Just for fun I once calculated how much time the average North American woman spends menstruating, and it worked out to about six years of her life. Yes, that is if she never gets pregnant, but she'd still have to have six kids to knock it down to about five years. That's a lot of time to spend bleeding. A lot of time.
And for many of us it's terribly unpleasant. We get bitchy and bloated. Hormone fluctuations fuck with our heads. We crave all kinds of foods, but consuming them fails to satisfy. We have cramps so bad we can't get out of bed. And what do we do? We pop painkillers that knock us out for a quick fix or go on scary drugs that mess with our hormones long-term. Basically, we grin and bear it while the male population smiles indulgently at what it deems our quirky feminine dramatics. It's enough to make you lose your shit.
Really bad pain, though, can be a sign of something much more serious, like pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis. So always seek help from an MD and an alt professional.
Some say troubles with the feminine reproductive system are exacerbated by the excess of estrogen found in things like our water supply and soy products, though others consider this nonsense.
In fact, sorting out the fictions in this area is harder than you think. There's no such thing as a cure for PMS, but they've been telling us the same things since we were old enough to hemorrhage. Drink lots of water. Avoid salt and caffeine. Exercise. Take a bath in warm water.
How about some more ideas? We'll try anything.
What the experts say
"The reproductive system is part of the endocrine system, so if the thyroid or adrenal gland is out of balance, it can cause symptoms of PMS. I would suggest seeing a practitioner. Evening primrose oil is good for inflammation and spasms. Be careful with emmenogogue herbs, [like the ones below which affect the flow] especially if you're on the pill, because they can change your cycle and you can get pregnant. The pill, by the way, is so damaging. Red raspberry tea is an amazing tonic. Other herbs are catnip , lavender , German camomile and lemon balm . Make a blend of these and start drinking it on the first day of ovulation, around day 15 or so. Do not take these all the way through your cycle. Cramp bark is a uterine relaxant. There's also partridge berry , Queen Anne's lace seed and angelica . Take one day before the cramps start. If there's excessive bleeding, cinnamon is a good hemostatic. You want to balance and not take just one herb. A congested liver or colon can also be a factor. Bitter things like rapini or brussels sprouts help decongest the liver, and you can increase fibre for the colon." MONIKA GHENT , registered herbalist, Toronto
" Clary sage essential oil can be useful, but I don't use it on a regular basis because it is very estrogenic and we have so much estrogen in our system. Excess estrogen is a big cause of period problems. Our water supply is full of estrogen because our water filtration was never designed to remove pharmaceuticals. If a woman's treatment is estrogenic, she has to be sensitive to how much other estrogen she is getting in her diet. Soy is high in estrogen, so if you consume a lot of it, cutting back will help alleviate problems. Essential oils can be rubbed onto your lower abdomen or onto the sacrum. Chasteberry is progesterone in nature and very good for cramps. Anti-inflammatories would be things like black spruce and lemon eucalyptus . Anti-spasmodics can be as simple as mandarin oil or more expensive like Roman camomile . Peppermint is very effective if there's a lot of heat in the body. There's always good old-fashioned eucalyptus oil . Essential oils can also be used in baths, but because of the heat of the water I would dilute them with 3 or 4 tablespoons of milk to 4 or 5 drops of oil. The position of the moon can affect cramps, because the moon affects water retention in the body."
SUZANNE CATTY , aromatherapist, author, Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy, Toronto
"If you're in pain, you automatically begin to guard against that pain, and that creates a lot of residual holding and tension in muscles and organs around the pain. Place your hand on the area of discomfort and very gently breathe and direct your breath into that area . Avoid deep breathing exercises or techniques. Breathe as softly as possible. The advantage of having your hand on the area is that it engages more of your brain and the focus is deeper."
MARION HARRIS , director, Feldenkrais Centre
"Painful periods are not caused by estrogen. Painful periods are ovulatory periods. If you aren't ovulating, you don't have pain or bloating. This is the result of prostaglandins and progesterone and is not related to estrogen at all. I'm not convinced that there is estrogen contamination in the environment. Some data has indicated that male alligators in Florida have been feminized by too much estrogen, but looking at the swampy waters of the Everglades is very different from looking at our food supply here in Toronto. Soy doesn't really have estrogen in it. It has some phyto-estrogens, or pseudo-estrogens, that may stimulate the uterine lining to thicken, as we've seen in people who consume too much soy. On the other hand, studies have shown that taking soy to relieve hot flushes isn't very effective, so it's an incomplete estrogen. If you feel you're having more pain than you should, go see a doctor and get checked out." CHRISTINE DERZKO , MD, associate professor, U of T, specializing in endocrinology and the determinants of ovulation
"Bad periods are the denial of one's feminine side and distend from dysfunctional, patriarchal upbringings. For cramps, I prefer a crystal called garnet . I hold one in each hand and put them right over the ovaries. If they are small enough, I tape them four finger-widths down from the belly button. You can put garnets in your pocket. This is very grounding, helps regulate blood flow, calms disruptive energies and opens the root chakra. Another crystal is red coral , the blood of the earth. Tibetan women use it. Often, women have menstrual problems because of guilt and fear of sexuality; rose quartz can be used to promote self-love. Biotite when placed over the lower abdomen relaxes the pelvic floor. Moonstone helps a woman be in touch with her inner goddess and with her cycles."
KAREN RYAN , crystal energy therapist, Toronto