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Over the years I have worked with countless women suffering from uncomfortable and/or painful menstrual cycles. Studies have shown that menstrual pain leads to a subjectively-rated decreased quality of life, and that over 40% of women of childbearing age are affected by PMS symptoms. (1,2) Often, these same women who experience problematic periods throughout their childbearing years also experience more symptoms during menopause.
Many of these women have been led to believe that their issues are hormonal. Birth control pills are now being prescribed for painful and/or heavy periods, (2-6) and bio-identical hormones have become the Holy Grail for women during their menopausal years. (7)
Interestingly, there is a very simple Ayurvedic protocol for balanced menstruation and menopause that doesn’t involve any hormones, or natural or herbal hormonal precursors. In fact, from an Ayurvedic standpoint, in many cases the problem may not be hormonal at all.
Keep reading to discover a natural therapy that may address the root of uncomfortable menstrual issues.
The Waste Removal Traffic Jam
The lymph is the largest circulatory system in the body and is critically important for optimal health, (8) as lymph channels drain waste from all parts of the body. When these drains become congested, it’s as though a traffic jam occurs in your body and it takes a toll on all of the organ systems.
At the beginning of the menstrual cycle, lymph drainage increases. According to Ayurveda, when women menstruate, much of the reproductive waste is removed through the lymph. If the lymph is congested, the menstrual cycle may become painful, irregular, overly heavy or missing.
Congested lymph brings with it the symptoms typically associated with the menstrual cycle, including breast swelling or tenderness, bloating, water retention, and/or breakouts, especially around the mouth and chin. With just a basic understanding of the lymphatic drainage system, we can see why.
1. Swollen/Tender Breasts
The breasts are a concentration of lymphatic tissue and lymphatic fluid. If the lymph in the body is congested at the time of menstruation, the lymph tissue and fluid may swell, causing breast swelling and/or tenderness.
2. Skin Issues
When the lymph is congested, the skin may be employed as a back-up exit ramp for impurities. Just beneath the skin is the skin-associated lymphoid tissue, or SALT. This tissue functions as a defense against any toxin, bacteria, virus, or parasite that tries to penetrate the skin. (9) If the lymph is congested during menstruation, the SALT may also clog. Instead of draining the skin, it may result in breakouts and other types of skin irritation.
3. Diarrhea, Constipation and other Intestinal Issues
Just like the skin on the outside of our bodies, the epithelium — the skin that lines the intestinal tract — is drained by a massive concentration of lymph called the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT. This is the highest concentration of lymph in the body. Experts say that 80% of the body’s immunity is found here in the gut. (10)
When constipation, diarrhea, or other digestive issues occur, this will typically compromise the flow of this very important lymph fluid. During menstruation, clogged GALT can create a list of issues such as bloating, bacterial imbalances, belly fat, hypersensitivity, allergies, joint discomfort, fatigue, mild headaches, skin issues, and reproductive imbalances.
4. Respiratory Issues
The respiratory tract is also lined with a type of skin that is drained by mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue, or MALT. If the lymph is not moving properly during menstruation, this can result in an irritation of the respiratory mucus membranes, compromising the immunity of the entire upper respiratory system. (11)
Your Body’s Built-In Monthly Lymphatic Function Test
The quality, duration, comfort level and timing of the menses offer a monthly opportunity to evaluate your lymphatic function. If any of these symptoms mentioned above are experienced during (or exacerbated by) menstruation, it may be a sign of a lymphatic flow issue.
Treat the Drains First
When I evaluate reproductive or menstrual problems, I look for other symptoms that are classically related to lymph to help determine if the condition is actually a hormonal issue or one based on poor lymphatic circulation.
Further Signs of Lymph Congestion
• Soreness and/or stiffness in the morning
• Feeling tired
• Bloating / Holding on to water
• Itchy skin
• Weight gain and extra belly fat
• Swollen glands
• Low immunity
• Brain fog
• Dry skin
• Mild rash or acne
• Mild headaches
• Elevated histamine and irritation due to common environmental allergens
• Occasional constipation, diarrhea, and/or mucus in the stool
How to Improve Lymphatic Flow & Function
Here is a list of simple things you can do at home every day to improve lymphatic flow and function:
- Alkalize your diet
Eat more fruits and veggies and lessen the amount of meats, breads, grains, dairy, processed food, and junk food. Try to shoot for a diet that is two-thirds alkaline and one-third acidic foods. See my acid-alkaline shopping list here.
- Herbal Support
Manjistha (rubia cordifolia) is the herb that is most effective in helping de-stagnate the lymph. I have used this herb successfully for years in support of lymph-related reproductive issues.
Sip plain hot water every 10-15 minutes throughout the day for two weeks. Drink 1/2 your ideal body weight in ounces of room temperature water a day.
- Skin Brush and Massage
In Ayurveda, skin brushing is called Garshana. Raw silk gloves are used to exfoliate the skin. With vigorous brushing, the silk gloves also create static electricity, which is known to alkalize the blood and help move the lymph.
Daily massage in Ayurveda is called Abhyanga. A blend of herbs cooked into sesame oil is traditionally used to massage the body daily to enhance lymphatic flow.
What are ways that you get your lymph moving in your everyday life?