If menstruation is a normal, natural event, why is it that so many of us have issues with our cycles? In many traditional cultures, the time of menstrual flow is considered a period of cleansing and regeneration, even celebration. For many Western women however, menstruation may represent anything from a mild inconvenience to substantial distress – something embarrassing that “happens” to us. More often than not, we live in dread of our monthly cycle.
Governed by the endocrine system, the menstrual cycle is regulated by a complex interaction of hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen and progesterone, and is divided into three unique phases: follicular, ovulatory and luteal. Spanning an average of 28 days, the entire process is like a well-choreographed dance, with each phase relying on a specific and extremely delicate hormonal balance.
Unfortunately, environmental factors such as artificial light and the onslaught of pollutants we’re exposed to on a daily basis have disrupted our circadian rhythms and compromised our hormonal health.
In the days before electricity, the moon was our main source of nocturnal light. Women's bodies were influenced by the amount of moonlight we perceived, and our hormones were duly triggered. All women cycled together. In modern society with round-the-clock artificial light, remaining in sync with nature’s cycles is a serious challenge.
To compound the matter, we are the first generation to be exposed to an unprecedented amount of toxic environmental chemicals, a direct result of increased industry following World War II. These chemicals – derived from plastics, petroleum, pesticides, food additives and more – disturb endocrine balance by mimicking estrogen in the body. Dubbed “xenoestrogens”, these foreign estrogens have given rise to numerous symptoms and conditions related to hormonal imbalance, such as menstrual irregularities, infertility, fibroids, and cancer.
It is therefore not surprising that menstrual cycles don’t run smoothly for every woman, every month. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Dysmenorrhea are common experiences to all women who menstruate. PMS refers to the complexity of symptoms women experience as a result of high hormone levels before, and sometimes during, their periods. Big Pharma has created a niche market to treat PMS (a physiologically normal part of a woman's cycle) as a disease. There is big money in PMS! We often joke about it, but for sufferers PMS is no laughing matter. Symptoms may include: anxiety, irritability, mood swings, sugar/chocolate cravings, bloating, spotting, fatigue, acne, and headaches. The term Dysmenorrhea refers to severe, disabling cramps associated with the menstrual period. Symptoms vary from woman to woman, and may include backache, leg pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and dizziness. (Secondary Dysmenorrhea, which refers to severe menstrual pain resulting from an underlying condition such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or Endometriosis, will not be discussed here.)
Fortunately, there are several natural treatment options for those looking to balance their hormones and relieve menstrual discomforts, without resorting to prescription medication. Homeopathy, developed in present-day Germany over 200 years ago by physician and hygienist Samuel Hahnemann, is a system of natural medicine that encourages the body to rebalance itself. It is safe, gentle and non-invasive, as well as effective in treating a variety of mental, emotional and physical complaints. Treatment with Classical Homeopathy involves taking a detailed case history encompassing your chief health concerns, an overview of all body systems, and the health history of your family. Based on the information gathered, a single homeopathic remedy is selected specifically for you, intended to stimulate your body’s natural healing mechanisms.
Here are some homeopathic remedies, along with their guiding symptoms, to consider for menstrual discomforts:
- Calcarea Carbonica is a wonderful remedy for women's issues. It is indicated in cases of profuse menstruation. The menstrual cycle is typically abnormal, often coming on too early and lasting too long. PMS symptoms typically include fatigue, weight gain, water retention, and tender breasts. Often feelings of being overwhelmed and/or anxious will accompany the physical symptoms. Other symptoms indicating Calcarea include a general feeling of chilliness, clammy hands and feet, and extreme hunger.
- Consider Chamomilla in cases where pain seems unbearable. Patients requiring Chamomilla are likely to be angry, irritable and sensitive to the extreme. The menstrual flow itself is typically heavy, and the blood may look dark or clotted. The pain, often described as labour-like, can extend from the pelvic region to the thighs, and may be worse at night or with use of a heating pad. Vigorous walking or moving around in other ways may help relieve the pain.
- Patients requiring Colocynthis may experience cramping focused in the ovarian region or throughout the pelvis. Pains are of a sharp, cutting nature, causing the sufferer to double over and clutch their abdomen. The woman feels restless from the pain, however lying down and applying hard pressure and warmth on the abdomen provides temporary relief. This remedy is often indicated if the symptoms are worsened by emotional upsets, especially after feeling or suppressing anger.
- A woman who needs Lachesis is fiery, intense and sensual, desperately needing an outlet. Women who suffer acutely from premenstrual discomfort, but feel much better once the flow is established, may benefit from this remedy. Other guiding symptoms include flushes of heat, headache, increased sex drive, left sided complaints, palpitations and an inability to tolerate tight clothing around the neck or waist.
- If extreme sweets cravings are an issue, think about Lycopodium. Symptoms include excessive gas and bloating with a painful, distended abdomen. There is likely to be a tendency to ailments affecting the right side of the body. General energy and moods may take a dip between 4 and 8 pm.
- Natrum Muriaticum, derived from sodium chloride, is often prescribed for menstrual problems accompanied by headache or migraines. Head pain tends to be of a bursting, hammering, blinding nature. Natrum personalities are generally private and reserved, and can be easily affronted over trivial issues. Immoderate thirst, a tendency towards cold sores and a general worsening from sun exposure are other indications for this remedy.
- Delayed, scanty or suppressed menstrual flow suggests the use of Pulsatilla. Patients requiring this remedy are generally thirstless, and aggravated by getting too warm or being in a stuffy room. Pulsatilla's moods can be described as changeable, fickle or indecisive. She desires sympathy and attention and is often emotionally sensitive. This remedy is particularly (but not exclusively) useful in times of transition, such as puberty and menopause.
- With its broad sphere of action over the female organism, Sepia is one of the more frequently prescribed remedies in cases of menstrual irregularities. Women requiring Sepia are irritable, indifferent and disconnected. Those close to her are likely to be on the receiving end of harsh, cutting words. Guiding symptoms include painful, late, or suppressed menstruation, chilliness, perspiring, headache before, during or after menses, varicosities and constipation. In Sepia there is often a feeling that the pelvic floor is weak, to the point that she will want to sit with her legs crossed. Warmth and exercise, especially dancing, often improve Sepia's outlook.
While a well-chosen homeopathic remedy can do wonders, often within 2 to 3 cycles, bear in mind that the quality of your diet directly influences hormonal function. Here are some easy suggestions: Eliminate processed, refined or genetically modified foods. Invest in a food additives dictionary and start reading labels – a scary but worthwhile exercise. Choosing whole grains, meat and dairy products from natural and ethical farms, plus raw nuts and seeds, cold-pressed oils, and fresh fruits and vegetables is a good place to start. Go organic and reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens at the same time!
Supplementing with magnesium may benefit nervousness, cramping, constipation, backache and headache associated with the menstrual cycle. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), with its mild diuretic effect, is well-known for treating PMS-related breast swelling and tenderness as well as water retention. Additionally, Vitamin B6 enhances absorption and retention of magnesium in the body. Studies have shown the efficacy of Omega-3 supplementation in the reduction of menstrual cramps. Look for pharmaceutical-grade fish oil or DHA-enriched flaxseed oil. Finally, aim for 30g of dietary soluble fibre, such as chia or ground flax, to prevent reabsorption of excess estrogen into the bloodstream.
Another useful tool in understanding your cycle and identifying potential triggers is to chart your cycle. Pay special attention to any of your cycle’s distinguishing features, such as headaches, food cravings, and mood changes. A healthy attitude towards your monthly cycle, along with some simple dietary and lifestyle changes, can effect huge changes. And lastly, acknowledge and celebrate the amazing changes our bodies are capable of doing every month.