Raw Foods and Menstruation
Menstrual Cycle Overview
The monthly menstrual cycle begins in adolescence and continues throughout a woman’s childbearing years. Estrogen and progesterone are the two female hormones most commonly recognized. Estrogen is responsible for the development and continuous upkeep of the reproductive system, most importantly the endometrial lining of the uterus. Progesterone, released during ovulation, get the womb lining ready to receive an egg. Its most important contributions come into play just when the egg is fertilized, because it is responsible for milk production and for other steps necessary to producing a viable fetus carried to full term.
Importance of FSH and LH
The average woman’s knowledge stops with estrogen and progesterone. Many do not grasp the importance of FSH and LH to a healthy female system. FSH (Follicle Stimulting Hormone) causes the round follicle that contains the eggs from the ovaries to fill with fluid, maturing several eggs. LH (Luteinizing Hormone) further ripens the follicles and starts the process of ovulation. Estrogen is essential to cause the follicle to release the egg. It is also responsible for producing other hormones that will start the menstrual cycle when the egg is not fertilized.
After all this intense preparation, if a woman does not get pregnant, all this hormonal hard work gets kicked to the curb. And, wow! Do we pay! Everything gets flushed out of the system in a menstrual cycle lasting 3 to 5 days, every 28 days or so, causing varying degrees of pain and suffering in most women. The number one thing for you gentlemen to understand: That suffering is real. It is quite significant in some, and can be debilitating. The days of men thinking "It’s all in your head, dear" should now be over.
It has a name, that pain you ladies know and some of you men haven’t considered real—dysmenorrhea. More precisely, the term dysmenorrhea, properly applied, is a severe pain associated with menstruation. Most of us women have at least once experienced enough pain to cause us to spend the day in bed clutching a hot pad.
Eating a vegetarian diet has been proven to minimize regular premenstrual and menstrual symptoms. A raw diet helps to an even greater degree with mood swings and water retention, so usually eliminates entirely the problem of PMS as well as smoothing the way through the regular cycle.
Detoxification is such a familiar notion to raw foods folk that it makes sense for us to see menstruation as a detox process.
Comparison to Detox
From a September 2001 interview by Paul Nison of Dr. Dave Klein:
“Detox entails (1) the cells off-loading metabolic wastes and environmental toxins into the bloodstream for filtering by the liver and kidneys for elimination and (2) the organs of elimination (bowels, kidneys, lungs, skin, vagina) releasing metabolic, environmental and residual food wastes via feces, urine, sweat, breath and menses."
“I have heard that many women’s periods diminish, become lighter, and in some cases stop temporarily or for good on the 100% raw food diet. This suggests to me that the cleaner the diet, the cleaner the body and lesser the need for detoxification.”
Is Bleeding Unnatural?
Some raw food promoters, past and present, have believed that the female monthly flow is unnatural. These include Arnold Ehret, Dr. David Klein, Dr. Douglas Graham, Paul Nison and Viktoras Kulvinskas. They reason periods are the result of meat eating and too many centuries of protein-rich food. An almost inevitable part of their arguments: that other animals do not have periods.
Here, Dr. Klein embarks on a controversial view:
“I don't know why a perfectly healthy, completely detoxified female should bleed. Some people have suggested that it is an adaptation from humanity's 20,000 years or so of cooked food eating…PMS and menstrual difficulties cease after one has cleaned out and adopted a healthful eating style not too high in acid-forming foods…I believe a healthy woman should not bleed at all. Only humans who eat unnaturally and their domesticated animals bleed. Every other wild thing does not bleed but still ovulates and has offspring. However, if you are eating an unnatural diet and you lose your period, this means something is wrong and not a healthy sign at all."
Is it just my imagination, or does it just seem that everyone who says bleeding is unnatural is a man? Women whom I have interviewed and who have long term raw foods experience, such as Victoria Boutenko, Annette Larkins and Brigitte Mars, believe menstrual flow is natural, but in a healthy woman should be light and easy. Note that our nearest primate cousins, the chimpanzees, do exhibit overt menstruation (bleeding).
The jury is still out. I think, that first generation raw foods women will bleed at least a little. However, it is quite possible that after several generations on raw foods, women may largely cease to experience periods any more. There’s no point in arguing: Right now we don’t have the kinds of subjects we need to check out this theory. Necessarily, then, I’ll concentrate on the women we do have—those who have gone raw ten years, ten months, or ten days.
One explanation, given by Walter Last, author of The Natural Way to Heal, makes a good deal of sense:
Basically, the wall of the uterus[,] after shedding the endometrium is an open wound, which heals quickly and with minimal blood loss in healthy women, but which continues to bleed the longer and heavier, the more unhealthy the body is. Only when women become too anaemic does monthly bleeding stop as a self-protection measure.
Amenorrhea, caused by a hormonal balance or an unhealthy lifestyle, is often marked by a lack of periods or their cessation in a woman of child-bearing years. It often occurs in conjunction with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia or extreme physical training such as that of Olympic medallists. Neither amenorrhea nor any marked sudden change in menstrual patterns is a trifling issue—do consult your health care professional.
What to Eat for Normal Flow
Diet can ease the trauma of menses as well as lightening the flow. It is generally agreed that certain foods are beneficial to a normal flowing and relatively pain free period. Root veggies and leafy greens are especially good. Fresh fruit contributes necessary vitamins and fiber. Nuts and seeds are good sources of protein. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are extremely important for women with menstrual pain. Sprinkling freshly ground linseed is a good source for this nutrient. Seaweed is an outstanding source for all the vitamins and minerals needed to sustain health. And the healthier you are, the better chance you have of being healthy during your periods—until you finally outlast them. Look at this list—these are the very foods we eat on the raw food diet.
When you first go raw, your periods may actually become more intense and heavier. This is generally considered normal among raw foods people. It’s what happened to me. This unpleasantness lasted only a few months. After that, my periods became very light. If you don’t mind a very personal observation, note that I’ve never (since the end of that early period of heavy cycles) needed pads; ordinary toilet paper has always been sufficient.
Expect that your going raw will take as much as six months to fully impact your system. In the meantime, the effects of detoxing may alter your periods in several ways. They may become shorter, lighter, even quite pain-free.