Irregular menstrual cycles
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The definition of an irregular menstrual cycle differs in western and traditional Chinese medicine. In western medicine, it is defined as a cycle that is shorter than 23 days or longer than 35 days. According to traditional Chinese medicine, regular periods should be around 29.5 days (a woman's menstrual cycle should follow the moon cycle) or her historical cycle length.
2. Symptoms of an irregular menstrual cycle
Most women will suffer some type of irregular periods, whether it is the length of their cycle or irregular symptoms. These irregular symptoms are so common, around 95% of women have them, that they are considered normal, when in actual fact, they are not. Symptoms of an irregular cycle include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Cravings for sugar
- Irregular menstrual bleeding
- Cycle too short or too long
- Irregular menstruation
- Long follicular phase
- Low back pain
- Scanty blood flow
- Night sweats
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Poor memory
- Short luteal phase
- Thin endometrial lining (uterus lining)
- Tender breasts
Within western medicine, the causes of women with irregular periods are a hormone levels imbalance:
- High levels of prolactin (hyperprolactinaemia)
- Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Chronic emotional stress
4. Acupuncture for irregular menstrual cycles
The treatment for this in western medicine is birth control medications such as the contraceptive pill, which regulates the cycle while on the medication, but can then revert back to being irregular and cause short term infertility after stopping. However, if the thyroid is underactive, then thyroxin is prescribed. Various drugs can be prescribed for hyperprolactinaemia, see below. Within Chinese medicine, all of the symptoms above are treatable using either acupuncture or Chinese herbal formulas, hence why Chinese medicine is very good at enhancing fertility.
The secret to acupuncture's ability to help female fertility, is it's unique ability to regulate a woman's menstrual cycle. By regulating the flow of energy and blood flow, it can balance hormones of the ovaries and uterus cycles, a licensed acupuncturist is able to sync these two cycles together to reduce menstrual problems and reduce stress, which is a common cause of menstrual irregularities.
Acupuncture treatment is able to improve a woman's menstrual periods in various ways, including:
- Regulation of the hypothalamus, which then regulates the pituitary gland and it's release of fertility hormones
- Regulation of the female hormone oestrogens
- Regulation of AMH levels
- Regulation of insulin, which normalises testosterone levels
- Reduce menstrual cramps
- Regulating hormones thereby regulating menstrual cycles
- Regulate hormone imbalances (hormonal balance) leading to regular cycles
- Improving the flow of uterine blood to the uterine lining
- Improves implantation
- Reduce emotional stress and anxiety
- Improve energy deficiency thereby improving hypothalamic pituitary ovarian regulation
- Regulate energy flow to improve the flow of blood and regulate the feedback loop between the ovaries and the pituitary gland
- Regulate fertility hormones
- Regulate the nervous system
- Regulate the immune systems
Emotions such as stress can make the menstrual cycle irregular by increasing levels of stress hormones such as cortisone, which then affect the pituitary gland's release of fertility hormones. Acupuncture reduces stress, which then allows the hormones to normalise and balance themselves out, leading to better fertility.
5. My Fertility Guide
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Cochrane et al. (2016) Prior to Conception: The Role of an Acupuncture Protocol in Improving Women’s Reproductive Functioning Assessed by a Pilot Pragmatic Randomised Controlled Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med; 3587569.
Jedel et al. (2011) Impact of electro-acupuncture and physical exercise on hyperandrogenism and oligo/amenorrhea in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 300: E37–E45.
Qu, et al. The effects of acupuncture on polycystic ovary syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, Volume 8, Issue 1, February 2016, 12–18.