Few women experience puberty, four decades of menstruation, and then menopause without facing at least a few phases of challenging menstrual cycles.
What’s a normal period?
Normal menstrual cycles occur at intervals between 21 and 35 days, with the average being approximately 28 days. The menstrual flow usually lasts three to five days. A healthy blood flow will generally start (and later taper off) light and the color is pink or pale brown. At the peak of the flow the blood is generally bright red without clots.
What is irregular?
An excess of the normal symptoms suggesting ovulation (mood change, tender breasts, water retention, etc.) is called premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Painful menstrual cramps and a heavy flow are called dysmenorrhea. Secondary amenorrhea is the absence of three or more consecutive menstrual cycles after menarche and during the reproductive years.
We all experience slight variations in our cycle from time to time due to a variety of factors including diet, exercise, stress, and even travel.
At different phases of our lives — postpartum and weaning from breastfeeding as two major examples — we experience stronger hormonal shifts that can create more significant changes/problems with our cycle.
The Western approach to correcting menstrual cycle irregularities – a Trojan horse?
No matter what the challenge or at what phase of life it occurs; for a cycle that starts late or too early, is too short or too long, or is in any way painful or debilitating, Western medicine commonly offers two choices: synthetic hormones or surgery.
These two medical choices offered to women come with mild to severe side effects that can affect us for our lifetime, and they fail to address the reason — the imbalance — that is causing the problem in the first place.
In other words, though we should always seek medical attention from an expert, often the advice or support we receive (yes, sometimes a welcome relief or even life-saving one) can be something of a Trojan horse.
While there are, of course, instances where drugs or surgery will be required — when possible — many of us would rather attempt a natural adjustment to our lifestyle or diet to restore balance.
Alternatives for Addressing Menstrual Irregularity – My Story
Natural and alternative healing systems of medicine offer supplements and recommendations for regulating our menstrual cycle. The herbs and/or treatments are all intended to address the underlying imbalance — deficiency or excess — responsible for the problem.
I am certified in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) nutrition and have practiced the use of food, herbs and exercise to regulate my cycles for 20 years. My cycles had always been regular almost to the hour. So predictable were they, that I knew immediately when I conceived — because my period was about 5 hours later than normal that month! I had experienced nothing irregular or painful since the first year after menarch. My period returned six months after childbirth and was right back on track.
Knowing about all the challenges so many women face with their cycles — especially women like me, in their 40s — I was saying my gratitude prayers.
While weaning after three years of breastfeeding, my cycle was slightly irregular for several months (but nothing considered a problem, as some irregularity is normal as hormones adjust and rebalance after weaning).
Then it happened.
In my eighth month post-weaning, my period started. And it kept going. And going. And going. After I bled for two weeks solid, I was concerned.
After three weeks, I was scared. I started searching online to see what women in my situation had done. The list was alarming, including a woman whose doctor recommended a hysterectomy (like me, this woman knew she did not have fibroids causing the problem).
After 30 days, right on the brink of going to a Western doctor…a word popped in my head: “vinegar.”
I knew from my study of TCM that vinegar worked to regulate chi (translates roughly as “energy”), and blood circulation, and that it counteracts “cold” (a condition—not just “temperature” in the Western understanding).
I assumed that the word “vinegar” had so strongly popped in my head for a reason at this time, and from what I knew of it, I suspected that this could be the solution — at least the kind of solution I was looking for.
A brief search online of “menstrual cycle problems apple cider vinegar,” led instantly to dozens of sites where hundreds of women had posted their stories.
I read for a few hours and was amazed at the intensity of the problems women had corrected with apple cider vinegar:
- Women whose periods had disappeared for six months had them return within a few days.
- Women whose periods had lasted non-stop for three months had their periods stop after a few days and then return to normal.
- Women whose flow was so heavy they couldn’t leave their home during their cycle, saw them lighten to normal levels.
- And on and on…
I wouldn’t usually give much (if any) credence to stories I’d just read online, but being familiar with alternative approaches to regulating health imbalances, I knew that this was something I waned to consider and try.
(I also knew various other health benefits attributed to drinking apple cider vinegar , so I believed that at the very least, I would be benefitting my health in other ways—even if it didn’t correct the menstrual cycle challenge.)
That night I drank a cup of warm water with 2 tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar and a teaspoon of molasses. (Followed with a few sips of water to “wash it down” and to rinse it off my teeth.)
The next morning, my period had slowed significantly, so I drank a second cup with the same proportions.
By that evening, 31 days after I started a period that had shown no signs of tapering, my period came to a complete stop.
Since that time, I’ve continued drinking warm water with 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar with a teaspoon of organic molasses, but only occasionally (not on any regular schedule.) My periods have made a complete return to normal (I’m currently 46-years old).
Further Insight – A Chat with TCM Practitioner, Leo Lok, L.Ac.
I was grateful to have learned about this natural way of restoring balance that — certainly not for all women or all conditions — was so simple and healthy. I wanted to learn more, so I spoke with a TCM practitioner, Leo Lok. Here’s what he had to share:
“Allie’s fascinating story reminds me of the clinical cases of Dr. X.C. Zhang who practiced herbal medicine a century ago in Northern China. His favorite herbal formula for women who had amenorrhea (the absence of menses in a woman of reproductive age) is simply this: Chinese hawthorn berry tea with unrefined brown sugar.
When we compare Dr. Zhang’s formula with Allie’s remedy, three things immediately stand out. One, Chinese hawthorn berry tea, like apple cider vinegar, is very sour and made from fruits. Two, unrefined brown sugar (a hundred years ago) is probably close to modern day blackstrap molasses in nutritional profile. Both vinegar and hawthorn berries are considered to have blood-regulating-circulating effect.
In Chinese medicine, the Liver system (not the same as the Western liver organ) regulates a woman’s menstrual cycle. When the Liver system is too dry due to stress or lack of adequate nutrition, it loses its regulating function, resulting in a disordered menstrual cycle.
When vinegar is combined with molasses (or hawthorn berry with brown sugar), the taste of sourness meets the taste of sweetness. This blending, according to Chinese herbal principle, produces “yin” – a kind of nutritional elixir for the Liver system.
When the Liver system is properly nourished by this liquid elixir, it regains its proper menstrual regulating function. In this way, a woman who had stopped bleeding will start her flow once more, and another woman who had been bleeding exces- sively will also return to her normal cycle and volume.
Having said that, it is prudent to acknowledge that menstrual disorders do have multiple causes. One approach that works well for many does not mean it is suitable for all. Individual discernment with a qualified professional is advised.”
When necessary, the miracles of modern medicine are a godsend, and intervention a must.
Menstrual cycle irregularities can be a sign of more serious problems.
However, for many of us, they simply represent a temporary imbalance not requiring strong measures or interventions to correct.
With the risks involved with drugs and surgery, it’s helpful to know a few simple ways we can adjust our diet or lifestyle to maintain or restore balance in a healthful way — or at least try — before (or while) taking other or even more drastic measures.
In all forms of treatment for maintaining health, it’s a great idea for us and our healers to keep in mind the words from the ancient Hippocratic Oath:
“With regard to healing the sick, Iwill devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.”
Note: This article is for information purposes only. It is not a recommendation or treatment for any medical condition. Menstrual cycle irregularities and excessive or absent bleeding can be signs of serious issues. Always consult with a qualified expert. For more info on the risks, simply refer to the lists of side-effects of birth control pills that come with the prescription or that can be found in any ad from a pharmaceutical company. Helping Ourselves: A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics, by Daverick Leggett, Meridian Press, Totnes, England, 1994, p.58 There are few, if any, medical studies verifying the benefits of apple cider vinegar for any health purpose. There likely won’t ever be, since the companies that conduct this research primarily do so when they have the anticipation of profiting financially with the information with the subsequent release of a product for which they own the rights. Always consult with a qualified expert to understand your condition and remedies available.