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Lost in Menstruation

Posted 12-05-2008 at 11:20 PM by shastastar
So the focus of this entry is how to manage all aspects of your menstrual cycle without a standard (insert your favorite antidepressant here) to deal with mood swings and Pre Menstrual Syndrome (PMS), without a standard doctor recommended pain killer ( insert your favorite pain killer here) for cramps, without a mild diuretic for bloating (like Premysin or Midol), and without your favorite birth control pill to control cramps, the regularity of your period or your acne.

Not that some or all of these options might be helpful for many women. Any of your garden variety over the counter in the United States pain relievers can be used quite successfully for pain control over cramps. Premysin and Midol provide relief for many women for bloating and water retention associated with menstruation. Studies have shown that Sarafem (which is essentially a 2 week course of prozac) and Zoloft are helpful in reducing severe PMS and Pre Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder ( PMDD). Also birth control pills are passed out not only just to sexually active women looking to prevent pregnancy, but also to teens and girls looking to reduce acne, decrease severe menstrual cramps and mid cycle pain that some girls and women experience, to regulate cycles in those girls and women with irregular cycles, and also to reduce the amount and length of menstrual bleeding.

Notice a trend here? Do you think this is a new trend? In Confessions of a Kamikaze Cowboy pp 65-66 Dirk Benedict writes of doctors “Doctors don’t cure anybody of anything! They don’t cure because they treat symptoms, not causes. They push drugs, which create more disease, for which they then create more drugs. Drugs! Legal if your family doctor prescribes them…” and he wisely goes on to iterate on how almost every family has a home pharmacy in their medicine cabinet, and how macrobioticly “ My medicine cabinet and my kitchen cupboard are one in the same. My food is my medicine.” Now as we have discussed menstruation is not a disease so we are not in need of a cure, it is a natural condition that perhaps we can learn to better manage. Is there any real reason to fill our teenage girls with birth control pill hormones that trick their body into believing that it is pregnant so that they don’t have as many zits come prom season? Is there a good reason to develop dependence on antidepressants to get us through some bad moods that annoy our families and co-workers? Is it a good idea to be putting massive amounts of ibuprofen through our kidneys three days a month to alleviate our pain? Although we are aware of the pharmaceutical options that can be as easily obtained as fast food (some doctor’s offices are now co-located at Walmart and Target right next to your McDonalds and your Pizza Hut how handy...) perhaps there are alternatives in our cupboards that will help us better manage our cycles and our lives.

My disclaimer so that I don’t get sued: Of course you should always consult your doctor before making any medical decisions and this is not intended as medical advice.

Part one the macrobiotics of menstruation described the menstrual cycle in terms of yin and yang phases and gave some macrobiotic diet suggestions for coping with cramps and easing the pre menstrual cycle. This part will delve into some other nutritional options that result from scientific research rather than macrobiotic practice and literature. These are definitely nutritional recommendations that would work for both a full fledged sister of the grain or someone who eats a standard western / European diet.

A lot of the next part of nutritional / herbal / recommendations are going to be a drill down from the following amazing science published article that I’m sourcing from


So as you may or may not know, prostaglandins and their hormonal balance are implicated in both PMS and menstrual cramps. Prostoglandins are any one of a number of hormone-like substances that participate in a wide range of body functions such as the contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle, the dilation and constriction of blood vessels, control of blood pressure, and modulation of inflammation. ( ref medterms.com) In other words their role in menstruation is in contraction of the uterus which contributes to cramping. Prostaglandins are a lot like cholesterol; there are good and bad prostaglandins similar to how there are good and bad forms of cholesterol in your body. There are two “good” prostaglandins that actually help to prevent cramps and even out PMS and there is one “bad” prostaglandin that works to cause the contraction and the cramping. When these three prostaglandins are not properly balanced Dr Hudson theorizes that cramps and severe PMS ensue.

One of the main issues that causes low levels of the good prostaglandins is not enough dietary intake of essential fatty acids, most importantly linoleic acid (essential omega 6 fatty acid) and alpha linolenic acid (essential omega 3 fatty acid). Since the body cannot manufacture these building blocks, it is necessary to have a dietary intake of these two substances. Dr Hudson suggests that these essential fatty acids can come from diet or supplementation. Since macrobiotics frowns on supplementation, take this as you will, but from a dietary standpoint her recommendations are very much in line with macrobiotic eating.

Many seeds and nuts are excellent sources of the necessary fatty acids to balance prostaglandin production. To get both linoleic and linolenic acids your best choices are flax seeds and pumpkin seeds (pumpkin seeds are on the macrobiotic recommended list). Sesame seeds (macro recommended occasional use) and sunflower seeds are also great sources of linoleic acid. Also flaxseed oil, pumpkin seed oil, sesame seed oil (macro recommended), and sunflower oils. Flax and pumpkin are not to be used for cooking however but can be used on salads etc.

Supplementation with flax oil capsules, borage oil, black currant oil, fish oil and evening primrose oil also all help your body make “beneficial prostaglandins; the end result likely will be less uterine contractions and less menstrual pains” Fish oil supplementation along with vitamin E supplementation has been studied during the second half of the menstrual cycle and has been shown to reduce the severity of cramps. Flax seed oil supplementation throughout the month has also been shown according to Dr Hudson to reduce the severity and length of abnormal menstrual bleeding.

PMS was studied with evening primrose oil (EPO) and was shown if taken throughout the month to the end that” The effects of EPO have been shown to be best for clumsiness and headaches although all symptoms including depression, irritability, bloating and breast tenderness showed a marked improvement.”

There are many other vitamins that are mentioned as being important for prostaglandin production. Including many B Vitamins and magnesium and calcium which have been shown to be helpful for PMS and cramp reduction. Also if you are anemic, getting your iron levels in line can have a positive impact on cramps and shortening an irregular or long cycle. One of the best supplements in my opinion for highly absorbable iron is yellow dock root which is not only vegetarian, but also faster acting (works to raise hemoglobin over a shorter period of time usually within a week). Also foods that produce gas such as dairy can also make cramping worse as the intestinal bloating and swelling that gas provides can put more pressure and result in discomfort during uterine contractions (in other words gas can make cramps a lot worse).

I did not include a number of other supplements that are supposed to help various symptoms, as I wanted to focus this blog on what had been studied and proven to help as a supplement or a source of a specific building block for good prostaglandins. I welcome commentary / personal experiences on any supplement or dietary changes that my fellow cowgirls kamikaze or otherwise have found helpful.

Again let me stress that you should consult a doctor if you have severe issues that are outside the norm of the menstrual cycle and what follows is a good link on when to seek medical advice for cramps


Here is where this gets personally interesting for me. Jessica Porter in The Hipchicks Guide to Macrobiotics is big on (to paraphrase) listening to your own macrobiotic compass to determine what food you need. I believe someone has all ready cited this passage on Dirk’s board (if I had to guess without looking I would name Asmay). So I had started doing that, and when I was in the throws of PMS in my last cycle before I read this article, I had a strong craving for a small amount of tahini in my rice. I had not experienced this up to that point, and found this odd, but went with my compass. Well tahini comes from sesame seeds which help according to Dr Hudson’s article to balance prostaglandins. I have to say that the following week resulted in one of the easiest cycles I have had in recent memory. I did not know this at the time, but now I believe strongly that I was medicating myself toward a better hormonal balance with the tahini sesame seed butter. I tried this intentionally the following month eating handfuls of pumpkin seed and sesame seed the week prior to my cycle, and again, found marked improvement again in reducing the severity of cramping.

Is this due to the consumption of unsalted pumpkin seeds and unsalted sesame seeds? I can’t say for certain, but my kidneys are now two cycles free of ibuprofen, and I can run when I do have mild cramps that are manageable which I could not do before without the ibuprofen. Are my cramps eliminated? No but they are definitely much less severe I would say 10% of what they were before I went macro and added the pumpkin and sesame seeds.

I do not believe that you have to subscribe to the macrobiotic diet to see these studies, read this article and find some benefit if you are interested in improving your life throughout your monthly cycles, which is why I think this part is better than the strict macrobiotic interpretation of the situation.

Stay tuned for part 3 which will focus on exercise / meditation to improve the quality of your cycle. Till next week all

Peace Love Faith Hope Bancha Tea and Whole Grain

Total Comments 9


  • Old Comment
    The only problem when listening to your own 'MB' compass (or plain common sense) in order to eat the right food for your body at a certain moment might be knowing when your physical body speaks and when your emotional body sort of begs for any kind of 'comfort food' ... That's the tricky part!

    Although ... during those crampy days I always gave myself permission to eat dark chocolate (about 50-100 grams a day, 68-72% cocoa) to comfort the old reptilian brain, in a manner of speaking. Later I read in an article that (dark) chocolate has a positive effect on the production of endorfines in the brain, the body's own painkiller. Which is why chocolate not only can give you that warm fuzzy feeling of satisfaction (at least to me) but in fact is able to relieve some of the pain. Did not know that at the time, just thought I deserved something tasty during those days. So some foods can indeed feed both body and mind.

    Dairy products and milk in particular, however, have always worsened my complaints, so I banned them out of my diet as much as possible. And for the calcium part: did you know milk is known to decalcify your bones to a certain extent? That is not mentioned on the carton. In my opinion grown ups should not drink milk at all, but that's another discussion and beyond the scope of this blog.

    And about flaxseed: when I grew up I always heard the stories when my mother, grandmother, aunts, great-aunts, cousins (in whatever degree) and their friends talked about the 'female problems, you know down there', which could mean everything from cramps, menopauze, hot flashes, pregnancy, bladder infection, constipation etc. The one remedy everyone was absolutely certain of for these problems was flaxseed (in your oatmeal, on a piece of bread, in a salad, whatever). I have, of course, always had a pot of flaxseed in my kitchen cupboard, not because it's MB or anything, but just as an old folk remedy.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for MB, but I don't think it can cure everything for every person. (Didn't Aveline Kushi die of cancer?) And maybe menstrual cramps cannot be 'cured' or eliminated entirely, because basically it's a normal function of the female body.
    Posted 12-06-2008 at 11:43 AM by asmay asmay is offline
  • Old Comment
    The only problem when listening to your own 'MB' compass (or plain common sense) in order to eat the right food for your body at a certain moment might be knowing when your physical body speaks and when your emotional body sort of begs for any kind of 'comfort food' ... That's the tricky part!

    I started to say that there's a difference between a craving and a need - and then got sidetracked by my own thoughts So I'll rephrase this - When we start looking at "female problems" (as our family referred to them ) and MB, I think maybe we need to distinguish between the "needs of the moment" and the whole female cycle (from the start of puberty through post-menopause). I think when we talk about specific problems, we may be looking more for "folk" or traditional 'remedies'; when we talk about the whole female "life cycle", then it moves into the realm of MB, which can either ease the physical discomforts or at least help us deal with them emotionally. It may be a fine distinction but I think it does need to be made. MB is a way of thinking as much as it is a way of eating.
    Posted 12-06-2008 at 12:25 PM by ostarella ostarella is offline
  • Old Comment
    I try to look at my needs within macrobiotic guidelines ie I may want a huge slice of cheese pizza, but that is more the addictive smell of the cheese, and the brain response, and since that is outside of the macrobiotic norm the answer is no. But when my brain says it want's something in small portion within the macro realm I say all right lets do that today.

    I get what you both are saying. I was trying to go after some proven supplements not just folk tales about things dairy is a big deal and eliminating it is very helpful.

    I was trying to tackle this and provide some options for the non macros among us as well. Believe it or not Asmay I did not even know what flaxseed was until I was an adult, like maybe 10 years ago... so I guess science has worked to prove that maybe the old wives tale was helpful. And yes it is about management, not about a cure, becuse menstruation is natural whether you are macro or not

    Cheers ladies

    Posted 12-06-2008 at 01:13 PM by shastastar shastastar is offline
  • Old Comment
    It's a pity when those old medicinal remedies like flaxseed get lost in the neverending stream of pharmaceutical drugs ....

    And you are both right, of course, MB is a way of thinking and living. Didn't know about MB when I was in those major cramps days ... and now that's getting to an end I find relief in mostly natural healing ways and some (not strictly MB) vegetarian food. So all I mean to say is that for all those non-MB women out there, there are other ways to be more comfortable in those crampy days too. MB certainly helps, but IMHO is not the only answer to the problem.
    Posted 12-07-2008 at 01:37 AM by asmay asmay is offline
  • Old Comment
    Agreed asmay agreed... I was going for helping the MB and the non-MB people out there... MB is not just a diet it is a way of being. Diet is only one part of it and diet helps you get there. It is also a lifestyle choice like any other. I think though that whatever your bent / diet / choices you may derive some benefit from natural healing / management whatever you want to call it. In my thinking all disease is really a matter more of management then cure. I mean even doctors say that cancer is in remission, not cured. I have wondered if disease actually exists or if it is more a product of a condition of being like anything else in life that rather than looking to fix it, looking to manage and heal within oneself is not a better solution. Obviously some diseases go too far and in that case surgical / medical options need to be weighed. My whole perspective is see the path your habits are leading down, listen to the early warning signs and change your ways.

    Posted 12-07-2008 at 10:25 AM by shastastar shastastar is offline
  • Old Comment
    Absolutely agree to that! And how strange it may sound, I think diseases can actually be good in the way they make us stop in our tracks and reconsider our ways before we stray from our paths too much (or at least I think this is how it was meant to be. There´s that matter of listering to your body and having freedom of choice to act upon it or not again .....)
    Posted 12-08-2008 at 02:32 AM by asmay asmay is offline
  • Old Comment
    Yes Asmay mb speaking disease is a discharge, and disease is nature's way of correcting us, making us stop take stock and think. Running does the same thing for me. I can tell so much where my body and where my mind is at from how my run goes. How I breath and everything... it's insane that running does that much for me but it does. It helps me clear the clutter in my body and in my mind. The only bad thing right now is since I started trying to extend time / distance I am wanting to eat like a truck driver, (mb speaking of course more brown rice adzuki beans and veggies) but I find myself hungry a lot. I think it is that "available energy" from food that my body is looking for. Take Care Everyone until next week on exercise and your menstrual cycle.

    Peace Love Hope Faith and Bancha this week
    Posted 12-09-2008 at 06:55 PM by shastastar shastastar is offline
  • Old Comment
    This is quite timely what you say above about diseases perhaps being beneficial.

    1. Did you know that only 10% of our body cells are human! 90% of the cells in our body are bacteria and yeasts in our guts. These are essential for the proper digestion of our food. If our food 'transit' through the gut is too slow or too fast, this can cause problems either with fermentation and 'bad' bacteria being able to thrive (a suspect in Crohn's disease and bowel cancer) or if too fast, we aren't able to absorb nutrients before the food is 'expelled'. Not to mention having to hang around the loo if symptoms are v bad! So we are totally 'connected' with other life on Earth, and it is essential for our survival.

    2. This summer I developed a rather severe allergic reaction (don't know what to) but I later had a skin-prick test which confirmed I'm allergic to rabbits, dust mites and a few other things - cats, dogs & horses I'm OK with! I came out with hives, and had a bit of dermatographia which has left a few scars! I'm still on anti-histamine tablets, and when I try to stop them, the hives start to come back! So I've been wondering what's been going on and why. Here's some interesting info:

    "Colonization of humans with worms was nearly universal until the early 20th century. While helminth infection remains a common and very serious problem in many tropical developing countries ... even minor parasites such as Enterobius vermicularis (pinworms) have lost their foothold in developed countries over the past decades.

    "By definition, parasites are harmful to their hosts, but the relationship between humans and their uninvited guests varies widely, from deadly to benign. Over thousands of years, parasites have generally evolved to cause low-level chronic infections, as they benefit from a long-living host. Humans have co-evolved, selected on the basis of their ability to survive infections. This evolutionary battle has been compared to tug-of-war. So what happens when one team lets go of the rope? What happens when the parasites are suddenly gone?

    "The immunosuppressive qualities of helminths are well known. Worms subvert the immune system for their own benefit, but perhaps over the course of evolution, humans have also come to rely on the suppressive qualities of their nearly constant live-ins to help regulate their own immune systems.

    "Reports of an inverse correlation between helminth infection and allergy date back to the early 1970s (before the dawn of the hygiene hypothesis), and a host of epidemiological studies support a role for parasites in immune regulation."
    So, my guess is that, as I've focused on a more MB diet/lifestyle, my body has become stronger (possibly my 'chi' energy has become stronger, or I've become more 'balanced'?). With nothing to 'fight', my body has turned in on itself. (Btw, I've been careful to not eat a lot of histamine in my diet.) African and Asian people apparently have more of one type of IGE than Europeans (possibly because in tropical climates they are more likely to be exposed to more parasites?).

    So I'm tempted to discuss with my GP about possibly getting treated with 'worms'! I don't know if they offer it yet on the NHS? If not, then I might be tempted to have a few tropical holidays and try out a few shady restaurants, to see if I can 'self-administer' a bout?

    It might also be worth mentioning here something called the 'Hygiene Theory' or Hypothesis, which might explain the rapid increase in allergies in the developed world.

    "The hygiene hypothesis: Decreased exposure to infectious agents early in life increases susceptibility to allergy (and perhaps autoimmune diseases) by limiting immune system development."
    I'm not sure if that applies more so than general infection by parasites throughout life. My anecdotal example is my Dad who was brought up in the 'third world' and only developed asthma later in life, after we moved to London. Air pollution is also associated with increasing sensitivity to allergens, so that is my suspect for his asthma!
    Posted 12-10-2008 at 04:43 AM by deebeelicious deebeelicious is offline
  • Old Comment
    Good story, Deebee! And it showes again that this kind of 'progress' may seriously backfire. Thus a sterile environment does not necessarily make us healthier, on the contrary it makes our bodies develop new things like allergies and diseases.

    But what I also mean with the 'beneficial' side of disease is that it makes us stop in our tracks and reconsider how we got where we are now. Sort of evaluating our ways and making the necessary changes as we go along (like MB) and finding our own remedies, though I would not recommend such a worm treatment ....
    Posted 12-11-2008 at 02:10 AM by asmay asmay is offline
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