About That "Time of the Month"

Okay, I'll admit it right from the start.  I am a man.  So, I probably have no business writing about problems with periods, since I'm never going to have any personal experience with them.  Maybe I should have let a woman write this article.

On the other hand, I see a lot of women advising men about men's issues when there's no way any woman is ever going to possibly understand what it's like to be a man.  So, I guess it's all right for a man to be advising women about women's issues.    Also, while I may not have directly experienced PMS or menstrual problems, I have indirectly experienced the effects of these problems on men! We can just blame it on hormones, or can we?  If hormones are completely to blame, then there are some male behaviors I'd like to justify on the grounds that “I can't help it, it's just my hormones!” 

It's something we can all kid about (hopefully), but PMS can really be a serious problem for a woman.  Fortunately, there are natural ways to help PMS without resorting to drugs, divorce, or murder. (Relax, it's just a joke.)

Hormonal Influences

Seriously, research continues to demonstrate that hormones do influence our moods and the way we view the world.  Furthermore, women have a monthly hormonal cycle during which levels of various hormones rise and fall.  This hormonal “tide” also creates a fluctuation in emotional states at various times of the month that is perfectly natural and normal. 

Throughout a woman's cycle, levels of estrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone are going to cause shifts in mood and perceptions.  So, a part of what takes place in the monthly cycle is something men just need to accept, even if they don't understand it. I also believe that testosterone influences those of us in the male sex in ways that women need to just accept, even if they don't understand it, either.

That's where the first problem comes in.  In modern society,  we seem to have lost touch with the fact that part of these mood and behavioral cycles people experience are perfectly normal and natural.  We're just “under the influence” of powerful natural chemicals.   Understanding this automatically allows for greater tolerance and respect.

Traditional Wisdom

I think traditional people understood these things.  Living closer to the natural cycles of the earth, they understood the natural cycles of the body better.  As a result they were more accepting of natural differences between men and women, and normal biological processes.  As a result, they made cultural allowance for these differences and used them as opportunities for both teaching and celebration.

For instance, when the time for their periods drew nigh, Native American women would retire to the moon lodge, where they would talk and interact with each other apart from the men (and the children).  They could do this because their menstrual cycles were regular and all occurred roughly together at the same phase of the moon, hence “moon lodge.”  (Moon, month and menses are all derived from the same Lain roots because a healthy woman's cycles work in harmony with the phases of the moon.)

The men wisely withdrew and left the women alone during the time of their period.  This was not because women were considered “unclean” (as they were in Hebrew culture).  Quite the contrary.  This was thought to be the time of a woman's greatest power.  The men left the women alone during this time because it was a sacred and powerful time that men needed to respect.  I don't know of too many women who would complain if they got to be free of their responsibilities as wives, mothers, etc. for 4-5 days each month while the men took care of the home and kids.  I think that alone would make women look forward to their period, don't you?

Honoring Menstruation

We need to get back to respecting the body we've been given.  This includes recognizing that a woman's monthly cycle is a natural, and even sacred thing.  The period is not something for either men or women to be ashamed of, embarrassed about, or worse yet, disgusted by.   In many traditional cultures, the tribe held a celebration when a girl had her first period.  If we returned to the custom of celebrating when a girl had her first period, and honoring the time of a woman's period as special, women would automatically have less PMS problems because their mental attitude about the process would be more positive and healthy.

I know some women who have started holding “coming of age” parties for their daughters. I think this is a wonderful practice and I wish my daughters could have had such an experience.  However, it is women who need to do this for women.

Before I get into a discussion about herbs that can help women with “that time of the month,” I want to talk about a flower essence that can help women heal from feelings of guilt and shame associated with their periods.  In Seven Herbs: Plants as Teachers, Matthew Wood discusses using Easter Lily as a remedy for cleansing the female reproductive organs.  It helps women resolve feelings of uncleanliness about sexuality or their reproductive organs.  He has seen this remedy help with physical health problems such as cysts and fibroids, as well as the emotional issues that may be contributing to them.

Having addressed some of the mental and emotional issues that may surround a woman's periods, let's look at some herbal remedies for specific physical problems. I'm going to deliberately skip PMS because will be covered in a separate article.  I want to focus on more specific problems.

Heavy Menstrual Bleeding

There are several possible causes of heavy menstrual bleeding.  These include: excessive estrogen and deficient progesterone, low thyroid, infections in the reproductive organs, stress, excessive weight, fibroids, polyps, and endometriosis.  In order to completely remedy the problem, the specific cause will have to be identified and corrected.  However, there are some general remedies for heavy bleeding. 

Menstrual Reg was formulated primarily for heavy menstrual bleeding, although it may have some benefits for other menstrual problems. I helped create this formula, so I've pleased with what it does.  It works primarily in two ways.  First, it helps to directly control bleeding through an astringent action that tones tissues.  Secondly, it helps to adjust hormone levels from the pituitary. 

Menstrual Reg is very effective by itself, but it can be augmented by other herbs.  Yarrow is particularly helpful for excessive bleeding in women due to uterine fibroids, and extra yarrow (2 capsules 3 times daily) can be taken along with Menstrual Reg.  For extremely heavy bleeding, bayberry and capsicum can be used to help slow the blood flow.  Use 2 capsules of bayberry and 1 capsule of capsicum every 2 hours along with 2 capsules of Menstrual Reg until the bleeding subsides.

Another thing that can help stop severe bleeding is to do a retention douche with a decoction made of bayberry rootbark or white oak bark.  I've also seen a douche using Colloidal Minerals (1 oz. per pint of water) arrest excessive menstrual bleeding. 

If the problem is severe or persistent, consult with a medical doctor for a proper diagnosis.  Heavy blood loss can be a serious condition causing severe anemia.  If a woman is experiencing some anemia from heavy blood loss, herbs like I-X, yellow dock, alfalfa and nettles can help restore blood iron levels.  The Chinese Blood Build Formula is actually very specific for use with women who are anemic and experiencing heavy bleeding.  I've seen it work effectively in a number of cases.

Painful Periods (Dysmenorrhea)

Pain during periods typically comes from one of two sources—muscle cramping or inflammation.  A slight amount of cramping during the period is normal.  This is due to the release of the hormone oxytocin, the same hormone that causes labor pain.  Native people considered this slight cramping the body's way of practicing for childbirth. 

When cramping is severe and painful however, antispasmodic herbs can be used to ease tense muscles and relax the cramps.  Cramp Relief is a formula that contains a number of these herbs and will help to ease these cramping pains.  Severe menstrual cramps are often a sign of magnesium deficiency, so women who experience severe cramping pains during periods should consider taking Magnesium Complex on a regular basis.  A good program for menstrual cramps would be 2 Magnesium Complex 2-3 times and 2 Cramp Relief 3 times daily.

The other kind of menstrual pain is associated with congestion and inflammation in the pelvic region. This kind of pain is relieved by herbs that decongest pelvic circulation and reduce inflammation.  This kind of pain usually occurs just before the period and is relieved once the period starts.  Helpful herbs include ginger, yarrow, dong quai, and, believe it or not, Vari-Gone.  Using herbs to cleanse the liver (Enviro-Detox or LIV-J) can also be helpful.

Lack of Periods (Amenorrhea)

When periods are scanty, infrequent, or absent, we again need to try to identify the cause.  The most common causes are vegetarian diets (or diets low in fats and protein), excessive exercise, stress, general poor health, thyroid imbalances and medications.  Some possible remedies for amenorrhea include Super GLA for essential fatty acids, protein supplementation, and remedies for stress. 

Female Comfort or FCS II with Lobelia may be helpful for balancing hormone levels for both heavy and scant periods.  Herbs that may stimulate menstruation by bringing blood flow to the pelvic area include wormwood (found in Artemesia Combination), blue cohosh, rosemary and yarrow.  The essential oils of fennel, geranium, sweet marjoram, rose and yarrow may also be helpful.

Well, that wraps up my short discourse on herbal aids for problems with women's periods.  Oh, just to let you in on a little secret—the reason I trust the information I've presented here is because I learned it from some very talented female herbalists.  (See, it is possible for a man to actually listen to a woman now and then, which proves it can't all be blamed on hormones.)