An Ayurvedic Perspective on Menses

The channel for menstruation (Rajah vaha srotas) is a by-product of your blood cell tissue (Rasa dhatu).  It matures at puberty, and with the help of apana vayu (downward moving prana), the ovum can move down the fallopian tubes to meet the sperm for conception. If fertilization does not occur, rajah vaha srotas is responsible for menstruation. The vaginal passage, cervical canal, endometrium and the fundus (hollow area) of the uterus are all part of this channel.  The function of the Rajah vaha srotas is to shed the old endometrial lining, along with the unfertilized ovum and create the menstrual blood flow. After menses is finished, it creates a new endometrial lining and prepares the uterus for the next cycle.  

According to Alisa Vitti, author of Womancode, we are different neurochemically each week. Our hormones shift our brain chemistry by 25% over the course of a month. We need our lifestyle aligned so that we aren’t draining our hormonal optimal flow. (Even men- need to work in tandem with their testosterone and cortisol surges throughout the day).

We’ll begin with the Building Phase which is a pre-fertile time of the month better known as Follicular phase.  It begins on days 5-13 of your cycle when menstruation ends and ovulation begins. The hormone, estrogen, is on the rise. This begins the Kapha Stage where the egg is ripening and the lining of the uterine is thickening. Estrogen can make bowels sluggish especially in your sigmoid colon. 

What to do?

You have just ended your bleeding phase or it is lighter and you are almost ending it. Fortunately, for most women, this is usually a “no digestive issues” time of the month. Your body temperature is cooler. This is the time to eat lightly- a Kapha pacifying diet: plenty of green veggies and legumes; no dairy; and avoid salt to prevent water retention. The tastes to gravitate towards are pungent, bitter and astringent.

Raw juices and fresh veggies provide antioxidants and fiber.  Beets, parsley, kale, celery, ginger, lemon, can give you high levels of glutathione (a micronutrient). The antioxidants help the liver during this surging estrogen phase.  The liver gobbles up the glutathione and waits to break down more estrogen.

The Pitta Stage is next, occurring on days 13-18.  Ovulation time! Your estrogen peaks early in this phase and progesterone is on the rise. Digestive complaints are not usual during this time. Here is where you can be most flexible in your diet.  Your body is feeling exuberant, strong and your face is glowing!  You are fertile and progesterone peaks at the end of this phase. 

What to do? Eat according to your Ayurvedic constitution (dosha) and eat according to the season. Abstain from sexual intercourse if avoiding pregnancy.  Do basal body temperature for fertility awareness. Attempt to conceive within a day or so of ovulation if wanting a baby.  Enjoy feeling strong and alive!

Estrogen and progesterone shift dramatically during this phase. It rises and falls. It effects brain chemistry and mood swings.  B vitamins found in grains can help stabilize your moods. Seretonin levels are balanced. Greens have calcium and magnesium which help use hormones efficiently. Grains and Greens combined create soluble fiber to move estrogen out of the body as quickly as possible. Quinoa, buckwheat, escarole, bok choy, and swiss chard, help liver to do it’s job.

Days 18 to the end of your cycle through to the beginning of your cycle on Day 4 is the Vata Stage. Here is where most digestive problems are experienced.  Day 1 of your cycle, you will begin to slough off uterine lining and bleed through your vagina. Usually, this may last 4- 7 days.

What to expect? There is sluggishness and mild heaviness as progesterone peaks on days 18-22. To keep digestion moving, it is best to eat bitters to stimulate the release of bile.  Your body is holding things in because it is protective of your eggs and doesn’t want to lose them! Progesterone is preparing your womb for fertilization. This means sluggish bowels and water retention are possible from Day 4 of your cycle all the way to Day 18. Progesterone’s effect as a smooth muscle relaxant means it can slow down bowel contractions. The downward moving vital energy, Apana, is released due to the hormones and this may result in stagnation. If your food moves slowly through the GI tract causing gas and bloating, this means you may have a slow digestive fire. Because there is a bile deficiency, you may feel constipated. 

What to do? It is best to eat foods with the sour taste as this increases bile flow and directly lubricates the intestinal walls. High fiber and eating foods with pungent (spicy) taste can stimulate digestion.  Doing asanas that have twisting movements to help digestion, as well as kapala bhati breathing exercises (a breathing technique that consists of short, powerful exhales and gentle inhales). Take triphala ( the fruit of three plums) formula to balance all three bio-energies (doshas).

Another scenario is the endometrial cells in the lining of the uterus produce prostaglandins which cause uterine contractions. The blood supply is cut off to the uterus (which is a muscle)  during a contraction which deprives the uterus of oxygen. Lactic acid builds up and the result is you experience cramping. More prostaglandins create more pain, sensitivity, inflammation and bleeding. If prostaglandins move into the GI tract, they will contract the intestines and create frequent bowel evacuation. You may experience diarrhea. 

What to do? Cramp bark tincture gives great relief to the cramping. Stewed apples with cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg will balance the diarrhea.  Avoid coffee and alcohol, and decrease animal fat and processed foods. Eat a Pitta pacifying diet and include green veggies, blueberries, turmeric, avocado, flax and chia seeds and omega 3 (found in ghee, coconut oil and olive oil). Eating complex carbohydrates can help to stabilize your mood. Drink water with electrolytes. 

Toward the end of the Vata Stage, Days 1-3 of your cycle, the Apana prana is overactive and this can create more frequent urination.  Since the hormones are dropping, there is an end to water retention.  You may feel lighter and refreshed. If your Vata bio-energy (Air and Space elements) are in excess, you will feel exhausted, depleted and cold. 

What to do? If this is the case, give yourself permission to rest, keep warm with warm drinks and meals, easily digestible foods (kitchari, an Indian meal of mung bean, rice, spices and veggies ) and dress in layers. It is best to stay out of the wind as this aggravates Vata. 

As estrogen is on the rise, eat sprouts, sour-kraut, bean sprouts, ezekiel bread, and kimchi (cabbage) for the micro- nutrients they provide. Eating  broccoli sprouts provides a prebiotic compound, known as 3 indole-carbinol (prevents the development of estrogen-enhanced cancers including breast, endometrial and cervical cancers).

Days 22-28 are the days leading up to your menses beginning. Progesterone and Estrogen hit a low point.  Here is where constipation and gas are dominant.  Your hormones drop and so does your body temperature.  Your blood is more stagnant in the uterus or there may be an inadequate blood supply.  Your GI tract may be cold and dry.  Excess gas can create a build up of toxicity in the blood.

What to do?:

Take Rubia cordifollia (Manjishtha) which dissolves obstructions to blood flow) , Salt to counteract dryness and soften stool and add electrolytes. Use a hot water bottle on your abdomen to encourage blood flow. Take Vitex (Chaste Tree berries) tincture and cook with oregano, dill and thyme to increase progesterone. Essential fatty acids help your moods balance. Best to eat beets, sweet potatoes, salmon, avocado and pumpkin. As hormones shift toward lower levels, drinking lemon balm tea or taking St. Johnswort tincture may lift your spirits. (If fair skinned, do not remain in sunlight while taking St. Johnswort). 

What does your menstruating blood look like and what does it tell you?  Menses can tell you if your hormones are in balance or off balance.

What to look for:

Check the color, consistency, flow, and frequency. Is it on time or late? Is there a pattern over 3-4 months?

  1. If your menstruating blood looks like light pink-thin strawberry jam and it is a week to two weeks late, your estrogen is too low. (Estrogen promotes lining of the uterus).

If this is the case, your symptoms may be vaginal dryness, fatigue, low libido, hair thinning, unpredictable periods, and hair loss.

NOTE: There is low estrogen during menopause too with the same 

            symptoms: mood swings, night sweats, bone mineral decreased- 

            osteoporosis, decreased libido, and hot flashes.

2) If your menstruating blood looks like cranberry juice, like a saturated red color and if it starts on time and ends on time with no trickle effect, this is normal and balanced. If there are any PMS symptoms 5 -10 days before your menses begins, this is not normal. It is a sign of hormonal imbalance, as is weight gain, bloating, or moodiness. 

3) If your menstruating blood looks like a dark color or clots (like frozen clumps of blueberries), this is a sign of high estrogen which causes more  endometrial lining and more shedding. It also can cause breast tenderness, acne, and migraines. Obesity is unhealthy for obvious reasons and fat can convert into higher estrogen levels which is a risk for cancer.  

Some changes in menstruation over the course of your lifetime is normal. Keeping a Menstrual Chart each month is helpful since most of us have a fast-paced lifestyle and find it difficult to remember what occurred during our menses just a few days ago; let alone last month.

Remember menstruation is a wonderful time to connect with our womanhood. Our strength, intuition and wisdom is aligned with the moon cycles.  Spend some time connecting with the moon and with all of nature and feeling how inseparable you are to nature. Menses is nature beautifully moving in synchronization every month.  Nature is powerful and so are you!