, sweet oat/wheat cereals, whole wheat breads and wheat muffins. 

 Herbs can have an additional positive impact on halting and reversing liver chi stagnation, hence treating migraines, irritability, irregular cycles, and the like. Such herbs are the bitter ones: dandelion, neem, red clover, tumeric, burdock root, milk thistle, echinacea, gentian, aloe vera gel, goldenseal, feverfew, and even chlorophyll to name a few.  Since bitter herbs tend to be blood thinning, they should never be used in conjunction with blood thinning medications. Bitter herbs also tend to be stronger and more drying to the body’s tissues than other herbs, therefore they should be used in smaller doses such as 3-4 capsules a day depending on body weight and needs. They should also be discontinued once your symptoms have disappeared. Research any of the above herbs thoroughly before taking them and consult a holistic practitioner when in doubt.