I consider myself a very "healthy" person. I eat well and walk and stretch every day. I challenge my balance to make sure I still can. I look both ways before crossing the street. But even with this preventative mindset, I still manage to end up wounded every month like clockwork. Don't worry, it's nothing my body isn't designed to handle, and it is a wound borne by half of the people on the planet at about the same frequency.
Still haven't guessed yet?
The term "menstruation" comes from the Latin term "mensis" - which means "month". The word "mensis" was itself derived from the Greek word for moon, "mene". Why were these lunar/calender terms selected? Maybe it was due to the typical menstrual cycle of 28 days being equal to the moon's orbit around the Earth (about 28 days), or perhaps it was reference to the animal species whose menstrual or estrous cycles coordinated with the cycle of the moon.
"What's all this nonsense about the moon!?" you ask.
I didn't make it up, really. If you are reading this on the Internet, then you are part of a "nightlighting" culture. Nightlighting means we use artificial light in order to stay up far beyond the hours of the sun and in doing so, have to bear the effects.
"Exposure to light at night can inhibit the pineal gland's production of melatonin. The pineal gland directs your body's rhythmic activities--including sleep, appetite, and the onset of puberty--through its production of melatonin. This hormone is primarily secreted at night, and it requires darkness to be produced. Bright light suppresses melatonin secretion. (2)"
Data collected on non-nightlighting cultures as well as research designed to measure the affect of nightlighting on the hormonal cycles of mice have shown that perhaps your menstrual cycle could be more in line with that of the moon if you didn't have so much exposure to light. That's pretty cool!
Getting back to my womb wound.
It turns out that the monthly shed of the endometrium from the inner lining of the uterus is just like falling and skinning your knees. Similar to any skin wound, there is usually blood and then these tissues need time and rest to heal.
Last month Jacqueline Maybin won the Max Perutz science writing prize with her essay Secrets of the Womb. It is fabulous, much more well-written than THIS blog, and I strongly suggest you read it. Maybin is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh and has discovered a link between the quantity of "healing proteins" (HIF factor) a woman secretes and the quantity of blood flow she will experience during her cycle. Maybin also points out that the health of your other tissues dictates how well your uterus heals.
So what does this mean for you at home? If you are constantly stressing your tissues through alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine intake, garbage food, caffeine, excessive exposure to environmental toxins, overly vigorous exercise, under exercise, caffeine, extreme stress, lack of sleep, or caffeine, you may have a tough period because you will not be able to heal as quickly. Catch my drift?
I wanted to compare these "new facts" about the menstrual process with my trusty 1950's Modern Medical Counselor. Oh Boy!
Dysmenorrhea (Painful or Difficult Menstruation)
1. Two days before the expected time for the flow to begin, reduce the amount of work done and increase the amount of rest. Take a warm tub bath each evening for thirty minutes.
2. When the flow starts, go to bed and keep hot-water bottles to the feet and lower abdomen.
6. To help prevent future attacks of dysmenorrhea give attention to the following:
a. Regular habits of eating, sleeping, and exercise.
b. A wholesome diet, free from spices, condiments, greasy or fried food, tea and coffee, with little or no flesh food.
c. Avoid tight clothing, and see that the limbs, neck, and chest are prevented from chilling.
d. Correct constipation, if present.
"Many cases of dysmenorrhea can be partly or wholly relieved without calling a doctor. Correct health habits will do much toward making the female organs function properly. Taking cold, constipation, sitting in the same position for excessive amounts of time, mental stress, late hours, and dissipation are frequent causes of pain at menstrual periods."
Once again, I am impressed with the "back to the basics" information we have here. And while I know it isn't possible for us to get out of work on such a regular basis, you can cut way back on stimulants, make better food choices, and replace the vigorous cardio work-out for a nice long walk with relaxing music. If your menstrual experience isn't what you would like it to be, or even what it used to be, check in on your over-all lifestyle habits and see if they could be contributing. Be good to yourselves!
Which brings me to a joke* I love:
Q: Why do they call it PMS?
A: Because Mad Cow disease was already taken.
*I strongly suggest that all men refrain from telling this joke. Just trust me on this one.
Some additional reading:
1. Cohen, Sari (February-March 2005). "Melatonin, menstruation, and the moon". Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0ISW/is_259-260/ai_n10299307/pg_1. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
2. Singer, Katie. "Fertility Awareness, Food, and Night-Lighting". Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, Spring 2004. See section on Night-Lighting.