The Menstrual Cycle and Ayurveda
Ayurveda considers the nature of a woman's menstrual period as an expression of her state of health, as the cycle and period take on the characteristics of imbalance present within the body. The assessment of the menstrual cycle during an Ayurvedic consultation is thus a valuable piece of information in unlocking the causes underlying health issues.
According to Ayurvedic theory, menstrual blood is viewed as a secondary tissue of 'Rasa' (plasma or nutritional fluid that bathes bodily cells). This plasma or nutritional fluid is the first tissue that is formed in the body as a direct product of digestion. The quality of this nutritional fluid is responsible for the nourishment and health of all bodily tissues. Changes in menstruation can thus be an early indication of imbalance developing, offering us an opportunity to take steps to return to balance before disease takes hold.
The three Dosha's and their functions
The Ayurvedic understanding of the body rests on the principle that the human body is an epitome of the universe, consisting of five elements – Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.
These elements are represented in the body by three doshas (humours or functional principles): Vata (Ether and Air), Pitta (Fire and Water) and Kapha (Water and Earth), which are responsible for diverse physiological processes in the body.
- Vata (formed by the elements of air and space) is responsible for all movement and communication in the body, regulating the nervous and circulatory systems. In addition, Vata rules elimination and excretion, which includes the reproductive organs in both men and women.
- Pitta (formed by the elements of fire and water) is responsible for transformation and regulates the digestive and endocrine systems.
- Kapha (formed by the elements of water and earth) is responsible for the structure and lubrication of the body and regulates the immune and lymphatic systems.
An imbalance in any of the Doshas can have an effect on the length, quantity and qualities of a woman's menstrual cycle.
The effect of the Doshas on Menstruation
When there is an imbalance of Vata in the body due to the dominance of light-, dry-, and coldness in a person's diet or lifestyle habits, a woman's period can be affected by these same qualities, leading to the following symptoms:
- Light bleeding
- Brown or dark red colouration of blood
- Piercing pain
- Presence of lower back pain
- Constipation & bloating
- PMS characterised by anxiety and insomnia
When there is an imbalance of Pitta in the body due to the dominance of hot-, sharp- and liquid qualities in a person's diet or lifestyle habits, a woman's period can be affected by these same qualities, leading to the following symptoms:
- Blood is bright red, with clots
- Hot or burning sensation
- Excessive and/or prolonged bleeding
- Increased appetite before period
- Migraines, headaches
- Diarrhoea during period
- PMS characterised by anger & irritability
When there is an imbalance of Kapha in the body due to the dominance of slow, heavy-, and unctuous qualities in a person's diet or lifestyle habits, a woman's period can be affected by these same qualities, leading to the following symptoms:
- Thick flow, with mucous & clots
- Deep, dull ache
- Discharge before or after cycle
- Yeast infections
- Water retention and tender breasts
- PMS characterised by sentimental feelings, cries easily
- Lethargy & drowsiness
Using nutrition to balance the Doshas
Ayurvedic healing works on the principle of using opposite qualities to balance the Doshas. Both dietary and lifestyle changes, along with herbs and body therapies are used to this end. For example:
- The light, dry and cold qualities of Vata are balanced by grounding, moist, nourishing and warming foods, focusing on root vegetables and grains, nourishing soups and broths, warming culinary spices and healthy oils.
- The hot, sharp and moist qualities of Pitta are balanced by cooling and refreshing foods, such as green leafy vegetables, sweet and ripe fruits and pulses, and cooling dairy products.
- The slow, heavy, and unctuous qualities of Kapha are balanced by light, easily digestible, slightly drying and well-spiced foods, such as warming culinary spices, light and easily digestible cooked vegetables and pulses.
Herbs to balance the reproductive system
The Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia consists of hundreds of herbs and complex herbal formulations that are prescribed according to the Agni (digestion), Dosha (functional principle), Dhatu (body tissue) and Srotas (channels carrying nutrients to the body tissue). Herbs are considered according to their taste, potency and post-digestive effect, which acts on the Doshas accordingly. Herbs are always given in a synergistic combination, to improve absorbability, target multiple systems or tissues and reduce any unwanted effects.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Popular for its adaptogenic properties and ability to reduce anxiety, Ashwagandha is a nourishing and anabolic tonic and excellent pacifier of Vata. It has a special affinity for muscular tissue and thereby strengthens the uterus and prevents uterine spasms. It also reduces lower back pain during periods.
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
Known as the herb for 'possessing a thousand husbands', this cooling and nourishing herb is a tonic to the female reproductive system. Shatavari is a popular herb today, used for a variety of conditions including low libido, menstrual disorders, fertility issues and menopausal symptoms. It is a herb that is safely used during all stages of pregnancy – from preparation, to conception straight through to lactation and as a post-partum tonic. Its phytoestrogen content helps regulate menstrual cycles and promotes healthy ovulation1. Excellent in both Vata and Pitta imbalances.
Ashoka (Saraca indica)
Known as the 'remover of sorrow', this uterine tonic has astringent, haemostatic, uterine-sedative and antioestrogenic properties to curb excess menstrual bleeding and pain2. It is traditionally used in a variety of gynaecological disorders, including the treatment of menorrhagia. Balances excess Pitta and Kapha.
Manjishtha (Rubia cordifolia)
A bitter and cooling herb, with haemostatic, astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, Manjishtha reduces heavy menstrual bleeding. Balances Pitta and Kapha.
Guggulu (Commiphora mukul)
An oleogum resin, Guggulu is a widely used substance in a variety of different Ayurvedic formulations. Known for its anti-inflammatory and 'lekhana' or scraping effect on tissues, it is excellent in reducing any accumulations or deposits. It is helpful in conditions where there is a growth of excess tissue in the reproductive system, such as fibroids3, cysts and endometriosis. Guggulu is balancing on all three Doshas, but can increase Pitta in excess.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Has become an incredibly popular dietary supplement in the last few years, Turmeric has been used for its antiinflammatory, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic properties in Ayurveda for thousands of years. Like Guggulu, it has a 'scraping' effect on the tissues and also acts as a blood purifier and tonic. It balances all three Doshas, but can increase Vata and Pitta in excess.
Ayurvedic Body Therapies to balance menstruation:
Ayurvedic body therapies for the reproductive system are chosen both for their overall systemic effect and/or their specific action on the reproductive system. A variety of treatments can be employed and may include the following:
Basti (the introduction of herbal oils and decoctions to the colon in the form of an enema) is a very important therapy in Ayurveda, as it is said to cure 50% of all diseases. Vata - responsible for excretion and expulsion - rules both the colon and reproductive organs. By inserting herbal oils/ decoctions into the colon for cleansing and nourishment, Vata is balanced. This in turn has far reaching effects on the rest of the body, including the central nervous system, skeletal system and reproductive system. Basti therapy is widely used in all gynaecological disorders in Ayurveda. In Basti therapy, the herbal oil or decoction is absorbed via the rich blood and lymph supply of the rectum and colon into the systemic circulation. The Enteric Nervous System is stimulated, which in turn affects the CNS and endogenous opioids to regulate the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovary axis4. In addition to Basti (rectal enema) therapy, Ayurvedic gynaecological treatments also include local procedures such as Uttara Basti (vaginal insertion of herbal oil or decoction), Yoni Prakshalana (vaginal douching) and Yoni Pichu (vaginal insertion of cotton swab soaked in herbal oil).
Ayurveda views the nose as a gateway to the brain and uses Nasya as an important factor in correcting hormonal imbalances. During Nasya therapy, herbal oil drops are instilled into the nostrils to bring balance to the menstrual cycle. Research shows that Nasya stimulates the pituitary gland and hypothalamus – both of which play a pivotal role in hormone regulation of the female reproductive system5.
A deeply relaxing treatment involving the continuous pouring of warm medicated oil from side to side across the forehead. It calms the mind and nourishes the nervous system, and is therefore used in a wide range of health conditions exacerbated by stress and anxiety. Recent studies confirm the effect of Shirodhara in reducing anxiety, decreasing noradrenaline, and enhancing the immune system6. It is also helpful in managing the symptoms of menopause7.
Ayurvedic medicine has eight branches of specialisation: Stree Roga (Gynaecology) and PrasutiTantra (Obstetrics) are included as part of Balaroga (Pediatrics). The classical texts discuss 20 gynaecological disorders – some of which can be correlated to modern disorders. With a very sophisticated system of treating using different modalities to bring balance back to the reproductive system, Ayurveda is effective in a wide range of gynaecological disorders.
1 Sharma, K. & Bhatnagar,M. (2011). Asparagus racemosus (Shatavari): A Versatile Female Tonic. International Journal of Pharmaceutical & Biological Archives. 2. 855-863.
2 Baranwal, Vandana (2014): Asoka: Herbal Boon to Gynecological Problems An Overview of Current Research. Light on Ayurveda- Journal of Health. Vol. XII, Issue 4.
3 Dhiman K. (2014): Ayurvedic intervention in the management of uterine fibroids: A Case series. AYU 2014; 35: 303-8.
4 Patel, K. D. et al. (2012). Effect of shatapushpa taila matra basti and pathadi kwatha on poly cystic ovarian disease. Ayu, 33(2), 243–246.
5 Marlewar , Dr. S. G. & Kulkarni, Dr. H. D. (2017): A Review of Role of Nasya Karma in Gynaecological Disorders. IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences, Volume 16, Issue 2 Ver. I (February. 2017), PP 113-116
6 Uebaba, K. et al (2008): Psychoneuroimmunologic Effects of Ayurvedic Oil-Dripping Treatment. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2008; 14(10):1189–1198.
7 Santwani, K. et al (2010): An assessment of Manasika Bhavas in menopausal syndrome and its management. Ayu Journal. 2010; 31(3).