Female Martial Artists and Amenorrhea
By David Bock
Female martial artists, as with all serious 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 indicates
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
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,
high-calorie 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.
About The Author:
David Bock, C.Ac. Dipl.Ac. Dipl.CH, is a teacher of Wadokai
Aikido (under Roy Suenaka Sensei), a Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist,
NCCAOM National Board Certified in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology,
author of the online column “The Practical Herbalist” at www.lakecountryonline.com.
He can be reached at www.hartlandorientalmed.com