It seems that the average age of menarche (first menstruation) has been progressively declining over the last 100 years at the rate of one year in every generation. The oldest reliable records on menarche are Norwegian and date back to the 1850s when the average age for the first period was 17. By 1950 it had fallen to 13%. This may be because of better diet and healthier living conditions but it is also the result of our escalating ingestion of hormones hidden in various foods. In the Philippines little girls drinking from a stream where hormone-injected chickens were killed and washed were growing breasts and beginning periods at the age of 5.

Biologists say that the age of puberty and menarche have reached their minimum genetic potential. I am not so sure. And the thing that saddens me is that we do not afford the menarche the celebration it deserves. There is nothing compar able to it in male physiology or as a rite of passage – it is not just a passing into womanhood but a declaration of the capacity to be a lover. Women seem to regard their bleeding angrily, evasively or with distaste; some try to make it anonymous, and you have only to look at the language surrounding menstruation to appreciate this – the curse’, ‘aunty’, ‘it’, the time of the month, the usual,

“having a period’, ‘coming on’. The blood itself is a harmless mixture that contains thirty times as much lime as regular blood and so lacks the chemical require ments for clotting. But the whole phenomenon is steeped in myth and the sight of a woman menstruating has revolted men, striking them with unwarranted terror so that they have devised rigid prohibitions for menstruating women that have kept them from love-making, from seeing the sun or touching the earth.

It seems that the myth that says that menstrual blood is unclean is still very much alive and many men are still aghast at the thought of gettingit on their penis or any other part of them. And the sadness is that many women have concurred in this and, unconvinced of the naturalness of their monthly bleeding, go to great lengths to hi it and obscure its odour. I still know people who will not w their hair during menstruation, believing that it will increase the flow and make colds more likely.

The advertising industry wants us to believe that bleeding should be sanitized, whitened, neat, sweet and discreet. I abso utley disapprove of internal sanitary ‘protection (I use the w advisedly) for several reasons. I have observed in my own clinic that it heightens a woman’s susceptibility to thrush and other vaginal problems. It is not unheard of to leave the last one behina silly though that may sound. There have also been instances of – toxic shock as the result of inserting tampons over broken skin. Some of my patients tell me that they feel tampons soak up all their bodily fluids, not just blood, leaving them feeling uncom fortably dried out after menstruation.

Having therefore come down on the side of sanitary towel, 1 should at the same time caution you always to wipe your bottom front to back. If you don’t do so, and you wear a sanitary towel during menstruation, you are in danger of inadvertently spread ing unwanted bacteria from the anus to the vagina, because the sanitary towel tends to move a little as the body moves. Wiping from front to back is always a good idea but especially when bacteria are more easily moved forward by a sanitary towel. It is during menstruation that a bidet really comes into its own. making it much easier to wash the vulva, vagina and anus. There is no need to use soap while using a bidet. The free flow of warm

water is perfectly adequate for cleansing. Pat, do not rub, after

wards with a towel. Rubbing may only result in unwanted irritation. During a normal period you will lose only about 4 tablespoons of actual blood (that is 2 fl oz or 60 ml) over four or five days. The remaining 3-4 fl oz (90-120 ml) is made up of water, mucus and other fluids married with fragments of decomposing tissue shed from the interior of the uterus and several million epithelial cells that flake off the lining of the vagina. You will need a little extra iron during menstruation as you lose 15-30 mg so if you tell you are not ingesting enough iron-rich food.

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 MENSTRUAL  PAIN

Menstruation should not be painful. My only painful periods were when, in my ignorance, I was fitted with a copper IUD, and once after a three-week grape fast, when I took the unusual period to be part of the deep cleansing process.

If cramping is severe it is because the uterus is heavily burdened with a highly toxic discharge and because calcium levels have dropped too low, causing muscle spasm and debility. The level of calcium in the bloodstream drops a week beforehand and even more so at the onset of menstruation, so take the calcium  week before menstruation is due, and stick to warm foods only. Take warm sitz-baths or saunas to relax the uterus and ease the flow. Do not let your breathing become cramped and shallow. If blood is bright red it is indicative of poor assimilation of sugars and carbohydrates. If it is dark red, stringy or smelly, it shows that the body is overburdened with putrefying protein and you should cut down on all meat, eggs and dairy products. The ideal colour of healthy menstrual blood is reddish brown.

Pain immediately before menstruation suggest that the position of the womb is abnormal. This is often seen in very thin women in whom the internal fat and ligament upon which the uterus is suspended has lost its tone. Let me clarify the conception of a normal position for a uterus. A uterus which is tipped towards the spine is called ‘retroverted’. If it tips towards the pelvic bone it is called ‘anteverted’. If it bends over itself it is called ‘retroflexed’ or anteflexed’. There seems to be a gynaecological obsession with uterine positioning, but a tipped uterus is not a “condition’ a woman need to worry about. Most women’s uteri point in different directions at different times in their lives, but there are very few women who have a uterus tipped to such a degree that it causes pain or makes any difference in their ability to become pregnant.

If the uterus truly is out of position, slant-board exercises   will help this,   .of pain is before menstruation but not just before, this suggests that the ovaries may be unhealthy, in which case hot sitz-baths should be taken on alternate nights the week before menstruation is due. Eliminate all processed and refined foods and emphasize raw and sprouted seeds, nuts, raw organically grown fruit and vegetables, plenty of raw juices and supplementations of kelp. lecithin and cold-pressed vegetable oils used uncooked as salad dressings. as will rasp berry and figwort poultices placed over the abdomen. If pain is felt during the menstrual flow it means your womb is inflamed and crying out for help and at this juncture you will need the help of a medical herbalist.

Unhappily I have met too many women who come into my clinic telling me about cysts the size of an orange who have suffered in silence for years rather than get help. Most of them are beyond middle age and I suspect they have been brought up with the old-fashioned idea that a little pain with menstruation is natural and all part of a woman’s lot. This is rubbish – menstrual ation should be comfortable and cosy throughout life. If it is not, there is almost certainly something wrong, so do not ignote it put it at the top of your list of urgent priorities.

HERBAL FORMULAE FOR MENSTRUAL PAIN

For painful cramping menstruation If menstruation comes with severe cramping pain, sip cups of the following tea taken as hot as possible sitting quietly and comfort ably. Drink it between meals or better still while fasting,

2 parts mugwort

2 parts cramp-bark

I part pasque-flower I part peppermint

I part wild yam

Take this as often as needed while the cramping lasts. In

between use warm hand and foot baths made with elderflowers, marigold, spearmint and sage, and during the rest of the month use these twice daily, morning and evening,

equal parts of

An alternative which will, given time, regulate your menstrual cycle and ease discomfort is:

I part true unicorn root

part beth root I part blue cohosh

1 part pennyroyal

I part cascara sagrada

I part allspice

Take 2-3 size ‘o’ capsules of the finely powdered herbs with each meal throughout the month. As the effect is cumulative you will find that you need less and less cach month while the body learns to regulate itself.

EXERCISE    FOR MENSTRUAL   PAIN

It is very tempting to curl up in bed hugging a hot-water bottle and feeling sorry for yourself. Don’t. Force yourself to do the following exercises even though it may be the last thing in the world you actually feel like doing.

1. Lie on your back at right angles to the wall with your buttocks

as near to the wall as possible. Prop your feet up against the wall, ensuring that the soles are flat and the knees a little bent. Stay there for five minutes.

2. Now move away from the wall and bring one leg up as close to your chin as you can get it. Leave the other on the floor. Hold the lifted leg up with your arms to take the strain and now hold that position for two minutes. Then swap round using the other leg. 3. Get up so that you are resting on your knees and elbows,

stretching your head and arms out so that your elbows are on

the ground in front of you with your head between your arms.

(This is also helpful for those who have pain immediately after

intercourse just before a period.)

4. Regular walking, running, skipping, swimming or horse riding also helps. Women who are not very physically active get more problems than active ones both with menstrual pain and pregnancy and delivery.

Reflexology for the Lower Back and Female Organs

Find the reflexology pressure point for the lower back, which is at the base of the arch on both feet near the heel. Sit comfortably in chair. Put your foot in your lap so that you can get at the sole. Now press on the lower back reflexology point with your thumbs. (Make sure your thumbnails are nice and short of course.) This will ease lower-back pain.

The reflexology pressure points for the genitals and female organs are also around the ankle. Press on the inside of your foot on a spot about halfway between your ankle bone and the bottom of your heel for affecting the uterus. Press on a similar spot on the outside of your foot for affecting the ovaries. Squeeze and pinch either side of your Achilles tendon about 3 in (7-5 cm) up from your heel – another point for affecting the uterus. In each case press firmly.

If it feels tender or hurts, ease up but do not stop. have taught patients to use this technique with remarkably good effect. If menstruation is usually very heavy, these areas should be worked on throughout the month but not during the actual flow as this will make the flow even heavier. Fibroid tumours and cysts also respond well to reflexology, but as the pituitary and thyroid reflexes need to be worked on to restore glandular balance I would suggest that in this instance you consult a qualified reflexologist.

Other Menstrual Problems

ADJUSTING THE FLOW

For excessively heavy menstruation

2 parts shepherd’s purse I part lovage

I part geranium root 2 part ginger

Make a tincture and take 1 teaspoon three times daily with meals. Concentrate on iron-rich foods, especially a little watercress juice expressed into and mixed with beetroot juice. If the excessive flow carries on over several menstruations consult a gynaecologist to ensure that it is not indicative of something more serious.

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To help the flow during menstruation Equal parts of:

yellow dock burdock

red clover

nettles

parsley cinnamon

Drink half a cup of the infusion every two hours for the duration of your period. If you want to get rid of a period quickly there is also a method

of period extraction available in some well-woman clinics where

a special tube, called a cannula, attached to a suction device, is inserted into the uterus when the period starts and the menstrual fluid is sucked out in five minutes. It is a convenient technique but my reservations are that it must be practised in absolutely sterile conditions by experts on women who have never had pelvic inflammatory disease, and as yet the possible long-term effects on the uterus are unknown. Besides which we do not yet know what this does to the delicate co-operation between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland.

The hypothalamus responds to the low levels of oestrogen by directing the pituitary to release FSH (female sex hormone) so that the proliferative phase can begin anew. Accelerate the process artificially and we could be in trouble in the long run. So consider this only in an emergency and accept that bleeding is part of being sexual.

The flow of blood can actually be a pleasurable experience. I find that taking a sauna or Turkish bath helps, as does taking a long hot soak in a bath with a teaspoon of motherwort oil added and a few drops of rose oil for its soothing fragrance. Fasting on the first day, drinking only hot herbal teas, helps and makes you feel lighter and more aware and in touch with yourself.

METRORRHAGIA

This is spotting between periods. Take hand or foot baths of equal parts of:

marshmallow blackberry leaves

sage

chaste berries hawthorn

garlic

Make sure that you have plenty of iron and calcium in your diet. The formula recommended to help the flow during men. struation is also helpful. If the condition persists in spite of an exemplary diet and exercise programme and the faithful ingestion of these two formulae for more than a few months, seek the advice of a medical herbalist.

AMENORRHOEA

This is when you do not menstruate at all. Periods may fail to appear for all sorts of reasons other than pregnancy – stress or physical illness, for example. In particular, it is common for the periods that follow the menarche to be irregular and the bleeding short or lengthy. Ovulation is inevitably a bit hit-or-miss during these irregular cycles, which can go on for up to six years until the body settles down to its own hormonal cycle (generally between 24 and 34 days, 28 days being average). Uterine tonics like rue,

southernwood, false unicorn or blue cohosh can help the body to

attain its natural cycle more speedily. These will help in adulthood too but you may need something stronger to bring on menstruation. A cup of an infusion of equal parts of pennyroyal, parsley and tansy drunk three times daily on an empty stomach between meals is very effective. But as some of these herbs are abortifacients be sure that you are not pregnant before taking them

If the problem is more deeply entrenched, try the following formula on a regular basis for six months:

2 parts tansy

2 parts catnip

I part pennyroyal

part rosemary

I part chasteberry ½ part cinnamon

Take two size ‘O’ capsules of the finely powdered herbs with cach meal with a wineglassful of a tea made with raspberry and squaw vine mixed in equal parts. Adjust the diet to include plenty

of hormone-rich foods like banana, wholegrains, sprouted seeds bee pollen, royal jelly and natural liquorice.

ENDOMETRIOSIS

The blanket that lines the uterus in which the fertilized egg is planted is called the endometrium. Inadequate hygiene before, during or after love-making (for example a dirty finger, or one that has been previously inserted into the anus and not washed, inserted into the vagina), childbirth, abortion, uterine curettage, and carelessly inserted forceps are all means of introducing harmful bacteria into the endometrium. Poor diet and lifestyle, a wrongly positioned womb, retained placenta, lead poisoning and blood disorders also leave the uterus vulnerable to infection.

Endometriosis begins when small nests of cells stray into the pelvis, ovaries, fallopian tubes and bladder, forming tiny cysts. They bleed with the rest of the endometrium with each menstrual ation but are not evidenced until the cysts are stretched and swollen, which may take ten or fifteen years. Endometriosis afflicts 5-10 per cent of women between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five, and symptoms include chronic lower abdominal pain, dysmenorrhoea, pain after love-making and infertility.

The herbal approach is two-prolonged. First clear up the infection as speedily as possible, and second take herbs naturally rich in hormones. Echinacea and goldenseal are both excellent antiseptic herbs. Squaw vine, blessed thistle and liquorice are all rich in hormones. Use the following treatments together. First douche every day with equal parts of golden-seal, echin

acea and squaw vine, retaining the douche as long as possible (at least twenty minutes). Also take the following formulation:

3 parts echinacea

I part golden-seal

I part squaw vine

I part blessed thistle

I part parsley

I part marshmallow

1 part cayenne

1 part liquorice

Take two size ‘o’ capsules of the finely powdered herbs with cach meal. If the condition does not improve considerablyin six months seek the advice of a professional medical herbalist.It may sound strange, but the absence of ovulation and mer struation will affect a cure in many cases. This means that if you arc a young woman intending to have a family at some point the solution may well be the simple one of getting pregnant. If the problem recurs, you could consider spacing children closer together rather than waiting.

In other words, endometriosis can be alleviated by interrupting normal ovarian function, and it is for this reason that it often spontaneously improves once the meno pause starts. Above all, remember that complete recovery may well be possible if the disease is diagnosed and treated early. So do not hesitate to seek the advice of a gynaecologist if in doubt. The blood-filled sacs, which can range from the size of a pinhead to that of a walnut and which are dark blue or purple, can easily be detected by fibre-optic examination or laparoscopy.

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PREMENSTRUAL TENSION

This is becoming so widely recognized that they are even making television programmes about it, and some say it is the commonest cause of all marital break-down. Shoplifting apparently is thirty times more common premenstrually.

The symptoms fall into two categories, emotional and physical, but rest assured that the cause does not simply lie in your head. Many of the physical changes are the result of a shift in fluid balance in response to progesterone, which is produced in large quantities following ovulation. Common physical changes in clude swelling of the breasts, feet and hands, haemorrhoids, weight gain, migraines, back ache, cramping, painful joints, pimply blotched skin and lank hair, asthma, hayfever, hoarseness and red eyes. Common emotional ones include food and alcohol cravings, depression, fatigue and irritability.

The intensity of the emotional shift varies from woman to woman and month to month, and much depends on how you feel about menstruating. Do you regard it as unclean, secret, embar rassing, or difficult, or as a special time to be acknowledged and honoured? Much depends on your attitude (which will be partly determined by your upbringing) and the degree of hormonal

shifting in the critical days before a period. Good diet is a prerequisite for wholistic help with premenstrual tension, as is plenty of rest, total abstention from alcohol at this time, talking about your feelings and keeping a premenstrual chart so that any untoward symptoms do not catch you or these you love – who get the brunt of your irritability – by surprise. Supplements taken throughout the month should include 1,000 IU Vitamin E (as long as you do not suffer from hypertension or a rheumatic heart complaint), as well as 300 mg vitamin B, increasing to 500 mg the week before a period, 1 strong B complex tablet and 6 capsules evening primrose oil daily. If water retention is a problem, drink copious amounts of dandelion tea or dandelion root coffee. The following formulation is a general one designed to help water retention, cramping, nervous tension and nutritional and metabolic strain on the body.

3 parts dandelion 2 parts horsetail

I part motherwort I part wild yam

I part pasque-flower I part scullcap

1 part lady’s-slipper

I part borage

I part kelp

I part cinnamon

Take one size ‘O’ capsule of the finely powdered herbs hourly

with sips of sarsaparilla tea. Once the premenstrual tension has cased, reduce to three size “O’ capsules three times daily with meals throughout the month.

WATER RETENTION

If this is your only problem with menstruation, drink a tea made of equal parts of dandelion, cleavers, yarrow and bear-berry. Drink this copiously as long as the water retention lasts. You should also, of course, cut out salt and increase your potassium intake.

CHANGES IN BOWEL MOVEMENTS

Many women experience radical changes in bowel movements just before or while menstruation. I have observed this over the years with many of my patients. Part of the reason may be thatstress is hindering normal peristalsis of the colon, but some of it is the way hormones influence the body. Either way, ensure that your diet is full of fibre and that you drink plenty of liquid, and take the lower bowel tonic  and nerve tonic. Ensure that your calcium intake is high. Tako alternating hot and cold sitz-baths, splashing water liberally over the abdomen.