Clearly, young women are having more trouble getting and staying pregnant than their mothers and grandmothers. The impaired fecundity (problems getting and staying pregnant) rate is higher now than 20 years ago, and primary infertility affects about 20 percent more (married) women now than it did in 1965. It's easy to play with the numbers and manipulate statistics...how much real scientific data do we have that can show us legitimate fertility trends? I think we need to start talking more to each other and women in our communities and searching out fertility stories and trends from the past.
Rates of infertility and irregular cycles are frighteningly high among the young twenty-somethings I know. Dysmenorrhea anyone? Menorrhagia? Oligomenorrhea? These are just latin terms for "your cycle is really messed up." How is this happening, ladies? Well, who hasn't read about the damaging hormones in industrial animal foods and endocrine disrupters in plastics and chemicals (like dioxin)? Consider that BPA exposure can increase miscarriage rates...and that's only one of the toxins getting media exposure...what else is lurking out there? Our hormones are increasingly suffering due to the industrial food supply and environmental toxins. It's not rocket science...though rocket fuel is probably a culprit.
testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). The first half of your cycle is the follicular phase, and after the ovary releases the egg, you enter the luteal phase until your next period begins.
Of course there is variation in what should be considered "normal." But during the baby-making years of a woman's life, her cycle should be consistent and regular (fairly close to clockwork), not drop-dead painful and blood depleting, nor nonexistent. To have an unpredictable cycle, an irregular cycle, is certainly not desirable, nor healthy...but those cycles seem to be proliferating and redefining normal in our modern age.
Irregular cycles include:
- Menorrhagia: excessive bleeding (often including clots and resulting in anemia), and or prolonged periods
- Dysmenorrhea: excessively painful periods
- Oligomenorrhea: irregularly long cycles (more than 35 days between periods with fewer periods in a year)
- Metrorrhagia: irregular cycles with excessive flow and duration, particularly bleeding between periods
- Polymenorrhea: short cycles (fewer than 24 days between periods with more total periods in a year)
- Amenorrhea: infrequent and scanty menstruation (pretty much absence of periods)
Rather than drone on with a "know your cycle" lecture, I encourage you to study the subject and try to tap into older source materials and traditional/historical wisdom. Perhaps query your grandmother or older women in your social circle about their menstrual histories. I will not delve into the varying causes of irregular cycles and reproductive organ ailments, but I encourage you to study the topic, such as ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids, the effects of excess prostaglandins, and how food and pollution negatively affect your hormone cascade.
In the meantime, let's look at some herbal helps that are intended to balance, tone and correct our cycle irregularities. Numerous herbalists have written on this topic and offer wonderful remedies. I borrow from many great healers and am thankful for wisdom passed down!
Herbal Estrogen TeaThis tea is to be consumed during days 1 to 10 of your cycle (adjust for your lengths if you can estimate when you are ovulating...stop the tea a couple days before ovulation), and is meant to be consumed in conjunction with progesterone tea, below.
1 part licorice root
1 part angelica root
1 part peony root
1 part vitex
1 part red clover tops
Infuse one ounce of the herb mixture in one quart of just boiled water. Steep for 20 minutes. Strain and drink six ounces, three times daily.
Herbal Progesterone TeaThis tea is to be consumed during days 11 to 27 of your cycle (again, try to adjust dates for your irregularities...).
4 parts sarsaparilla root
2 parts blessed thistle
4 parts raspberry leaf
1 part ginseng root
1 part vitex
Prepare and consume as above.
Herbs for Painful MenstruationThe following herbs are helpful for cramps and discomfort during your period:
- Cramp bark
- St. John's Wort
- Wild Yam root
- Valerian root
Make an infusion with 1 tsp. each herb, steep for 20 minutes in 2 cups just boiled water. Add some peppermint leaf for flavor and additional analgesia. Alternately, try to find a tincture with those herbs in combination, or buy singles and mix them yourself. Take 30 drops in water as needed (every half hour during intense pain periods).
Essential oils that help ease menstrual pain include lavender, chamomile, clary sage, and marjoram. Herbal oils of St. John's wort and arnica combine with the EOs to make a soothing anti-inflammatory, analgesic rub. If you don't want to source and make your own, buy my product, Labor Oil, which has a following among my midwife mentor's clients as a help for labor pain and headaches.
Herbs to Help with Heavy/Excessive Menstrual Bleeding
- Shepherd's Purse
- Red raspberry leaf
You can purchase separate tinctures of these herbs and combine them, taking 3 droppers full every 15 minutes until bleeding slows (for very heavy bleeding); use 2 droppers full every hour for moderately heavy bleeding. To make a tea infusion, combine equal parts of each herb, use one ounce to one quart of boiled water, steep 20 minutes, and drink as needed (teas are less potent than tinctures, so we use larger quantities of tea than tincture).