Tag Archives: heavy periods

Menorrhagia, meet methionine

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyAfter a disastrous niacin self experiment confirmed once and for all that my liver is a shadow of its former self, I experimented with a selection of OTC supplements frequently mentioned in discussion forums on liver damage. Glutathione did nothing as far as I could tell, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and alpha lipoic acid (ALA) do not agree with me, and I was already taking vitamin B6 in the form of P5P. Methionine was the only other supplement I could tolerate.

Within days the scariest of the liver symptoms had gone. After several weeks it became apparent that it also had a significant effect on my heavy periods. With 1500 mg of methionine, I had a manageable period, like a normal person’s — easier even than what vitamin K2 supplements did for me. Since I had recently taken truckloads of niacin, I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t the niacin that did it, so I stopped the methionine and voila, back to the old Maxi Curse.

The 1500 mg dose turned out to completely stop me sleeping, so I tried 1000 mg. Subsequent periods were indeed easier, although not as easy as on 1500 mg.

For more on my attempts to treat heavy menstrual bleeding, see my posts on Niagarrhagia and sea sponges.

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Illustration: Detail of 1940s American Airlines travel poster by E. McKnight Kauffer.

Six months using a sea sponge tampon alternative

W A R N I N G: Graphic lady-parts talk follows!

Please, Lord, don’t let me accidentally post this on my writing client’s WordPress account, or 5,000 muscle car owners in Texas will get a nasty shock.

In addition to the Niagarrhagia I documented last year, I’ve also been plagued by steadily increasing pain during my periods that started to get distracting a few years ago. It originally started a decade ago, but once I switched to organic tampons it went away for several years.

This isn’t the usual cramping pain, but a something-has-gone-very-wrong inflammation kind of pain. And of course a series of exams and fancy-ass tests with beeping, blinking machines revealed nothing.

For a while the pain would start several days into the period. Then it started at the beginning. Then it got to the point where just thinking about my period made my teeth grind. Another weird development was this spasm thing where I’d have a strong urge to bear down hard with the muscles traditionally used to expel progeny (or belly dance), as if my body was attempting to get rid of the tampon.

Finally it got so dreadful I started looking at tampon alternatives. (Pads are not even remotely an option). The first I found was the Diva menstrual cup, but it seemed too difficult to insert and remove. So I started with a sea sponge — natural sponges from Australia and Thailand (I think) that you can size with scissors. The company that sells most of them calls them sea pearls.

I was intrigued by accounts of women whose heavy periods became much lighter and shorter after several months on the sponge. Some believe that the chemicals used in commercial tampons and pads, designed to make them more absorbent, actually go overboard and start drawing too much fluid from your body.

The difference in comfort was noticeable immediately. It was a huge relief. I actually couldn’t feel it at all. The spasms stopped, too. The sponges are much more absorbent than tampons, depending on how you size them. No odor attaches to the sponge after it’s rinsed; it just smells like a wet sponge.

Other changes I noticed over the next months:

  • The last two days of the cycle became much, much lighter.
  • Horrifically heavy days went down from 2.5 days (and 2 nights) to 1.25 days, but those hours are still pretty heavy.
  • Clots disappeared, but then reappeared a few months later. Not sure what that’s about.
  • The weird odor that started a few years ago appeared later and later in the cycle, then stopped altogether.
  • The lack of accumulated trash in the waste bin is a nice change.

Here are the drawbacks:

  • For me they don’t last as long as advertised — three to six months — but it may be because when I disinfect them in hydrogen peroxide I tend to wander off and leave them soaking for too long.
  • I have yet to change a sponge in public, and I’m not looking forward to it. You sure as heck don’t want to be rinsing that thing in public, so a spare is needed and the used one goes in a plastic bag. (Preferably a firmly-sealed opaque one, to minimize the potential for traumatizing innocent civilians should you end up tripping and tossing your handbag’s contents all over the floor. I worry about these things.) The logistics of all this in an office bathroom freaks me out — keeping your hands and clothes clean during the switch, etc.
  • Figuring out the right size takes some doing. It took me five months of experimenting to get two sizes to work for different flow levels. The instructions that indicate how to shape them were not helpful.
  • Rinsing the sponge when your sink isn’t smack-dab next to your toilet might be tricky.
  • And then there’s the noise factor. I don’t understand why this happens — maybe because the thing is full of holes, and when you cough you become a sort of twisted wind instrument? The only time that happened with a tampon was with much-too-small tampons on very heavy days, when sneezing or during a, uh, sudden flood. It doesn’t happen all the time, and even less when I switched to a larger size, but it only takes one incident during a business presentation and you’ve got PTSD for the rest of your life.
  • Fishing around in your coochie for errant feminine products can induce grunting and swearing, which might have negative effects on your reputation at work.

At this time I’m inclined to say that whatever causes the heavy flow and inflammation is still unidentified, but the sponge lessens the irritation a great deal.

Update 8-28-15: It appears now that these symptoms are due to long-term mold exposure. So far, three months after moving out of my water-damaged apartment building, the inflammation and pain are much improved. Because I’ve been taking vitamin K at the same time, which has controlled the bleeding in the past, I can’t say for sure what effect mold avoidance has had on the flow level, but mold toxin experts say that menstrual “flooding,” as they call it, is a frequently reported symptom of mold poisoning.

Side note: The Period Store carries all sorts of traditional and alternative feminine products that you can arrange to have mailed to you on a regular schedule. I don’t know if there are other similar services out there and I have no experience with this one whatsoever — I just saw a post about it elsewhere (one of the owners has a hairstyling blog) and checked it out. They carry two brands of menstrual cup and two brands of sea sponge, plus washable cloth napkins and even something from FRANCE! Ohmigosh. Each monthly package also comes with chocolate.

 

Niagarrhagia

Update December 24, 2013: See also the post on methionine.

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyMy ob/gyn has only two treatment suggestions for menorrhagia, or heavy menstrual bleeding. Or, as I call it, Niagarrhagia. The first treatment is a prescription NSAID that can reduce output by 40%. Since my body freaks out at every Rx besides antibiotics, it not an option for me.

The second treatment, ablation, was probably thought up by Torquemada and involves cauterizing the lining of the uterus. The resulting scar tissue prevents or at least severely hinders the accumulation of blood. In theory, I’d then have a pleasant, light period, instead of having to trot off to the loo every 20 minutes for three days a month.

My particular brand of Niagarrhagia started 20 years ago. It was neither painful nor prolonged but was still a PIA. Three years ago it developed a nails-on-a-chalkboard quality that sent my insomnia to near-total levels. Dr. Ob/gyn explained that if the flow gets to a certain point, you can actually feel the pressure on the cervix, which makes you want to hiss and grind your teeth. There was also an increase in pain, but I’m assuming that was just a subset of the lovely abdominal pain that started three years ago.

Once again, multiple tests say I’m perfectly healthy in the affected regions and the usual culprits have been ruled out: endometriosis, thyroid or hormone wackiness, etc.

Over the years I have found three things to help considerably and reliably. First of all, getting my calcium and magnesium levels up to what I assume is normal helped by about 30 percent for a while. But it eventually crept back.

From Sandy Simmons’ site I got the idea of increasing my vitamin K intake. She recommended lots of leafy greens, but most of them are goitrogenic (affecting the thyroid, usually by lowering iodine levels) so I went for alfalfa tablets instead. After six weeks of 9 tablets a day, (3, 3x day) I had a normal, manageable cycle and continued to as long as I took them, about 18 months. Eventually I got tired of the flipping things and quit, and after six weeks the old status reigned again.

I was about one month away from scheduling the ablation when for other reasons I decided to go crazy with the vitamin B12. I read Sally M. Pacholok’s book Could it Be B12? An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses and discovered that a newer form worked better for some people and that the old recommended dosages weren’t really very helpful for repleting deficiency.

After one month taking 25,000 mcg of methylcobalamin a day (that’s 5 5,000 mcg lozenges a day), I had what for most people would be a light period. Then I had another one 13 days later. The two together were still only 20 percent of the usual, but you see the problem. After three months of the B12 it started lowering my iron levels (everything lowers my iron levels), so I quit it. (The B12 also ended the headaches that niacin, iron, and B6 used to cause, and they still haven’t returned.)

Not only does Niagarrhagia cause low iron, it can also be caused by low iron. But since I couldn’t raise my iron levels if I ground up a cast-iron pan and free-based it, there is no point in speculating.

I finally learned that vitamin K comes in supplement form and that the amount in the alfalfa tablets was smaller than in a serving of kale, so I probably wasn’t repleting vitamin K so much as just barely getting by. How I missed the supplements before, I don’t know. I started experimenting with much larger dosages. At first I was confused by all the choices — K1, K2 M-4, K2 M-7 — but finally just went with whatever K2 was on the shelf at the health food store.

Anyway, I started at 500 mcg, which might be the equivalent of one large serving of kale, depending on who you ask, and saw a definite difference the next cycle. I went up to 700 and there was even more improvement. When I realized that some people take 15 mg a day to prevent osteoporosis (vitamin D needs vitamin K to move calcium into bones, I think), I became emboldened, ordered the liquid stuff, which gives you 1 mg (milligram) in a tiny drop, and started at 2 mg/day. Much better than swallowing 20 flipping capsules and all that magnesium stearate. (Update 12/24/13: I’ve found that taking 15 mg once a week is just as effective.)

My cycles since then have been like a normal person’s, finally, although I’m still sick of the whole damn thing. Those health class teachers in junior high who tell girls that menstruation is a beautiful thing and a sign of nature’s power, yada yada, can go #$@!& themselves. Or as my Ob/gyn put it, “They’re full of shit.”

(Here are two lists of the vitamin K content in foods which differ quite a bit: Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and The World’s Healthiest Foods site.)

If this turns out not to resolve the issue permanently, I will seriously consider ablation. I have hesitated to resort to that because I don’t like the idea of concealing a symptom without actually solving the problem that created the symptom. The cause of this particular symptom undoubtedly has other symptoms, too, that I just haven’t connected yet. To put it another way, if wasps keep getting in the parlor, I want to know where the nest is.
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Illustration: 1940s American Airlines travel poster by E. McKnight Kauffer. Remix by MRhea.