The Jekyll and Hyde scenario comes to life for most women during some stage of the menstrual cycle, when hormonal changes can alter a woman’s personality.
Woman are often branded hysterical and neurotic and women’s troubles have long been the butt of many a (mostly male) joke. Interestingly enough the word hysterical is derived from the Greek, Hyster or womb.
Yet, if menstruation is seen as a completely natural, innate process of the female human body, then what possible role could menstrual and premenstrual syndrome have in the process?
We know that stress is a physiological response to danger. We can understand that the emotional changes during pregnancy are akin to the desire to protect the fetus.
But it is not so easy to see the purpose behind premenstrual syndrome. What possible benefit do we gain from irrational tears, irritability, excessive tiredness and depression before onset of menstruation, not to mention sore breasts, abdominal pain, swelling and headache.
The approach of the herbalist is view any problem with menstruation as indicative of a bodily imbalance. The aim of any herbalist would be to identify the bodily imbalance producing these symptoms and treat accordingly.
In many cultures a Woman’s ease of menstruation is considered a measure of one’s health. Yet, in our culture, menstrual problems are generally accepted as almost the norm. The incidence of menstrual problems has been on the increase, with over 50% of Women estimated to suffer from menstrual disorder.
So why the increase?
Any minor imbalance can impair perfect health. Poor diet, lack of exercise and stress interfere with the body’s natural rhythm. The pill can also be implicated in many hormonal disorders. Attitude is also important. Do we accept the natural processes of the body, or by association, have we come to resist such processes?
With such difficulties, then what an the herbalist offer to Women?
It has been seen that orthodox medicine has little to offer Women. Hormonal therapy, has been successful in a few cases, but the side effects usually outweigh the benefits. Instead of the use of synthetic hormones and drugs, the herbal approach would be to balance the hormonal system with correct diet, supplements and specific herbs.
Herbalists usually use remedies with a normalizing or tonic effect.
These restore proper tone and functioning to organs over a long period. Circulatory problems are common, due to lower levels of exercise and more sedentary lifestyle. Exercise is encouraged. The use of herbs which increase circulation are an important part of any regime.
Dietary modification is a vital partner in any treatment.
For problems of excessive estrogen, fat intake especially dairy should be kept at a minimum. Problems of excess estrogen have been traced to high consumption of battery fowls which have been feed synthetic estrogen to fatten them and increase egg production. Avoid refined foods, which are deficient in the B group vitamins that are important for proper nervous system function.
Medicinal Herbs for Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
PMS is characterized by any symptoms which occur up to 14 days before menstruation and are absent at other times in the cycle. There is disagreement as to exactly what hormonal imbalance is causing the problems, but many seem to be related to excess estrogen levels in the post-ovulation (premenstrual) period. Others suggest excess progesterone. Allergies, hypoglycemia and the pill have also been implicated.
- Agnus Castus (Chaste Tree). This is a first choice in hormonal balancers. It is a tonic to the reproductive system as well as balancing hormonal levels. Chasteberry is best in tincture form, for as a tea, its taste is ghastly. This is taken 10 days prior to menstruation. Initially one will notice a lessening of PMS and over time the symptoms should be eliminated.
- Wild Yam. A hormonal balancer and anti-spasmodic (relieves cramping)
- Buchu. Buchu helps relieve edema, especially when related to hormonal causes.
- Cramp Bark. Cramp Bark is for spasms and cramps, as well as hormonal balancing.
- Nervines. The use of nervines (tonics to the nervous system) for mental and emotional effects would include Oats (in porridge is good), Skullcap (especially if headaches are a problem) and Valerian. Vitamin B6 and the essential oil of evening primrose (although expensive) have been used with success.
Medicinal Herbs for Dysmenorrhea (Painful Periods)
There are two types of dysmenorrhea.
Spasmodic Dysmenorrhea is most often seen in early periods of adolescence. It usually starts on the first day of bleeding and the pain is sharp and coliky. It appears to be associated with an excess of progesterone.
Congestive Dysmenorrhea is associated with menstrual build up and is often worst before menstruation. It is characterized by a dull heavy feeling and is associated with water retention. Relaxation techniques and moderate physical exercise may be helpful.
Herbal treatment could include:
- Ginger. Ginger for congestive dysmenorrhea with spasmodic cramping. Grate some ginger into a cup of water, bring to the boil and then simmer for 5-10 minutes.
- Cramp Bark. Anti-spasmodic uterine tonic.
- Pulsatilla. Anti-spasmodic and pain reliever to the female reproductive system.
- Prickly Ash. Circulatory balancer.
- Tansy. Uterine tonic. In times of pain the use of hot water bottles or taking a hot bath really helps.
Medicinal Herbs for Thrush
Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria which is always present in the large intestine. A too alkaline Vagina can encourage growth of bacteria. Treatment should be aimed at firstly re-establishing vaginal acidity and secondly, to halting bacterial overgrowth.
A douche of warm cider vinegar and a few drops only of tea tree oil is very effective. The vinegar will correct PH and the tea tree oil is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Acidophilus Yogurt will help re-establish the correct bacterial balance.
Medicinal Herbs for Urinary Infections
Are specific infection with inflammation of the inner lining of the urinary system. If primarily affecting the bladder, they are known as cystitis, if primarily affecting the urinary outlets, urethritis.
The first priority in the treatment is to increase the dilution and flow of urine. Large quantities of fluid should be taken, as well as herbal diuretics. Diuretics provoke an increase in the flow of urine, acting as an antiseptics and cleansers to the urinary tract.
- Uva-Ursi (Bearberry). Urinary antiseptic.
- Buchu. Urinary antiseptic and carminative.
- Cleavers. Soothing and relaxing diuretic, which corrects the inability of the kidneys to pass normal waste products.
- Couch grass. Demulcent relieves pain and spasm in the urinary tract.
The above herbs are very efficient in a mixture made into a tea. It should be taken every hour from onset of condition. If the condition is recurring, then it may be necessary to look at using a tonic to the urinary system, such as Horsetail (which is great in a mixture with Peppermint tea, for daily enjoyment)
While some of the suggested herbs may only be obtained from a Herbalist or health food store, it is certainly worth trying, instead of the proprietary drugs prescribed by orthodox medicine. However, if you have an extreme and recurring problem, it is best to see a Herbalist or naturopath who will organize a personal program for you.