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Natural Guide for Menstrual Health

Posted Apr 01 2010 11:45pm 1 Comment

istock_000003691524xsmallHaving a healthy menstrual cycle is instrumental to having abundant fertility. The menstrual cycle can tell us a lot about what is happening in the body, if the uterus is getting enough circulation, if hormones are imbalanced, if you are ovulating and so much more. Our monthly cycle IS our fertility.

Also determining what is ‘normal’ or what should be the goal for us to get our cycles to is important. While everyone can not fit into one box, there is a general range that represents a healthy cycle. But let’s start from the beginning…

Menstruation (the period) is the shedding of the endometrium lining of the uterus. This generally occurs monthly, releasing blood and tissues from the uterus.

How the cycle works…

The period is only one part of the amazingly complex monthly fertility cycle orchestrated by the endocrine system. The endocrine glands work together to send messages via hormones. This is called the feedback loop.

In very simple terms the hypothalamus produces GnRH (gonadotrophin-releasing homrones) which signals to the pituitary to produce LH (luteinising hormones and FSH (folilicle stimulating hormone) to signal to the ovaries that it is there turn to release estrogen and progesterone which is recognized by the pituitary gland.

Simple right? Not so. As you can see a healthy cycle is dependent on each part of the feedback loop functioning properly. Think of it as an orchestra, if just one part of the cycle is off, it will throw the entire cycle off, causing imbalances that can effect fertility.

Follicular phase
The hypothalamus responds to the different levels of estrogen and progesterone secreted from the ovaries. When estrogen drops during the period, the hypothalamus secretes GnRH which signals to the pituitary to release FSH which then initiates the follicular growth in the ovary. 10-20 follicles will begin to develop, but only one of these will mature to become an egg. While they are developing the follicles are producing estrogen which stimulates the endometrium to develop in the uterus (the uterine lining in preparation for the implantation of a fertilized egg).

As the estrogen increases (secreted from the developing follicles prior to ovulation) the cervical mucous begins to change to ‘fertile mucous’ which is egg white in its consistency. The increasing levels of estrogen then trigger the secretion of GnRH from the hypothalamus which them signals the surge of LH and FSH which most likely triggers the release of the egg. Once ovulation occurs FSH levels drop fast and LH starts to drop slowly.

Luteal Phase
Ovulation is followed by the luteal phase. With LH present the corpus luteum begins to secrete increasing quantities of progesterone and fairly constant levels of estrogen.

The endometrium is now influenced by progesterone causing it to develop to be capable of nourishing a developing embryo.

If fertilization does not occur, the decline of the hormones causes the endometrium to shed, which is dependent on hormones at all times for its health, maintenance and development. When estrogen reaches a low enough point the hypothalamus releases GnRH and the cycle starts over again.

Counting the days of your menstrual cycle
Day one of the menstrual cycle is always the first day of your period. If you spot before your period has come, that is not counted. The days between the first day of your period and ovulation is called the ‘follicular phase’. Generally this is 14 days long, but varies woman to woman. When ovulation occurs the luteal phase begins.

The luteal phase is the days between ovulation and menstruation. It is generally 14 days long. This is the time when a fertilized egg is attaching itself to the lining in the uterus to establish itself. If the luteal phase is too short (less than 12 days) this can make implantation almost impossible as the egg has not had sufficient time to properly implant and signal to the cycle that pregnancy has occurred.

I find using a tool such as CycleBeads or fertility charting can be helpful in keeping track of your cycle so you can know the length and generally when ovulation will occur.

We get asked often what is an ideal period. Unfortunately there is no one answer to this question as we are all different. A ‘textbook’ period is 28 days long with menstruation lasting 3-5 days. The information that is most important about your cycle is the length of your period, the length of your entire cycle, the amount of pain, the color and consistency of the menstruation. We can use this information to learn how to best use herbs and therapies to help create a healthy, balanced cycle.

Length of a Healthy Cycle
The usual range of a healthy cycle is between 21 and 35 days. Some women will have cycles that are very different from this but as long as there is a pattern, regularity, a healthy body and the folicular phase is between 12-14 days there should be no cause for concern.

Hormone levels and ovulation create the regularity of your cycle. Failure to ovulate will effect hormonal levels and hormonal imbalance will effect/inhibit the secretion of hormones that stimulate ovulation.

There are many factors that can effect the hormonal balance and ovulation. Stress being one of them. Learn more about stress and fertility here .

Below is given as a list of associations, not in any way a diagnostic tool. My goal is to help you read your body and listen when it is telling you something is out of balance. The menstrual cycle is one of the best ways the body communicates about your fertility. The details of your menstrual cycle can be used as a window into your fertility. Telling you just what is going on, where an imbalance my lie, how your reproductive circulation is, if there is a hormonal imbalance, etc.

Missing a period
Missing one period is no cause for alarm. The hormonal balance is very delicate and can be effect easily by stress. It generally will reset itself. Missing one or a couple of periods does not imply infertility necessarily as you can still ovulate even if you are not menstruating. This happened to a friend of mine and she became pregnant. Missing a period for 6 months or more is called amenorrhoea and is covered a below and here in this guide…

Short Cycles
Short cycles can cause fertility issues due to lack of ovulation, too short of foliculare phase or luteal phase, lack of nutrition, deficiencies, anemia or low body weight . Traditionally one of the best herbs that has been used for luteal phase defect is vitex . In studies vitex helped 83% of women experiencing luteal phase defect.

Longer Periods
A longer period may be an indication of hormonal imbalance and/or a failure to ovulate. Progesterone secreted by the body after ovulation normally helps to stop excess bleeding because of its effect on preserving the uterine lining. If estrogen is high or progesterone low, bleeding may continue longer than usual. Some herbal therapies that have been traditionally used for balancing longer periods are vitex and Slow Flow .

Heavy menstruation
This is known to be caused by prostaglansings imbalance and/or over-stimulation of the uterine lining from estrogens (estrogen dominance). Traditionally this imbalance can be helped by:

  • Regulating/balancing the hormones with the use of herbs and diet
  • Supporting the liver in excreting excess estrogen
  • Modifying the diet can also help to modify the prostaglandin balance.

  • Nutritional imbalances have also been linked to prolonged or heavy bleeding. Vitamin A deficiency may be a contributing factor in heavy menstruation. Studies have shown vitamin A intake to significantly decrease the amount of blood and the duration of the menses.

    Another important vitamin, vitamin C, has been shown to help reduce heavy bleeding by strengthening the capillaries, helping to reduce their fragility. One study showed an 87% success rate in reducing of heavy bleeding with vitamin C.

    Slow Flow is the best herbal and supplement blend I have seen to help with heavy menstruation. It contains herbs that are astringent (helping to slow blood flow) and nutrients such as vitamin A, C and K. In addition vitex and liver supporting herbs have been found to be helpful.

    Light menstruation with strong cramping
    Generally the cramping could be helped by using herbs that have an anti-spamodic, calming effect on the uterus. If there is light, bright red menstruation, this may also be a sign of a lack of circulation to the uterus (called a ‘cold uterus’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine). This may be helped by the herbs and therapies:

  • Crampbark
  • Heating packs
  • Bright Red Blood
    Generally bright red blood indicates a healthy period. Rejoice!

    Dark, brown or thick blood
    Thick dark blood that looks old or is brown is old blood left over from the previous cycle. This may be caused by a sluggish menstrual flow, lack of uterine tone or low uterine circulation. Herbs and therapies used traditionally for this imbalance are:

  • Hydration
  • Pale Blood, Watery or thin menstruation
    Pale pink, thin blood traditionally signifies poor blood quality which can be enriched by using blood building herbs, hormone balancing, and increasing circulation. Eating a healthy diet may also be beneficial.

    Clots are traditionally seen as a sign of stagnation created from excessive flow that is not being expelled. Herbs and therapies that are beneficial for increasing uterine tone are:

  • Hydration
  • Spotting and bleeding between periods
    Spotting is a tricky subject as it can be caused by many different factors. Most times it is not something to be concerned about but some of the causes may be:

  • Disturbance in the hormonal/balance - feedback loop
  • Failure to ovulate
  • Endometriosis
  • Abnormalities of the cervix
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Ovulation has occurred - some women experience spotting during ovulation due to the oestrogen changes at mid-cycle.
  • Hormonal contraceptives
  • Excessive exercise
  • Poor nutrition

  • No period (amenorrhoea)
    It can be quite frustrating if you are trying to get pregnant and yet have no period. Having a healthy cycle is step one for boosting your fertility naturally and being able to get pregnant. There are a couple of reasons your cycle may be irregular such as stress, dietary deficiencies, low body weight, getting off of birth control pills, hormonal imbalance, or other underlying issues.

    Since the lining of the uterus is not being shed, it is very important to clear out the old blood and establish a healthy cycle again. This can be done naturally and effectively with herbs and nutrition. I have talked with many clients who have been offered synthetic estrogen to get there periods going again… taking synthetic estrogen for this issue is like using a sledge hammer on a thumb tack.

    Natural therapies such as the Fertility Cleanse , Dong Quai , Fem Rebalance or Vitex have been found helpful.

    Depending on each situation, the herbs and therapies may be different, but in addition to a specific herbal, supplemental and therapeutic protocol. here are 4 steps every woman can take to promote a healthy menstrual cycle.

    1. Hormonal Balance
    Promoting hormonal balance with the use of nourishing herbs and supplements. As you have read, there is a delecate balance between hormonal balance and imbalance. In some cases the endocrine system may be in the need of some nourishment and support. There are herbs and supplements that are specific for this (see list further down). Diet is also very important for hormonal balance.

    In addition, the 3 other steps below also help to support hormonal balance.

    2. Liver Health
    The liver helps to filter toxins from the body including excess hormones. If there is an over abundance of estrogen, the liver will be overloaded and in need of a little herbal help. Doing a Fertility Cleanse or using liver cleansing herbs can help to continually support the liver in detoxification. I personally am constantly using herbs and juices to help support the liver to cleanse itself as our modern world can be so toxic.

    3. Nutrition and hydration
    Nutrition plays a big roll in a healthy menstrual cycle and hormonal balance. It is important for us to consume a wide variety of minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. Some of the nutrients that are specific to hormonal balance (remember a healthy diet is VERY important, not just getting these singled out nutrients). These can all be found in a whole food multivitamin .

  • Beta Carotene/Vitamin A
  • B12
  • vitamin D
  • You can learn more about eating a diet specific for fertility here…

    Hydration is also important. In many cases of stagnation (such as blood clots or dark menstrual blood) dehydration is a contributing factor. In order for the menstruation to FLOW from us, it needs to have a liquid consistancy. Not a sticky, thick consistancy.

    Drinking plenty of water and fresh squeezed juices is important for a healthy flow. Starting your day with a quart of water (with lemon if you like) is a great idea. Making sure to get another quart throughout the day. In addition add at least 1 quart of fresh juiced vegetable and fruit juices and you are on your way to abundant health.

    4. Stress reduction
    Stress can have an impact on your menstrual cycle. Traveling, work stress, family stress, stress about infertility, financial stress can have an impact on the hormones that are released.

    Recent research tells us that stress boosts levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which inhibits the body’s main sex hormones GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) and subsequently suppresses ovulation, sexual activity and sperm count.

    Supporting the adrenal gland is also helpful for hormonal balance as it can get burned out from too much stress for too long and negatively effect the endocrine system.

    There are many ways to begin to reduce the amount of stress and alter your reaction to stress such as:

  • Meditation
  • Mind/Body program such as Circle Bloom
  • Use EFT to help reduce anxiety and stress around fertility
  • Exercise can also help to release stress
  • Vitex
    Vitex is an incredible hormone balancer, which adapts to women’s different needs. Vitex has been shown to normalize heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia), relieve amenorrhea (absent menstrual cycle), and decrease polymenorrhea (too frequent periods). Vitex even eases inflammation of the uterus or ovaries, so it’s good choice for women prone to painful fibroids or cysts, too.
    Blood Builder

    Maca is a nourishing food for the endocrine system, aiding both the pituitary, adrenal, and thyroid glands (all involved in hormonal balance.) Maca has the ability to affect key hormones in both women and men without containing hormones itself.

    Maca helps to stimulate and nourish the pituitary gland, acting as a tonic for the hormone system. When the pituitary gland functions optimally, the entire endocrine system becomes balanced, because the pituitary gland controls the hormone output of the other three glands.

    The hypothalamus is fed by essential fatty acids (EFA’s) and other nutrients. The glandular system utilizes essential fatty acids to produce hormones. If you are deficient, the body doesn’t have the building blocks to make the proper hormones. A sign that you may not have enough EFA’s in your system is if you have dry skin and hair.

    References 1. Trickey Ruth. Women, Hormones and The Menstrual Cycle, 2003
    2. Lithgow D. Politzer W. Vitamin A in the treament of menorrhagia. South African Medical Journal, 1977.
    3. Cohen J Rubin. Functional menorrhagia. Treatment with bioflvanoids and vitamin C. Current Therapeutic Research, 1960.
    4. Hobbs Christopher. Vitex The Women’s Herb, 2003

    Comments (1)
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    I have had irregular menstrual cycles my entire life.  Maybe four periods a year at most.  When I did have a period, I had two-three days of brown light flow, followed by about 3-4 days of medium bright red flow.

    Birth control made my periods regular, but over time I have found after a year or two of contraceptive use, I find the brown period is now 4-5days and I might get a day or so of bright red flow. 

    I tried to take Vitex.  I took it for seven weeks.  After a week of taking it, I began a period.  The period lasted for a total of six weeks, all of which were days of bright red flow.  I stopped taking this herbal supplement because they period was quite heavy and I was worried about the length of time I was on my period. 

    I was wondering what could be the possible reasons for this?

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