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Periods May Be Normal but Are They Healthy?

A well-documented, challenging second opinion about 'the curse'.

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WHERNTO: wellnes  erudite 

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[Our thanks to Debbie Took for allowing reprinting from her original blog.]

Disclaimer : not a doctor, not a scientist, just a raw fooder who blogs. Some of the suggestions in this article are radical. They may be shocking, or, at the least, seem a bit barmy. Some might cause offence. Some might even be considered dangerous. I'm just presenting an…alternative view of something that is considered 'normal' in our modern, 'developed' society, and that (we've been brought up to think) is therefore healthy.

This is what we've been taught about menstruation:

  • It occurs when an egg released from the ovary has not been fertilized.
  • It occurs approximately 14 days after ovulation.
  • There will be a flow of blood, and loss of womb lining.
  • The blood flow will last for a few days.

We are taught that periods as described above are normal , that it is normal to menstruate monthly, and that normal = healthy. We have been taught that it is right to be concerned if, in a woman of child-bearing age, monthly blood flow is absent or even if periods have become 'scant' (when not pregnant, that is).

We have been told that ideas emanating from ancient times of periods being bad things, eg that a period is a 'curse', or that women having periods are 'unclean', are wrong , and that these 'negative' interpretations of periods came about through a combination of ignorance, superstition and patriarchal societies. We are taught to 'embrace' menstruation, celebrate it as being a healthy and integral part of being a woman (and we support companies making millions from the sales of pads and tampons to mop up the copious bleeding).

Consequently, women who make positive improvements to their diet, eg by significantly increasing the raw component and/or cutting out animal foods, alcohol, coffee etc are concerned when their menstruation changes, that is, the flow becomes much lighter and/or infrequent, or in some cases seems to disappear altogether.

I've always had nagging doubts about periods, from the age of 14 when I started. Surely it isn't meant to be like this, I thought. If we were all living naturally, in a 'Garden of Eden' (however that's defined), without pads, tampons, tissues (or even clothes?), would we all be running around dripping blood all over the place for a few days every month?

36 years later, my feeling is that…no, we wouldn't be. I'll be explaining why in this article, where I pull together a number of observations and writings from various sources that all suggest pretty much the same thing - that whilst a menstrual blood flow \- that is, anything beyond a few spots of blood - may be normal , it's not healthy.

Monthly Blood Flow

It May Be 'Normal' In Our Society, But Is It Universal?

Human beings

'Black African females on a wholistic diet of natural foods do not menstruate…Menstruation by black African women is a recent occurrence…Haemorrhaging among black African women represents a deterioration of the race…'Fruitarian and vegetarian women, normally, do not menstruate. If they do menstruate it consists of one or two drops of blood (about the size of a pea) from the unfertilized egg.' (Dr Imhotep Llaila O Afrika, 'African Holistic Health').

OK…firstly, Dr Afrika's account appears to be anecdotal, rather than scientific. I've searched for anthropological studies confirming it, but haven't found anything, although neither have I found anything contradicting it. And (I can hear you shouting) sure - most vegetarian women do menstruate, and some have quite a heavy flow, but what is certainly the case is that I have seen hundreds of messages on raw food forums from those on fruitarian and raw vegan diets reporting lighter, or absent periods.

'Few Navaho women wear undergarments and the great majority apparently do not use perineal pads during menstruation.' (American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, May 1951). That suggests the women's flow was very light then , although of course their diets in 1951 would probably have been quite different from the diet they follow today - I suspect things will have changed now…

'Among one primitive people in the Australian bush country who live entirely on fruit, the menstrual period lasts about twenty minutes and approximately a tablespoon of blood is expelled…The women of the American Indian of the Great Plains who lived on a simple diet and were exceedingly active, had a short, uncomplicated menstrual period, scarcely noticeable.' (Dr Bieler, MD, 'Natural Way to Sexual Health' 1972).

Animals

In most cases, it's not relevant to look at animals, as most don't experience ovulatory cycles as we do.

One exception is non-human primates (eg gorillas, monkeys). However, it's debatable whether observations of primates in captivity are relevant, as they will be living unnatural lifestyles (and in many cases following unnatural diets) in the same way that women in the developed world are.

But studies of primates in the wild are interesting:

'Studies have found that gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans do shed, following non-fertilization of the egg, but that there is either a very small amount of bleeding, or no bleeding observed (my italics)…The menstrual cycle lasts 31-32 days…menstrual bleeding is minimal.' (Tim Knight, University of Washington, 'Gorilla Natural History')

'Gorillas. In captivity , the first menstrual flow reportedly occurs between six and seven years of age. (Dixson, 1981). Menstrual bleeding has not been observed in wild mountain gorillas at Karisoke;' (my italics again) (Peter Thorpe Ellison, 'Reproductive Ecology and Human Evolution')

'NO BLEEDING OBSERVED'

Note that the two accounts of gorillas in the wild conflict. One says they do not menstruate. The other chooses its words more carefully. It says 'no observed flow'. This carries the implication that the researchers recognize that there could actually be a small amount of bleeding, but it's so small that they weren't able to detect it.

In the same way, women who think they haven't menstruated at all may actually have lost a drop or two of blood but haven't noticed it. For example, it could have been lost within a flow of wee, or not noticed on coloured underwear. Just a possibility.

Are Indigenous Women (And Gorillas In The Wild) With Little Or No (Observed)

Bleeding Unhealthy?

The gorillas are obviously healthy. And the lifestyle of the indigenous women, or at least those studied relatively early in the 20th century, will almost certainly have been free of many of the things in the developed world linked with illness, eg refined sugar, white flour, processed foods in general, not to mention alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs etc and they will have been living outdoor lives.

Healthier than us? Or less healthy. Not a difficult one to answer.

In the 21st century 'developed' world, the women most likely to report light or 'absent' periods are so often the healthiest. They're often athletes - women at the peak of physical fitness. And/or they're women who have at least eschewed the disease-causing substances listed above and following diets high in raw plant foods.

In general, the less healthy women are, the more they are likely to be plagued by heavy periods. Studies have shown that overweight women tend to have heavier periods.

And, the more body fat, the younger the age girls will start bleeding. Body fat is of course not necessary for ovulation , as, if it was, starving women throughout the world would not be having children, and clearly they are. It could be that young girls whose 'periods' have not started may well have started ovulating, but with no (observable) blood flow (yet) and, yes, these will tend to be the slimmer girls. As, an increase in body fat is often accompanied by an increase in toxicity and you will see later in the article why I'd tentatively suggest at this point that this could account for the link between body fat and bleeding. (Note I am generalising - slim women can have high levels of toxicity too!).

And of course the higher the blood loss the more likely there is to be anaemia caused by a loss of iron.

Are Women Who Don't Have A 'Flow' Infertile?

If there is no ovulation (more later) then, yes, they would be infertile.

But there are many accounts of women who have either not had periods, or have not had any 'flow', or have had periods infrequently, having no problems becoming pregnant, so clearly they have been ovulating and fertile. The indigenous women reported as having little or no flow, and the gorillas with little flow, or no 'observed' flow, have borne children \- in fact I'd guess fertility rates in these groups are far higher than in our society.

Natural Hygienist Herbert Shelton: 'I personally know of one woman who is the mother of five children and she has never menstruated in her life. I know another who menstruated during her adolescent period and married a man who had changed his way of living to a truly natural lifestyle. She joined him in his health regime and became a fine specimen of health and ceased menstruating. Thereafter she had three children, all delivered naturally and painlessly and never menstruated again in her life.'

Viktoras Kulvinskas in 'Survival in the 21st Century' reports the case of a woman treated by Dr G S White, who changed her diet to vegan. '[She] flowed bright blood five or six days of each month [and] had such severe cramps that she could not hold her position as stenographer. [He treated her for six months, after which her]periods changed to half a day mucous flow with no blood at all. She was able to resume her work and did so for two or three years. She married and has had three daughters. Each of them had a mucous flow for about half a day each month and are in perfect health. One is married and had a healthy baby girl.'

Thomas Lodi MD ('Get Fresh' magazine, Summer 08): '…it has been my experience over the past eight years working with women eating raw, vegan diets that the menstrual cycles become scant and few, while quality of life and fertility not only persist but improve.'

Have Women Always Had A Monthly Blood Flow?

Simple answer is: we don't know.

Not many ancient writings discuss menstruation. The stock answer to this is 'ah, that's because it was taboo.' What if, what if…it's because it didn't actually used to happen much?!

Here's a mention:

Leviticus 15:19: 'And if a woman has an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days; and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean.'

Note the word 'IF'. Not 'WHEN'. This suggests that perhaps women didn't habitually menstruate. ('Unclean' as used in those times meant 'unhealthy'). Also, elsewhere in Leviticus, it describes the period as the 'blood of the purification'. As if the body is cleaning itself via the blood flow.

In ancient Japan also, menstruating women were segregated. After their period of seclusion ended, they had to wash in the river or sea.

We've been taught that people then knew less than we do nowadays. Could it be that they actually knew more? I'll explain why I think that could be the case…

'Womb Lining' Puzzle

'Little bleeding', 'no observed flow', 'tablespoon of blood', 'half a day mucous flow' - doesn't seem to make sense, does it, when we've been led to understand that the 'womb lining' has to be shed each month. But, many women in developed countries following healthy diets/lifestyles, some indigenous women, and gorillas, don't seem to be shedding any womb lining, but are still having babies!

Why is that many, if not most, women in developed countries do appear to shed a lot of gunge along with the blood, but the most natural-living women don't appear to?

One theory, (and this is backed to some extent by scientific observations of monkeys), is that the womb lining can, instead of being shed, be reabsorbed by the body when not needed as a bed for the fertilised egg.

'If the endometrial tissues are not needed - in a truly healthy woman, as in animals in their wild state, those tissues are mostly reabsorbed. What remains is expelled over a short period of time as a slight mucus discharge.' (Dr H G Beiler)

So - could it be that the womb lining that the average woman has built up contains toxic substances due to things ingested and the body is saying 'No way - don't want that reabsorbed thank you!' and chooses instead to dump it? It's certainly likely that, in the average woman, the womb lining will contain toxic substances, as, when pregnant, it develops into the placenta, and we know that toxins on the placenta can be harmful to a developing baby.

Of course, if the egg has been fertilised, the lining will need to stay. But it's possible that the body could find other ways to detox itself of any poisons in early pregnancy, eg via morning sickness (discussed later).

And/or perhaps it's simply the case that the unhealthier the woman, the thicker the womb lining will become. And, connected with the argument above, this could be because a lot of material/blood is being deposited there that is not deposited in the healthier woman, or the primate.

So Why Do The Bodies Of 'Civilised' Women Generally Bleed So Much?

'Civilised', 'developed' - difficult to choose words that won't offend someone, but…you know what I mean, I hope.

Most women in our society don't bleed just a drop or two, or very lightly, as do many women living natural lifestyles, and primates. They bleed lots. Yes, the blood does flow. And very few men reading this will have any idea just how much! For days - often a week.

So here come the radical views. They're mainly writings from early in the 20th century (as, from the later 20th century, when radical feminist writings took hold, anything suggesting that menstruation was anything less than a wonderful thing would have been 'deposited' on from a great height - would anyone have dared?) Basically, the idea presented in the following writings is that of menstruation as 'dis-ease'.

'Menstruation is a haemorrhage. No authority on earth can successfully maintain that a haemorrhage is natural and normal, no matter in what part of the body it occurs.' (Dr G R Clements, 'Female Degeneration')

'Women are beginning to see the mistake of not questioning every aspect of their mental, physical and bodily circumstance. If one wrong condition in the body is not alleviated, it will compound itself and lead to other, worse conditions…when the organs of elimination are overburdened, the body stores some of the waste and then seeks other avenues (not designed for elimination of waste disposal.) (Dr Schroyer, 'The Physiological Enigma of Women').

'…toxic blood seeks an outlet through the womb via the menstrual function…The quality of menstrual blood varies according to the chemistry of the toxic material. Bright red, profuse, odourless blood accompanied by severe uterine cramps indicates that the preponderant irritant comes from improper digestion of sugars and starches. The offending toxins are acids which have failed to be completely oxidized to carbon dioxide and water. On the other hand, if the menstrual blood is dark and odorous, clotted and stringy, the toxins of protein indigestion or putrefaction are present…thus it is obvious that under chemical duress the uturus, which nature developed as the organ of reproduction, can become an organ for the elimination of putrid waste.' (H G Bieler, 'Natural Way to Sexual Health'). (Old Jewish writings from the 'Talmud' also distinguished between different colours of menstrual blood).

Interestingly, in 'Diseases of Women and Children', Dr Tilden related the amount of menstrual bleeding to the amount of discharge women produce at other times of the month, which he felt was also a means by which the body eliminates toxic matter. (The Old Testament records that the ancient Israelites viewed any discharge , from men or women, as unhealthy, and is in fact similar to the modern 'alternative' health view that when the body discharges, via whatever outlet, it is trying to purify itself, to clean itself of toxic substances.)

To many feminists, the idea of the menstrual blood as being 'impure' is heresy, but…'The toxicity of menstrual blood has been well substantiated. Mach and Lubin (Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapy 22:413 (1924)) showed that the blood plasma, milk, sweat and saliva of menstruating women contains a substance that is highly toxic to protoplasm of living plants. This toxic substance is not present during the intermenstrual periods.' Even the sweat and saliva! And these toxins are not present when not menstruating. It's as if the body is 'gathering together' toxins in the period preceding menstruation, prior to expulsion at menstruation, to get the body all nice and clean again for possible impregnation the following month. But, sure, the study's old, and if anyone knows whether any subsequent studies have refuted it, let me know.

More On Diet

Health researchers and writers Leslie and Susanna Kenton found their periods changed after switching to a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables:

'Women on an all-raw or high-raw diet often report that menstrual problems such as bloating, pre-menstrual tension and fatigue improve greatly after two or three months. For some of them the improvement is so dramatic that they are not aware of their periods until they arrive. This is something we discovered ourselves and at first we thought we were unique. Then we spoke to numerous other women who said they had had a similar experience. Heavy periods become lighter - a period that lasts six or seven days can be reduced to as few as one or two. In some women, particularly those who do not eat meat, dairy products or large quantities of nuts, periods even cease altogether.'

Bellgene Chung, who healed herself of cervical cancer, and believes raw food helped her do that, has researched menstruation and diet:

'Menstruation (bleeding) is NOT a necessity following ovulation…We have been conditioned to believe that menstruation goes hand in hand with ovulation…Most women, including myself, experience menstruation because they are not truly clean on the inside…Menstruation is the body's desperate attempt to free itself from toxins, and many females experience PMS in addition to the needless bleeding. Abdominal pain (cramping), headaches, fatigue and irritability do NOT signify an optimal state of health, yet most of us brush these symptoms off as the norm. If you feel such symptoms, this is how your body is communicating that it wants you to change what you are doing; we must listen to Nature's messages…Presently, on a mainly raw diet, I do not even realize that I am menstruating until I feel moist and decide to take a peek'.

(re PMS - could it be that we also 'collect up' psychological toxins…building up just pre menstruation, to be expelled (phew!) at menstruation?)

So What Happens At Pregnancy, At The Menopause?

These are my suggestions only; they've come from my 'wrestles' with the various theories.

When we become pregnant, we stop ovulating. So, there's no longer any egg released to be fertilised. So there's no unfertilised egg to be shed. So there's no monthly 'loss' which the body can efficiently take advantage of to offload toxic matter. And the womb lining can't be discarded, as if it was the embryo would go along with it.

So…if the theories above are correct, the body could have a problem, in that it may have accumulated toxic matter, but its monthly outlet via the uterus and vagina, is firmly closed. So, it will have to find some alternative way to expel any gathered toxins. Cue morning sickness. As a non-doctor, non- nutritionist, non-scientist, I'm going to suggest that morning sickness could be a wonderful outlet for detoxification.

And others feel similarly. Natural Hygienist Joyce M Kling: 'Morning sickness is a body purification effort to create a better environment for the fetus.' Some say that morning sickness is all down to 'hormones'. Well, I don't see why hormones can't be involved in the purification process, and I can only say that if I were pregnant I would not do anything in any way to stop or 'cure' morning sickness, if it occurred. _That is because I believe that anything that suppresses morning sickness will mean that unwanted toxins may stay in our bodies - with possibly adverse consequences for the unborn baby. Not proven by science. Just the theory of a madwoman._

Menopause: as in pregnancy, the body is no longer ovulating, therefore no monthly loss of unfertilised egg, so, again, if the theories above are correct, that exit for toxins is again closed. Thus the body will look for other ways to detoxify. I'd suggest that one way in which it will do this is via the skin - cue 'hot flushes'.

For Those Whose Periods Have Gone Awol (Or At Least Appear To Have) On Raw

First, watch very carefully! It could simply be that you have had a tiny blood loss, but that this is so far removed from a period-as-you-know-it, that you haven't noticed. A spot or two, or perhaps a pink discharge, around the time that you'd expect a period, could well mean that ovulation has taken place 14 days previously.

If you've detected nothing for months, not even a spot, I'd understand why you might feel concerned. After all, a teeny amount of bleeding at least is reassuring to our conditioned minds that ovulation has occurred, and it's good to know that it is occurring if we wish to become pregnant at some time. So the key thing then is to establish whether you are in fact ovulating.

The accounts I've described suggest that, if you feel healthy generally, there is a far higher likelihood that you are ovulating and that all is well, than not. Please don't worry if anyone on a conventional diet tells you that perhaps you are not ovulating because you are 'starving' yourself, or 'malnourished'. That theory really doesn't hold water, because millions of starving, malnourished women in the world continue to have babies, so clearly ovulate. Secondly, even if it were correct, you are just about as far from being malnourished as it is possible to be. People on standard cooked diets are often 'malnourished'. If you are on a diet high in raw plant foods, you are likely to be in the best health you've experienced for a long time.

So, having said that you're very likely to be ovulating fine, how can you know for sure? Here are two things you could do to know for 'almost sure'! Firstly, you can take your temperature daily and see if there's a slight rise mid- cycle. The rise indicates ovulation. Secondly, observe the state of vaginal discharge/mucus daily (if any - see Tilden above!). At ovulation it should change from being relatively opaque and thick to thinner and transparent with the consistency of raw egg white (sorry, lifetime vegans who've never had an egg - you'll have to get hold of one.). Try putting some of the mucus on a tissue and folding then unfolding it - if you see any 'strings', and it's thin and transparent, it's likely ovulatory mucus.

If you've detected nothing, not even a spot, no r a temperature rise, nor a change in mucus, then it would be wise to follow Thomas Lodi MD's advice: 'absence of menstruation can sometimes (my italics) denote an underlying hormonal problem…consult a suitably qualified holistic physician who can carry out the relevant checks.' Bear in mind, in the UK at least, medical doctors will rarely act until periods have been absent for six consecutive months.

I believe however that the vast majority of women on raw vegan diets who are experiencing scant, or no (observed!) blood flow are doing so for the very best and healthiest reasons rather than there being anything wrong.

Conclusion

Was pristine woman walking in paradise dripping blood for a few days each month? I don't think so.

Are periods normal? Yes - in most 'developed' societies, and particularly amongst women on standard cooked omnivorous diets. Are they healthy? Periods- as-generally-understood? I don't think so.

Do I still have them? Well - er… yes. At 50, I do still have periods, but obviously have mixed feelings here! Pre-raw, I was rather pleased that my body was still bleeding each month, but now I'm obviously not so sure. It's all slightly confused by the fact that I'm an old hag and therefore may not be ovulating regularly, but I can say (way-hay!) that, since raw (I'm 100% raw, but my diet's not perfect), my periods are much lighter and more infrequent. Phew.

The main aim of this article has been to challenge the prevailing view of periods as 'healthy', to challenge the things we've been brought up to believe about them, and to reassure those women whose menstrual flow has changed since going raw that this is probably not something to be concerned about, that it is just as likely (if not more likely) to be a sign that health is improving, rather than the opposite.

When we go raw, we are going out of step with what 99% of the world says on diet. In this article, I've taken the same path on menstruation. I hope I have, at least, provided food for thought.