Western Women, Menstruation and Fertility
cultivated by community
I've been reading a very interesting article on the weekend about an anthropologist who studied women from the Dogon people of Mali in order to find out what fertility patterns might have been like before Western industrialization. She came to some interesting conclusions: typically, the women didn't reach puberty until later (around 16 - 17) than the Western average. They then spent the years between 20 and 35 having 8 - 9 children and practicing extended b/feeding *which typically suppressed ovulation for 20 months*. Fertility then dipped sharply from 35 onwards and menopause typically occurred around 40. The researcher (Susan Strassman, I think? - haven't got the article to hand) concluded that Dogon women menstruate only about 100 times in their lives, while Western women menstruate around 400 times on average.
The general thrust of the article examined the link between frequent ovulation and menstruation and the number of cell changes this puts the body through each time the egg bursts from the ovaries, the womb lining is shed and the breast tissue changes. The theory being posited was that each change puts women at greater risk of cancer simply because each time the cells have to multiply rapidly, there is more chance that the cell division will go wrong and cancer can emerge. Pre-modern women experience these cell changes far fewer times because they menstruate less than we do. They also carry less body fat, which apparently also has a bearing.
I thought about myself in comparison to the Dogon women: undoubtedly, I'd have a higher fat ratio in my diet and it would be more varied, but on the whole I eat a lot of fresh food and cereals and few pre-prepared or fatty foods. I'm physically very active. I menstruated late and have been b/feeding fairly constantly for around eight years with no more than a two year break in the middle of that time. I've been pregnant four times. So in comparison to a lot of mainstream Western women, I'm closer to the pre-modern women. Why, then, do I get my periods back so quickly after childbirth? With the twins I was almost a year, but with DD and DS, it took only three months or so, despite exclusive, on-demand b/feeding. That seems to also be the experience of many other women I've spoken to online who've followed similar health and childbearing patterns. Why do you think that b/feeding doesn't suppress our ovulation for such long periods? Why don't our bodies respond to those natural fertility rhythms the same way the Dogon women do?
So I had a diet VERY low in artificial oestrogens & I still bleed early. I have also had 4 pregnancies (one a termination at 18 y.o ). I have breastfed for close to 6 years (with the exception of maybe 9 months in that time - & no! that wasn't during a pregnancy!*L*). I did not chart after my 1st born, but I know I had bleed by 6 months. With DS my menses returned at 16 weeks & as most of you would already know my period returned just recently at exactly 3 months after 2nd DSís birth.
My theory, apart from the very real stance of artificial oestrogens in modern day produce, plus the myriad of other reasons (which I'll happily discuss in another post, another day!), IS the very real advent & usage of ARTIFICAL light.
I suppose typical of many things it is easy to underestimate the effect & power of lifestyle choices when we take them granted & artificial lighting is an excellent example of this.
One only has to look to more "primitive" life forms to see the effect day & night & the exposure to moon cycles has on their fertility. I am sure that the introduction of artificial lighting into western civilization has had a direct & rather dramatic effect on the early return to fertility experienced by many westernized females. This & as I said above, the many other reasons.
Oh Yes, Yes. I was going to mention this but didn't have the time at the time. I think artificial lighting affects us more than we realize (like that study about using nightlights and near-sightedness)
I tried lunaception to regulate my periods before TTC DD and it worked like a charm. I also notice because of where I live, far north, with tons of light in the summer and hardly any in the winter, my periods tend to go wonky seasonally. It was most interesting to figure that out.
I think you might have something there too. I also grew up on a farm in a fairly clean environment in the era before crop chemicals were spread by air. I didn't eat much dairy as a child and my mother put a big emphasis on fresh local food. I do the same with my children and our family diet, and though milk plays a part, we've had a house cow for years both to save money and protect the children from all the stuff they do to milk these days. I'm also naturally a thin person with a fast metabolism, so extra body weight isn't playing a part. I'm sure I have a certain level of exposure to oestrogens as we all (almost unavoidably) do, but I think you're right that artificial light and disrupted circadian rhythms overstimulate our reproductive systems. I would guess that in societies where women and children all go to bed at the same time for much longer periods, there's also more nocturnal b/feeding going on.