Today is International Women’s Day.
Being a woman – every day – not just today, is beautiful, empowering. The hormonal, physiological processes that occur within a woman is complex and fascinating. It makes every woman different. A woman’s menstrual cycle is not something to be ashamed of or hide; it gives us the power to develop and give birth to a real life human. The more you think about it, the more truly amazing it seems!
But ladies, it's time to get real about our hormones…
Many of you complain to your girlfriends, or maybe even your partner, about your period pain, and how grumpy, teary, hungry etc. you get when you're coming up to, or on your period.
It's just something that almost every female experiences in her fertile years, so we all get it. It's just accepted as something that happens. We share empathy when someone complains of their period pain and how it’s interfering with their mood, focus, or other aspects of their quality of life.
It's nothing to be ashamed of, of course! There are a very small amount of people that can say they've never experienced period pain, or PMS - it's extremely common in this day and age (up to 85% or more of us experience period pain at any severity), but it is not ‘normal’… Experiencing symptoms associated with PMS and dysmenorrhoea (fancy term for period pain) is not just a thing that you girls need or have to go through. It's your body telling you that there’s a physiological imbalance that should be corrected.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, but severe pain should always be investigated as in some cases, there can be sinister underlying factors that need attention, such as:
- uterine infection or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- fibroids or ovarian cysts.
Other common reasons for period pain include:
- emotional stress and anxiety
- PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- abnormal thyroid function (such as hypothyroidism)
- gastrointestinal disturbances such as dysbiosis
- nutritional deficiency/deficiencies
The good news is, with a knowledgeable practitioner, it is possible to be pain and symptom free. This may involve a lot of changes, whether it's dietary, lifestyle, nutritional, herbal or a combination, and may take some dedication and time.
A gift I’d like to give you ladies however, are some of the things I will use and suggest for my clients that want to improve their periods.
Diet & Lifestyle
- Maintaining a healthy diet, full of whole foods and avoiding processed foods will help improve period pain severity over time. Focusing on foods high in essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as grass fed meats, wild caught salmon and tuna, avocado, nuts and seeds (especially walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds pepitas and sunflower seeds) will help to reduce inflammation and some will even help to reduce excess oestrogens.
- At the time of your period, choosing foods that are easier to digest (such as cooked, light meals, soups, broths and stews) will also help reduce pain and reduce digestive complaints during this time
- Avoid coffee and alcohol as this can increase production of undesirable prostaglandins that encourage inflammation and uterine spasm.
- Cocoa or cacao is high in minerals, particularly magnesium which I will talk about more below. Maybe this is why many women crave sugar around the time of menstruation?
Include sources (preferably raw and sugar-free) of cacao to increase your intake of magnesium.
- Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing when you're experiencing period pain, but it works terrifically for reducing it. It gets your mind off it too!
Magnesium is deficient in Australia's soil, making it hard to get it from diet alone. Magnesium cannot be tested accurately through the blood, as most magnesium is found in muscle, tissue and cells.
Taking a Magnesium supplement can reduce the severity of period pain and also addresses irritability, anxiety and depressive symptoms.
I will often recommend a good quality B complex, usually containing P-5-P (B6), folinic acid or methylfolate (B9/active folate) and methylcobalamin (B12). B vitamins help to reduce stress, improve energy and are also important for many reactions within the body, particularly methylation and the processing of excess hormones.
Vitamin B6 is particularly significant when hormonal complaints are relevant - I will usually choose a complex high in B6, or suggest taking a separate B6 supplement.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
EFAs, particularly omega 3, are incredibly useful for helping to reduce inflammation and prostaglandin production associated with dysmenorrhoea. Omega 3 is right up there for supplements I recommend to my clients, as it’s so imperative to all aspects of our health.
Fish oil is a terrific source of omega 3, particularly EPA which exhibits anti-inflammatory effects.
Other sources of omega 3 include evening primrose oil, flaxseed oil, avocado and walnut oil, but is harder for the body to convert these to EPA.
If you decide to take fish oil for period pain or other reasons, please consider the quality of the supplement. Many over-the-counter brands of fish oil (particularly the cheap ones!) may be causing more inflammation and oxidation in the body than they are reducing it. Fish oil can easily become oxidised and rancid if there are not controls put into place to help prevent this. I will write more about how to find a good quality fish oil another time, but ideally, you should be getting your fish oil from a qualified practitioner.
Probiotics are a longer term solution which help to change the microbial population in the gut to a more beneficial one. Bacteria in the gut is responsible for the modulation and synthesis of some important hormones in the body and can help metabolise hormones. It's better to see a practitioner for a specific probiotic, as there are millions of different species and strains that will have different actions on the body. A naturopath can perform a CDSA (Comprehensive Stool Analysis) to see what bacteria you are lacking.
You could also try using some of the following to control and reduce hormonal symptoms and period pain, but please make sure you're aware of the potential interactions and precautions:
- Cramp bark
- Jamaican Dogwood
- Black cohosh and Peony
- Chaste Tree or Vitex
- Dong Quai
- Anti-inflammatory herbs such as Turmeric, Ginger, Boswellia and Calendula
- Liver herbs such as Dandelion Root, Globe artichoke, St. Mary’s Thistle and Bupleurum help the liver metabolise excess or potent hormones
-Relaxing herbs such as Lemonbalm, Chamomile, Passionflower, and Oat
- Nettle root and Withania, both ‘blood builders’ that help replenish iron loss following menstruation
- Essential oils such as Lavender, Clary sage and Chamomile added to a warm bath with Magnesium bath salts or used in an oil diffuser
No one woman with dysmenorrhoea should be given the same treatment protocol, which is why it’s a good idea to investigate further with a GP and/or natural therapist (herbals, nutrition, acupuncture or the like) not only to rule out sinister underlying conditions, but to get the best, long lasting results.
If you’d like to look into your health further and get a unique treatment plan to help balance your hormones and reduce menstrual irregularities, please get in touch on 0433 079 960, or get in contact using one of these options.