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The Practical Herbalist

Female Athletes and Amenorrhea

Female athletes, have a distinct advantage over their male counterparts in one very crucial area: The menstrual cycle. This monthly occurrence provides a window into the functioning of the female body. The smooth functioning of the cycle and periods in- dicates smooth functioning in many internal dynamics of the body. Sharp cramps, excessive bleeding, and inconsistent or missed periods can be an indication that the body is not functioning at its peak performance.

The biggest concern is amenorrhea, or lack of a period. Many women athletes can train hard enough to create this situation. Some female athletes even use this as an indicator of whether or not they are tough enough or training enough. Amenorrhea is actually an indication that you are training too hard, and you are starting to do damage to your body. Men do not have this obvious signal, and are more prone to overtraining to the point of permanent damage.

From a herbal medicine point of view, athletic amenorrhea is a sign that the body is stressed to the point where there is no longer enough energy to provide basic functioning and repair to the body. Women who have athletic amenorrhea are more prone to injury, have difficulty healing, and are likely to develop low bone density. Low bone density can lead to increased stress fractures, and a greater likelihood of osteoporosis later in life.

Women can correct light periods, missed periods and amenorrhea by regulating their training and food intake, which will in turn increase strength and endurance. Herbal medicine can also be utilized to help female athletes get their cycles in order. Many of the common herbs that are marketed for "female issues" fall into the category of blood tonifiers, which help the body improve blood function within the body.

Herbs that would be appropriate for helping overcome amenorrhea include: Dang gui (angelica sinensis root); Shu di huang (prepared Rehmania glutinosae root); He shou wu (polgoni Multiflori root); and Bai shao (peoniae lactiflorae root). Note that these herbs are commonly found in herbal trauma and training formulas. If used by a woman with sharp cramps, large clots or menstrual irritability, these herbs can make symptoms worse.

With amenorrhea, or even light periods that border on amenorrhea, a healthy, highcalorie diet is very important. Adding protein and dark colored foods — which tend to be higher in iron — help provide the body with the materials needed to build tissue and blood. From the herbal traditions the best sources were eggs, gelatin (Jello), meats, dark beans, and the dark green vegetables.

For female athletes who have sharp cramps, clots and heavy flow, other types of herbs are called for. An herbalist should determine what type of formula is needed, based on specific symptoms. In this case, the prescribed herbs should have a moving quality rather than a tonifying quality. This type of martial artist would benefit from yoga and other breathing or meditative practices that relax the body. Increasing spices in the diet can also help, particularly green spices such as basil, cilantro, etc. Citrus fruits would also benefit this athlete.

Adjusting the training and improving the nourishment to the body can have dramatic effects on the female martial artist's performance. The nature of the menstrual cycle can be a guide to getting the most out of your training. These are of course general concepts. Advice from a nationally certified herbalist is the best way to use food and herbs to better regulate your system and to get the best performance possible out of your body.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066