Solving your Period Problems with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine - talking with TCM gynecologist Denise Cicuto.
Denise Cicuto is an acupuncturist and herbalist with two busy practices in San Francisco and Alameda. She’s a family physician with a special focus on gynecology and immune system issues. We’ve been friends and colleagues (and given each other lots of healing) since we met in acupuncture school almost 15 years ago. I talked with Denise last week about ‘Women’s Health’ and Chinese medicine.
Before we got to my questions about Denise’s practice and treatments, we talked a bit (and the recorder malfunctioned, hence this recap) about the gender spectrum, health care for transgender people, and how our feminism shapes our work as healers. The area of healthcare that Denise and I are talking about is usually called ‘Women’s Health’ - but in fact, not every woman has a period, or even a uterus - and not everyone who has a period or uterus is a woman. There’s not a great inclusive umbrella term yet to describe the connected areas of menstrual health, hormone health, fertility, infertility, childbearing, breastfeeding, breast health. As holistic physicians, Denise and I don’t compartmentalize these things anyway, but in our conversation we focused on ‘menstrual health’ and here, as in our work, we did our best to be inclusive and thoughtful in our use of language.
Kirsten: Denise, can you tell me about how you developed this interest and eventually specialization?
Denise: I first was introduced to acupuncture and Chinese medicine because I was diagnosed with endometriosis (a very painful condition of the uterine lining). I was either in tremendous pain or I was completely spaced out from pain killing drugs. It was taking a huge toll on my work and my life! I had a friend who was an acupuncturist who encourage me to try it. I was able to reduce and eventually eliminate the pain and the drugs for the pain. I was hooked and enrolled in acupuncture school myself.
K. What’s the most rewarding part of doing the kind of work for you?
D: When a patient that I’ve been treating for severe menstrual pain comes in for an appointment, and can’t remember when their last period was, because it was painless! I also love getting ‘I’m pregnant’ emails and calls. And the only time I don’t mind a last minute cancellation is when my patients go into labor! You’re off the hook for my cancellation policy if you’re in your third trimester!
(Denise and I laughed constantly through the whole interview but I’m going to spare you the transcription of that dear readers!)
K: Well, on the other side of the coin, what do you find the most challenging part of this work?
D: The most challenging thing is definitely when folks expect miracles - dramatic changes in just a few treatments. Often, people come in to try ‘alternative’ medicine after they’ve exhausted all the treatments that western medicine has to offer. That means they’ve often had the condition for a long time and it’s deeply rooted. They could also be experiencing complications or other symptoms related to the Western treatments they’ve tried. The other thing that’s really challenging for us as practitioners is when our patients experience pregnancy loss. I’ve written an article about helping patients, and ourselves, when it happens - which it will. I’m also part of the community that created Spirit Babies , an annual ritual space for people who’ve been touched by pregnancy loss.
K: What is the most unexpected thing? Or something that surprises patients?
D: What surprises me is more like being amazed - I’m constantly amazed at how well our medicine works. I KNOW it works, but it still amazes me - to hear ‘my hot flashes are gone’ ‘my periods don’t hurt’
K: I know that feeling - it never gets old!
D: My patients are surprised by the results as well.
K: I sometimes have that feeling that the surprise has something to do with the fact that the culture around us doesn’t see it. Is that part of why we’re surprised? Because we don’t live in a culture that knows how well this works. Especially with menstrual health. The fact that most people don’t have to have irregular periods for example, if they got acupuncture and herbs, is news to most people.
D: Yes! I’m surprised more people don’t try it!
K: What do wish that everyone knew about TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) gynecology?
D: We don’t talk about our periods a lot. I would like people to know that if they got acupuncture - they’d have even LESS reason to talk about their period!
K: That’s your slogan! “don’t like talking about your periods? Get acupuncture and you won’t have anything to talk about because they’ll be no problem!”
(we paused here to laugh at our acupuncture joke)
K: How do you use A&P oils in your clinic?
D: I love using Swimming Dragon and moxa before the period, and Tranquil Palace and moxa during. And if patients aren’t coming in at that time, I send them home with A&P oils and a kit that is a belly bowl and moxa and they can put them on at home, I tell my patients where on the belly to put them. For regulating the period, moods, cramps, they can apply the oils to acupressure points. Under the breasts and the rib area under the breasts (Liver 14 area) is good for qi stagnation in the chest, with symptoms like breast distention and sighing, and for emotional issues - and I remind patients to take their hands and inhale the oil when they are done with massage - which will lift and calm your shen, your spirit.
K: So typically you’re doing treatments in the treatment room with the oils, but that protocol is one that folks can do at home as well? Oil and then moxa on top?
D: Yes. this is the best part about Chinese medicine for me - we involve our patients in the medicine. It’s not ‘come to acupuncture, get acupuncture, take pills, go home’. It’s your health journey - I’m just your guide!
K: So true! Especially the way that you practice, and that’s my motivation as well. You can literally be doing things for yourself and be creating a loving relationship with your body, through the healing practices you’re offering, like moxa, oils, acupuncture.
D: Yes, nutrition and exercise as well. Even if I don’t prescribe specific exercises, I’ll tell folks, talk to your yoga teacher about specific asanas. The best thing you can do for yourself - if you’re experiencing pain during any part of your menstrual cycle - is MOVE! One of my mentors, Daoshing Ni, always says that. The best thing to do is move. You’re moving your qi, moving your blood - even if it’s walking your dog, walking around the room - that’s the best thing you can do for yourself!
You can experience Denise’s healing touch yourself at either of her two clinics in San Francisco and Alameda, and mention Angelica & Peony to get 10% off your first visit!
Denise and I will be live on Periscope on Tuesday, September 22 at 4 pm PST to show you how you can use Angelica & Peony oils and her belly moxa kit to give yourself an at-home treatment.