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 Naturopathic Medicine: Full Cycle: Taking the Mystery out of Menstruation  
Lauri Aesoph M. ND ©
A woman menstruates approximately 500 times in her lifetime. Yet, how much do most women know about their cycle? Throughout history, women have been told they are unclean during this time. Doctors have advised their female patients to rest, restrict activity, and by no means have sex. A majority of women suffer some sort of discomfort during their periods. There seems to be only misery associated with this womanly function. Are we missing something? Let's examine some of the mysteries surrounding menstruation, and learn how we can turn this monthly event into one of health and appreciation.

What is Menstruation
Very simply, menstruation is house cleaning. Each month a woman's body lines her uterus with a rich bed of blood vessels, glands, and cells in anticipation of new life. The ovaries sprout a harvest of eggs and then pop out the best one for conception. When the egg doesn't meet a sperm, the womb must shed its lining and start anew.

A woman's monthly cycle can be artificially divided into three segments: menstruation, the follicular phase, and the luteal phase.During the middle, or follicular, segment follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) prompts eggs in the ovary to mature and sprout a follicle, or layer of cells, which secrete estrogen. Estrogen levels then build until at their peak FSH is turned off and luteinizing hormone (LH) takes over.

LH causes ovulation, the departure of the egg from the ovary. Progesterone, master hormone of the last, or luteal, stage continues development of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. When conception doesn't occur, all hormone levels drop and menstruation begins.

Occasionally a woman may experience problems with her period. She may suffer from cramps during menstruation called dysmenorrhea. Premenstrual syndrome, a condition consisting of 150 recorded symptoms ranging from irritability to sugar cravings the week or two before her period, may be her problem. Sometimes its not the symptoms accompanying menses, but the flow itself that needs help. Irregular bleeding, spotting, bleeding too much, clots or a total absence of blood are all signs that a woman's reproductive system needs attention.

Faizi Medeiros, ND of Norwich, Vermont has developed a protocol specially designed to treat female disorders. "I've had great results with menstrual problems by treating the bowel, liver, and immune system," she says. One reason why treating the liver using substances such as methionine, choline, dandelion, and milk thistle work in these cases is because the liver is responsible for clearing potent forms of estrogen from the blood. When the liver becomes sluggish, blood estrogen levels can rise and cause problems.

Getting to Know Your Cycle
Even if your periods are problem-free, you can improve your overall health by becoming more aware of how your cycle functions. For hundreds of years, women have used certain physical signs as a form of birth control. Today, this system is known by many names: natural family planning, fertility awareness method, ovulation method, sympto-thermal method, and others. What they all have in common is their own means of observing and recording fertility signs in order to avoid or achieve pregnancy. These methods can also be used to increase the effectiveness of other contraceptives.

These very same signs, cervical mucus, basal body temperature, and positioning of the cervix, can be used for other purposes. When a woman charts these changes in her body, as well as her moods, her libido, what foods she craves, breast tenderness, the quality and quantity of her menstrual flow and anything else that seems pertinent, she becomes more familiar with her body.

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