As someone who takes an active interest in her menstrual cycle and isn’t shy about sharing it on the World Wide Web, I certainly believe that menstruation is about so much more than just blood. The menstrual cycle is a major part of a woman’s overall health, and for some, it is also tied to elements of personal empowerment and spirituality. But did you know that menstrual blood really is a unique kind of blood?
When I began to pay close attention to my menstrual cycle, one of the first things I did was to really look at what was on the pad instead of just throwing it out as quickly as possible. I noticed the color, the texture and, of course, the amount of blood that I was seeing and it was interesting for sure.
But it wasn’t until the first time I tried a menstrual cup that I got a chance to look at my blood “right from the cervix.” It felt and looked different from any other blood that I had experienced.
So what makes menstrual blood different?
An important difference is the reason behind the blood. Humans generally experience bleeding (whether external or internal), as the result of some kind of trauma that in some way damages the body. But menstruation is not the result of bodily trauma of any kind, and the body is not injured by experiencing a healthy menstrual cycle. Instead, menstruation occurs when an egg is not fertilized by a sperm, and the nutrient rich uterine lining designed to receive a fertilized egg sheds out through the vagina. Check out this Cycledork article for more info on the entire menstrual cycle
Menstrual blood is also different from regular blood due to its contents. It contains blood certainly, but it is also made up of uterine tissue and cervical and vaginal secretions. While it shares a similar pH with regular blood, there are several ways in which it differs. It has less proteins, cholesterol and bilirubin than regular blood, as well as less platelets, iron and hemoglobin. Its water content is also higher than regular blood.
Although all menstrual blood contains the same basic elements, the exact composition varies for each menstruator and each cycle!
Menstrual blood’s uniqueness has been recognized by many cultures throughout history. It has a central role in many creation myths from around the world, and it played a part in many ancient religious rituals. The ancient Greek for example mixed menstrual blood with corn and spread it on the earth to promote fertility. Using menstrual blood to nourish the earth and the plants that grow in it is actually practiced by many menstruators today. You can use a menstrual cup to collect the blood or if you use cloth pads or a sponge you can soak these and use the water. Check out this article if you’d like more information on using menstrual blood as plant fertilizer.
Menstrual blood has also long been believed to have healing properties. Ancient Egyptian medical papyri notes the use of menstrual blood in ointments and drugs. The medieval nun and healer Hildegard of Bingen believed that menstrual blood could be used as a cure for leprosy. Recent medical research confirms the ancient beliefs in the healing power of menstrual blood. We now know that menstrual blood is an excellent source of stem cells. The study and use of menstrual blood-derived stem cells (MenSCs) is still fairly new, but their use in medicine looks very promising.
So the next time you change your pad or tampon or take out your menstrual cup, maybe take a second look at the blood you see. Whether you view your bleeding days as a sacred time, something you just put up with, or anything in between, your blood is an incredible substance! Talking about the power of menstrual blood, from ancient beliefs to modern stem cell research, is a great way to help undo the taboo around menstruation.
Artwork: “Truth in Perception” by Jen Lewis/Beauty in Blood
Brigid Taylor is a women’s healing arts teacher, childbirth educator and the creator of Taweret’s Wisdom, a business dedicated to helping women reclaim their power and live their best lives. Read her full bio here.