Uterine fibroids are benign growths on the wall of the uterus. They represent the most common gynecological non-cancerous tumors in reproductive females. It is estimated that 80% of women will have uterine fibroids at some point in their reproductive years.
Many are symptom free and unaware, but for some women, fibroids can cause heavy bleeding, irregular periods, abdominal bloating and back pain (even though these symptoms are often wrongfully normalized). Fibroids can even grow large and press on vital organs like the bladder or bowel, eventually leading to digestive or kidney problems. The cause is not well understood, however. The theory is that abnormal muscle cells in the uterus are affected by estrogen and other factors in a way that drives tumor growth.
Western treatment depends on severity. If asymptomatic, treatment is not needed, if the fibroid/s cause pain or other problems, treatment may involve surgery to remove the fibroids but unfortunately they can return. The rate of recurrence is high, at 30%. Estrogen contributes to the growth of fibroids which makes hormone regulation a main focus of fibroid management. Lupron is a type of hormone therapy that acts on the pituitary gland to stop estrogen production and start early menopause. A hysterectomy to remove the uterus, however, is the only known way to guarantee prevention of recurrence and is obviously not a desirable option for women looking to preserve fertility.
So, even with surgery, it is important to deal with underlying causes. Chinese medicine takes a more holistic approach. Fibroids, in Chinese medicine, fall into the larger category of Zheng Jia (masses), as do other growths related to women’s health such as ovarian cysts, endometriosis and reproductive cancers. The causes of these masses are understood to be any of, or any combination of, the following:
Liver Qi stagnation
The liver is the organ that regulates the movement of qi and stagnant liver qi can reveal itself as typical PMS symptoms: irritability, breast tenderness, and cramps. The liver is also the organ that helps to rid the body of excess estrogen, so it is definitely a worthy focus point from both an Eastern and Western perspective.
Blood follows qi, so long term qi stagnation can result in blood stasis which is considered when symptoms such as more intense cramping and clots are reported.
Improper diet and digestion is said to lead to a buildup of damp-phlegm in the body. This accumulation, when condensed by other factors (such as heat, cold or poor blood flow) is thought to set the stage for the growth of various masses in the body. Associated symptoms can include indigestion, bloating, weight gain, and sometimes a watery menstrual flow.
Exposure to the cold, especially cold that affects the uterus can be another cause of blood stasis which can eventually lead to tumors. Menstrual pain relieved by warmth is a sign of cold in the uterus.
Acupuncture and herbs can help eliminate or shrink smaller fibroids, as well as keep them from returning. Acupuncture redirects energy in the body to address patterns like blood stasis, cold, phlegm, and liver qi stagnation to help to restore a yin/yang (and consequently hormone) balance.
Chinese herbs are associated with a 72% reduction in bleeding in a study where over half of the participants experienced a reduction in size or a complete disappearance of their fibroids!
Another study compared treatment with acupuncture and herbs to treatment with a combination of herbs and steroids. All of the women saw some benefits, but the ones who had acupuncture treatment saw an overall greater reduction in the volume of their fibroids.
A 2002 study looked at alternative medical approaches for uterine fibroids. Upon comparing alternative treatments, such as TCM, bodywork and guided imagery against conventional treatment, the researchers found that the patients thrived in the alternative medical group. Fibroids shrank or stopped growing in 59 percent of the alternative treatment group compared to only eight percent of those in the conventional treatment group.
If you have any signs of fibroids, seek out a Western diagnosis, but also schedule some acupuncture to make sure you are addressing root imbalances, and so you can feel better fast!
It's estimated that more than 37 million people in the United States suffer from migraines. Migraines are characterized by recurrent headaches with moderate-to-severe pain, usually occurring in a specific area of the head. While most headaches are minor and short-lived, migraines are more debilitating, often forcing the individual to miss work and/or reschedule his or her activities.
To make matters worse, however, many doctors and physicians prescribe harsh drugs for migraine sufferers that do more harm than good. A better solution is to first try one of the following drug-free ways to fight your migraines.
Foods can actually be a trigger for up to half of migraine sufferers. So, keep a journal in which you write down every food you eat, every beverage you drink, and every time you experience a migraine. The goal in doing so is to identify a connection between a specific food and your migraines. Gluten, for instance, may trigger a migraine if you have celiac disease, or perhaps the presence of artificial food coloring is triggering your migraines.
Acupuncture has been used to treat headaches and migraines for hundreds of years, and there's no sign of this trend slowing down anytime soon. The American Headache Society has even recommended the use of acupuncture for treating migraines, attesting to its positive effects for this condition.
How exactly does acupuncture work? The practice involves the placement of thin needles in specific areas of the body with the goal of stimulating the individual's life force (Qi). The general belief is that stagnant Qi leads to illness, including migraines; therefore, correcting these blockages and restoring the Qi to its normal working order will treat migraines.
According to one study cited by Prevention, migraine sufferers who took 400 mg of riboflavin (a type of vitamin B2) reported fewer migraines after just 3 months. This water-soluble vitamin also plays a key role in maintaining energy levels and fighting fatigue.
Improve Indoor Air Quality
Low-quality indoor air has been linked to an increased prevalence of migraines. Not long ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced indoor air pollution as being one of the top five environmental hazards. You can improve the air quality in your home or workplace, however, by cleaning the ductwork, changing the air filter on a regular basis, opening the windows, and adding plants.
Give me a call today for more information on how acupuncture can better your health
Did you know that there is such a thing as National Herb and Spice Day in June?? I had no idea, but I figured that December was still a good month to celebrate the diversity of flavors available to us through the powerful plant parts that have come to be known as herbs and spices - just in time for the winter holidays.
While National Herb and Spice Day is relatively recent in origin (first celebrated in 1999), the wonder of herbs and spices have been recognized throughout history, and not just for their culinary contributions. Former Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (742-814 AD) had 74 different herbs growing in his garden and was quoted as saying:
“Herbs are the friends of physicians and the praise of cooks”
In Europe, by the middle ages, herbs and spices were commonly used in both cooking and medicine. As far back as around 2700 BC in Ancient China, however, a historical work known as The Classic Herbal mentioned more than a hundred medicinal plants, including cinnamon. It has been said that advisors to the royal court in China during the 3rd century BC carried cloves in their mouth so their breath was fresh when they addressed the emperors. In the 5th Century AD, according to Chinese records, ginger was carried on long sea journeys to prevent scurvy, as well as to delight the taste buds.
Any student or practitioner of Chinese Medicine knows that Chinese food therapy (which includes many applications of medicinal herbs) was well documented in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic dating back to the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD).
So, if your medicine cabinet is looking a little bare, spice it up! If you’ve got some of these common seasonings in your kitchen, you’ve actually got a pretty well stocked medicine cabinet!
Cinnamon: One of the most ancient spices still in use, the bark (Rou Gui) of the Cassia tree benefits circulation, and warms the body to expel cold and alleviate pain. Cinnamon is known to help support the body’s yang energy to stop diarrhea and even help with wound healing.
Ginger: Probably the most common seasoning in Chinese cooking, this root is used both fresh and dried. You may have the dried version in your cabinet as a powder. Dried ginger (gan jiang) is warming, aids in digestion, and boosts the qi for alleviating feelings of cold and fatigue.
Turmeric: Turmeric (jiang huang) is a root from a flowering plant related to ginger. It strongly moves the blood to unblock stasis, helping to ease arthritic, menstrual, and chest pain and to support liver health.
Clove: The penetrating aroma of clove (ding xiang) comes from the flower buds of a tree and when taken internally imparts a strong warming energy that boosts yang qi in the body. They can help with hiccups, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Pepper: If you can’t find any of the other spices mentioned, you probably at least have this one on hand. Peppercorn (hu jiao) is the fruit of a flowering vine that warms the core of the body, descends rebellious qi and dissipates phlegm to help with abdominal pain, vomiting, congestion, and epilepsy.
Mint: While many of these spices are considered warming. Mint leaves (bo he) are actually very strong in their ability to cool the body while promoting sweat and can ease symptoms of cold and flu, help with headaches and menstrual cramps.
Garlic: In addition to scaring away vampires, this plant bulb (da suan) that is technically considered a vegetable (like an onion), is warm and dispersing. It is known for its ability to kill parasites, relieve toxicity to treat food poisoning, and can help clean the blood and reduce clotting.
Thyme: Much more than a delicious pizza topping, this herb was used by ancient Greeks and Romans as a way to stimulate courage. The Chinese use these shrub leaves (bai li xiang) to tonify qi and warm the lungs. It has been used to treat cough and shortness of breath, and to strengthen immunity and digestion.
It’s good to know you’ve got some health resources right in your own spice cabinet, but it’s even better to know you’ve also got your local acupuncturist/herbalist on hand with even more tools to support your well-being. I look forward to seeing you at your next appointment!
“A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood” -Chinese Proverb
A study conducted by Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has determined that the use of moxibustion at specific days during a woman’s menstrual cycle can decrease pain associated with menstruation. Dysmenorrhea or painful menstruation is a big problem for many women. This study used moxibustion, an accessory modality of TCM, to treat the pain associated with menstruation. The study and its systematic review showed moxibustion treatments were more effective at relieving pain only when the moxibustion began prior to the onset of actual menstruation. This is also the theory behind Traditional Chinese Medicine, that it should be used as preventive care. The efficacy of using moxibustion during the premenstrual time period holds great promise for those who are debilitated by dysmenorrhea.
Dysmenorrhea, or painful menstruation, is experienced by more than half the menstruating women in the world. It is one of the most commonly encountered gynecologic disorders and for those suffering from severe dysmenorrhea, it can mean they are incapacitated for up to three days or more every month. The main cause of dysmenorrhea is increased or abnormal uterine prostanoid production and release, which then gives rise to abnormal uterine contractions and pain. The treatment of dysmenorrhea usually involves some sort of pain medication and rest, but there are alternatives.
TCM is a medical system that incorporates numerous methods for treating disease and illness. One of the tools found in the toolbox of the Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner is known as moxibustion.
Moxibustion is a technique that involves the burning of mugwort, known as moxa, which is an herb that facilitates healing. The purpose of moxibustion is to stimulate the flow of blood and energy throughout the body. Moxibustion creates a pleasant heating sensation that penetrates
deeply into the skin, but does not create a scar or any pain. To perform moxibustion, a practitioner lights one end of a stick of moxa and holds it close to the acupuncture point for several minutes until the area turns red. There are also adhesive cones of moxa that can be applied to the skin. These are then lit and allowed to burn until the fire reaches the base, which is when they are removed to prevent scars.
Moxibustion is used to help people with cold or stagnant conditions. Burning moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the body, which creates a smooth flow of energy and blood. Moxibustion can be used to treat dysmenorrhea because it stimulates the flow and release of the hormones that cause uterine contractions. By stimulating the release of these hormones, the body can then expel them which leads to decreased pain. Moxibustion is also great for women who suffer from fibroids, which is a stagnation and buildup of blood in the uterus. The warmth from the burning mugwort actually increases blood flow and this can help decrease the size of the fibroids over time.
As with acupuncture, only a licensed practitioner should be called upon for treatments such as moxibustion. If you believe moxibustion may be helpful with your dysmenorrhea, be sure to discuss this with me during your next scheduled appointment.
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.