An issue of blood

For at least a couple thousand years now, women have been dealing with heavy menstrual cycles.  While today, medical terminology labels this as ‘menorrhagia,’ in biblical times it was referred to as ‘an issue of blood.’  We read in the Bible of a woman who spent all her money trying to figure out a cure for this problem and still, its cause evaded the physicians for twelve years.  It was a miracle from Jesus Christ himself that finally healed her and the Bible doesn’t tell us what He did internally to stop her bleeding.18  Just like biblical times, physicians today can’t always explain why women bleed so heavily.

Unfortunately, this is a disorder that I have become very familiar with, as I have been plagued with menorrhagia for the last ten years.  While I will be presenting factual information regarding diagnosis and treatment, I will also be incorporating first hand information of what my own experience has been.  From a patient standpoint, I have been on the end of frustration many a times and it is only now, as I am learning how to find out what the researchers know, that I am beginning to understand why I didn’t find some of my answers sooner.  Some answers simply haven’t been found yet, while other answers involve our western culture having a paradigm shift to consider some ancient remedies that the eastern culture has used for centuries.  It is my hope that this information will lead me to real results.  While the steps I have taken have certainly made an improvement in my health, I still have yet to see my bleeding reduced on a consistent basis.

Menorrhagia is defined as excessive or prolonged bleeding.  It is a very common problem among women.  The causes can be pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, abnormal pregnancy, infection, tumors, polyps, birth control devices (IUDs), bleeding or platelet disorders, high level of prostaglandins, high level of endothelins, liver, kidney, or thyroid disease.1  The diagnosis of menorrhagia involves the doctor doing a complete health history as well as physical and pelvic exam.  The doctor looks to rule out other medical conditions and may use some of the following tests as necessary to determine a cause:  blood tests, pap tests, ultrasound of the vaginal cavity, biopsy investigating the cervical tissue, hysteroscopy that looks at the cervix with a scope, and/or D&C which scrapes the uterus.2  Essentially, the doctor is looking to eliminate major causes like excess tissue growth and use blood tests to give an indication of factors that scream out a problem with a particular system.  My personal diagnosis was relegated to hormone imbalance.  I had no signs of excess growth and other than being iron deficient, the blood tests gave no indication of something more serious to consider.  The suggestions I was given were the same ones that research indicates as the accepted ways of handling the problem:  iron supplementation, prostaglandin inhibitors, oral contraceptives, progesterone hormone treatment, ablation therapy (burning the lining of the uterus), removing the lining of the uterus, or hysterectomy.  While these suggestions may have dealt with stopping the bleeding, I wanted to know, how did I get the hormone imbalance?

My testing period was done over a time span of 5 years.  I sought a handful of medical professionals including my family doctor, nurse practitioner, woman doctor specializing in women’s health, and a certified gynecologist specializing in women’s health.  Unfortunately, the answer I received to how I would have gotten a hormone imbalance was referred to as a natural part of getting older.  After all, I am reaching the age of menopause and this was something that these doctors dealt with frequently.  While I could understand how they may have made that assumption, I didn’t find that answer satisfactory.  It didn’t make sense to me that at the age of 33, when I first started noticing my periods were excessive, that I would be entering into menopause.  I personally opted out of their recommendations and continued my search.  I kept hoping that with each new doctor who specialized in women’s health, I would surely find a different answer.  It wasn’t until I sought information on my own that I found other options.

Please do not misunderstand my presentation.  I do not write in an effort to misrepresent a doctor’s ability to do their job.  These medical professionals were just that, professional in their field of knowledge.  They offered what information they had available and the suggestions they offered have certainly helped many women control their excessive menstrual bleeding.  I merely wish to point out that the medical professionals that were within my reach all handed me the same answers and provided me with very little understanding as to how my problem developed in the first place.  Much like in biblical times, the physicians of my day really didn’t have an answer to what caused the bleeding and while they may have been able to stop my bleeding, their methods were harsh with many uncomfortable side effects.  I’m certain it’s no wonder why I continued searching on my own.

Much like the lady in the Bible, I sought God for answers and have prayed numerous times to find out how to stop the bleeding.  While I didn’t get my answer as quickly as the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, I do believe God is leading me to answers that will help not only myself, but other women deal with this same problem.  You see, when women have this issue, their lives are continuously disrupted by something that is deemed ‘normal.’  In addition to heavy bleeding, women often deal with headaches, moodiness, breast tenderness, night sweats, fatigue, sleeplessness, and jobs can become disrupted during the actual cycle.  Many women with menorrhagia also develop iron deficient anemia which further contributes to fatigue and disrupts quality of life.2  Not only am I iron deficient, I have also fainted in the shower and have had to miss several days of work because of the blood and fluid loss.

One of the answers I found was in March of 2015.  I had the thought, why do I crave salt?  I came across an article from Dr. Gangemi, a holistic doctor in North Carolina.16  This article gave me an indication that my electrolytes were out of balance and that I could potentially be suffering from adrenal fatigue.  Being that I lost 2-3 cups of blood/fluids every month, that made sense to me.  Despite that I was a college educated female, I had never considered that my diet could be affecting my cycle.  I can honestly say that I was driven by stress, had little in the way of appetite, and didn’t consider that I would need to replenish those fluids I lost every month.  I considered myself a healthy eater, but as I began to understand what healthy eating really is, I realized that I was likely malnourished.  Using Dr. Gangemi’s site, I began changing my diet and began a quest to understand more about nutrition and how it affected my body.  While changing diet alone is a good thing, unfortunately the results can be slow going.  It took a couple months for me to begin to notice changes, but my energy was increasing and while the bleeding was still heavy, I found that my recovery from the excessive bleeding was much quicker.  I did have some months where the bleeding was slower, but the next month, it would be back to heavy bleeding.  Though I felt like I was on the right path, I felt once again frustrated that I couldn’t find the perfect ‘diet formula’ that would solve my bleeding problem.  While Dr. Gangemi offered long distance medical counseling, the price of his services kept me seeking on my own to find the answer.

After 9 months, I decided to invest a little money in nutrition counseling from Karen Hurd, a nutritionist in Wisconsin.  While Karen offered a perfect ‘formula’ I was looking for, she too, provided no answer for why the bleeding was occurring.  She recommended a very strict diet of do’s, don’ts, and okay to eat.  Her strategy involved eliminating aggravators completely (sugar, caffeine, dairy, and all scents, etc.), and increasing my soluble fiber content which would require eating beans up to 12 times daily.  She suggested the list and then recommended that I check back with her monthly and told me that likely, there would always be things I would never be able to eat or drink again.  I took her suggestions, but modified them greatly.  I didn’t see her lists as being realistic for my lifestyle in such a stringent format, and I was disappointed that she didn’t have the answers I was looking for either.  I never called back and continued to search on my own.

Being in nutrition school, I figured maybe I would find the answer, however it was in June of this year at a continuing education class for my massage license that I had a revelation.  In this class, I learned about acupuncture and how it addressed the autonomic nervous system.  I began researching more about this, using resources and tools that my nutrition schooling has taught me, and began finding out just how much our nervous system being out of balance really does create a state of disease in our bodies.  In addition to my diet efforts, I decided to give acupuncture a try.

According to one study promoting alternative methods to deal with menorrhagia such as diet, herbs and supplements, chiropractic, and acupuncture, acupuncture had a 92% success rate.During my treatment, my acupuncturist told me that my problem was showing up as a liver problem.  In acupuncture, the liver is often the culprit with female issues and understanding the function of the liver and it’s responsibility in hormone regulation makes complete sense.  According to acupuncture, the liver stores blood and stagnation of liver energy causes imbalances and problems for women’s menstrual cycles.4  When I researched further, an article from Women’s International explains that the liver is responsible for many vital functions and is the foundation for hormone balance.  While the liver is well known to be a filter for our blood, other functions specifically related to women’s health include:  creating bile to break down fat and eliminate fat-soluble toxins and excess substances including hormones, helping to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, creating proteins that act as hormone carriers, filtering blood, regulating blood clotting, storing blood for quick release, manufacturing testosterone and estrogen, and regulating sex hormones and eliminating excess hormones.5

Having this information was like finding the missing piece to the puzzle I have been putting together!  The western doctors were correct, I have a hormone imbalance.  I now had my answer that my hormones got out of balance because my liver is impaired.  As I mentioned, I had always considered myself a healthy eater, but when I took a realistic look at what I was eating, I found that I was deficient in eating enough fruits and vegetables which are vital to the liver’s ability to detoxify itself, and I can honestly say that while I’ve never had a big appetite, my cravings led me to reach for high fat content items.  Additionally, my life has been riddled with a high amount of stress as I grew up in a broken home where strife was the norm.  Research has shown that stress does in fact inhibit the liver’s ability to do its job.6  As an adult, the stressors from my childhood were replaced with new stressors of my own.  Now looking back, I realize that my life was the perfect pattern for menorrhagia.  The good news is, with education and an unrelenting faith, I forge ahead believing that our bodies were designed to heal themselves and am on a path to change my situation with natural methods.

To restore natural balance back to my body, it really is a combination of all the things I’ve been discovering along the way.  There really isn’t just one ‘quick and easy’ answer.  Oddly, these are not just events that will bring healing, but are the same tasks involved in prevention.  First is diet.  As the nutritionist, Karen Hurd had recommended, it’s important that I eliminate or limit the aggravators and increase food that helps my body to eliminate toxins and excess estrogen.15  Understanding that the wrong types of fat are only going to worsen my problem,13 I work hard to eliminate fatty foods and opt to reach for healthier fats that will promote proper hormone balance.14  The body needs cholesterol to create progesterone, which is perhaps why many of us women crave ‘fatty’ items when we’re getting ready to menstruate.  However, we need to understand that rather than reaching for the cheesy garlic bread, a better option is to reach for a hard-boiled egg or a handful of almonds which offer the right types of fat that our bodies need to produce progesterone.  When we’re under too much stress, our bodies take that progesterone and convert it into cortisol, a stress hormone that can overwork the adrenals and lead to adrenal fatigue.7,8,10 It’s like a domino effect that happens when you put stress and poor nutrition into the mix.

In addition to diet, I have been using acupuncture to stimulate the energy to my liver.  Diet alone helps to stimulate the liver, however if it’s congested or not working at optimal levels, therapies designed to stir up energy to this organ are in order.  Acupuncture is a very direct way to affect the energy to the liver.  Acupuncturists select particular points that will not only promote energy to the liver, but systemically work to clear major energy blockages caused by accident, overuse, or disease.  As a massage therapist, I see these blockages as real blockages in the tissue via trigger points, myofacial restrictions, and muscular tension.  Massage is another way to promote energy to the organs, however the energy movement is secondary to muscular and tissue relief and will take more sessions to make an impact on stagnant energy.  Though research for chiropractic to help menorrhagia is limited,3 I suspect that chiropractic designed to focus on stimulating the nerves to the liver would also produce results.

Another option to move stagnant energy is to include things like stretching and yoga which have been shown to improve female health issues.9  Exercise can help move energy as well, however, to truly impact stagnant organ energy, the body has to get its heart rate up which can be an impediment to those suffering from lack of energy already.  One acupuncture site recommends adding decongesting/detoxifying the liver with a castor oil heat pack.11  Some acupuncturists also recommend herbal treatments to assist the body in cleansing its liver. Following a standard acupuncture treatment protocol for menorrhagia, I should expect to see results one month for every year I’ve been dealing with the issue.  For me, that would mean I should expect to see results in ten months or sooner.12  Finally, the last thing to consider is reducing stress levels.  Many of the therapies I’ve already mentioned are intended to reduce stress, however it is important that I take a look at real stressors in my life and deal with these issues.  For me personally, my faith has been a big part of reducing stress which teaches me how to deal with the unsolvable issues of life.  There are also things like exercise, finding enjoyable activities, and communicating with my husband and loved ones that help to reduce stress.

At the time of writing this paper, I am three months into my acupuncture treatments.  While I have not seen a reduction in blood loss, I have seen a change in my blood flow which my acupuncturist Dan DeForest17 assures me is a sign that the liver is beginning to do its job.  What’s exciting to me is that I have real answers for what the problem is, why the treatment I’ve selected works, an estimate of how long it should take, and the benefit of knowing that not only will my menorrhagia be affected, but that my overall health will be improved with these natural healing methods.  I’ve already seen a marked improvement in my energy levels and my headaches have been eliminated since employing these treatments.  I can rest my faith in knowing that if I feed my liver properly and make certain it gets energy, that the body is designed such that it will find it’s natural balance and heal without me every having known what specific problem the liver was having.  With a 92% success rate in acupuncture treatments3, I believe this is the best answer to solving this problem.  And while we may not have known what Jesus did to heal the women with the issue of blood, I am willing to bet, it had something to do with healing her liver.







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