Book Review: Seeing Red
‘We’ve been lied to about periods,’ says women’s health expert Kirsten Karchmer. Despite being extremely common, symptoms like cramps, PMS and bloating aren’t normal. They also aren’t part of being a woman. According to Karcher, author of the book Seeing Red, you don’t have to feel awful once a month.
Menstrual cycle as diagnostic tool
At the age of 17, Karchmer’s periods stopped. A tennis player, she was trained to ignore any sign of sickness or weakness, so she just kept on going. When she was 20, she was finally diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Karchmer decided against conventional drug treatments. Instead, despite thinking acupuncture was ‘total bullshit’, she went to an acupuncturist to humour the friend who had suggested it. Long story short: the treatments helped and Karchmer decided to study acupuncture herself, later specialising in reproductive acupuncture. In her clinic, she saw correlations between a woman’s cycle and her overall health. These patterns were so strong, she started using the menstrual cycle as her primary diagnostic tool. ‘I became so obsessed with the menstrual cycle that I didn’t want to see men in my practice anymore because they didn’t menstruate.’
After dedicating her entire clinical career to deconstructing the menstrual cycle, doing more than twenty years of research and treating thousands of patients, Karchmer found that most period problems women experience – even the most painful ones – are totally correctable and more surprisingly reflective of overall health and fertility. Wanting to fix menstrual suffering, she decided to write the bold, practical, and data-driven handbook for menstrual period that’s Seeing Red. What makes this book special is the multidisciplinary approach. Karchner has been trained in both western and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and has studied biochemistry, organic chemistry, reproductive physiology, and pathophysiology. Realising that everything is connected, she looks at women’s health by combining insights of all these disciplines.
Barometer of your health
The ideal menstrual cycle is 28 days long, with ovulation on day 14 with stretchy and clear cervical discharge. Throughout the cycle, there’s no PMS, cramping, spotting or clotting. When the menstrual blood comes, it’s fresh and red. There’s enough blood to soak a tampon or a pad every four hours for four days, neither more nor less. Although this may sound like a miracle cycle – or how it’s described in the book ‘a unicorn’, Karchmer claims this is achievable for most women. She gives tips on how to improve your health and wellbeing through understanding and embracing your period, which can be seen as a barometer of your health.
It’s all about the mindset
Unfortunately there’s no fix-it-all solution to get this ‘unicorn cycle’. That’d be too easy. Instead you’re shown how to read your cycle, biohack your period (changing your habits, lifestyle and environment so you can better manage your own biology) and map out your personal period plan. This step-by-step programme is based on four profiles or archetypes: each with their own symptoms and thus specific strategies when it comes to exercise and diet. Key points in achieving a healthy menstrual cycle are making nutrition and lifestyle changes, but at least as important is the right mind-set, which Karchmer stresses should be first on your list of things to change. Suffering from a menstrual disease like endometriosis or PCOS? Check out chapter 8 with specific tips on how to improve these conditions.
Next to giving health advice, the book also discusses how menstruation was viewed in history, and the importance of reframing this language. Karchmer uses inclusive language (switching between ‘women’ and ‘people with periods (PWPs)’). She also shares anecdotes about her personal life, like being presented with a pink box of super tampons but no advice on how to use them when getting her first period at the age of 13. This makes the book easy to read, like you’re talking to a friend. A badass friend who occasionally swears and encourages you to ask for a promotion and buy that dress because you’re worth it! (For ‘asking for promotion’ and ‘buying dress’, read ‘sleep enough’ and ‘drink more water’). Seeing Red is a book which doesn’t only have an empowering message – you don’t have to feel awful once a month – it also shows you how to do this.
Mail & win!
Would you like the chance to win a copy of Seeing Red? Send an email with the subject ‘Seeing Red’ and your name and postal address to redactie <@> period.nl before Monday, November the 25th. (Only for Period!-readers in the USA and Canada, sorry!) We’re giving away three copies. – CLOSED –