Many women struggle with different symptoms around the time of their periods. Sometimes it’s mood swings or tearfulness. Sometimes its cravings and weight gain. And Sometimes it’s extremely painful periods. Sometimes the cramps are so bad that women have to miss work or school.
Many women suffer from menstrual cramps but have no idea what to do to fix it. Conventional information tells you to take ibuprofen, sometimes for the whole week leading up to your period. This is obviously a Band-Aid fix. And what many women don’t know is that ibuprofen can actually be dangerous.
Here is a statement from the FDA website:
“FDA is strengthening an existing warning in prescription drug labels and over-the-counter (OTC) Drug Facts labels to indicate that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke, either of which can lead to death. Those serious side effects can occur as early as the first few weeks of using an NSAID, and the risk might rise the longer people take NSAIDs.”
So what is a girl to do when she is debilitated by cramps every month, leaving her little choice but to pump herself full of these over-the-counter drugs?
It’s time to start looking at hormones. Hormones are important. When hormones are balanced, a women’s cycle should flow by effortlessly. Periods should be regular and easy and not cause excessive pain. Women who experience PMS symptoms are acutely aware of the consequences of unbalanced hormones.
It can be totally frustrating. Women often feel like their bodies have turned against them. I know how this feels. Cramps are something I have struggled with since high school. These days I still have to be careful. If I don’t follow my diet, miss out on a few nights sleep or forget to take my supplements, I often find myself with cramping.
This issue is largely controlled by hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone. And hormones are incredibly sensitive to a variety of factors, including genetics, diet, lifestyle and medications. Learning how to keep your hormones in proper balance is clearly key to getting rid of your menstrual cramps.
Throughout the month, a woman experiences fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone. Too much estrogen can cause menstrual cramps. Excessive estrogen levels are thought to overstimulate the growth of the lining of the uterus. When this happens the uterus needs to contract more strongly in order to shed the extra build up of tissue and this can lead to cramping. A woman will often experience excessively heavy periods along with this.
The chemicals that cause the uterus to contract are called prostaglandins. If a women produces too many prostaglandins then this situation can cause excessively strong contractions leading to painful cramps. Prostaglandins can also affect the lining of the intestines, which means they can also cause diarrhea and constipation during a women’s period.
There is some evidence that indicates that too much estrogen can increase the production of prostaglandins which may explain why women with estrogen dominance often suffer from painful periods.
The good news is that diet, lifestyle factors and supplements can greatly influence the progesterone/estrogen balance throughout the month. Implementing some new healthy habits can have you well on your way to pain-free periods and hormonal bliss.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are mainly man-made oils that include vegetable oils like soybean oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil.
Polyunsaturated basically means that there are a number of double bonds between the carbon molecules, instead of carbon molecules being fully saturated by hydrogen.
Humans aren’t meant to eat a large quantity of these types of fat. The human body is mainly made up of saturated (no double bonds) and monounsaturated (just one double bond between carbons) fats. Polyunsaturated fats only make up 3% of the body’s total fat content.
The body needs fat for cell regeneration and hormone production but it can only use the fats that we provide it with. When we eat foods high in PUFAs, our body has no choice but to incorporate these types of fat into our cells and body chemistry.
PUFAs, due to their structure, are very susceptible to being oxidized by light and heat. Oxidization is the process which causes an apple to turn brown when it is cut open and exposed to oxygen. So even though you might buy “cold-pressed” vegetable oils, keep in mind that your body runs very hot, on average about 98.6 F.
So if these oils haven’t already become oxidized by the heat of pressing or the light in the grocery store, they can easily oxidize once inside your body. Oxidized oils have the potential to cause the mutation of cells and inflammation.
For example, once in your body PUFAs have the ability to clog your arteries. Contrary to what we have been told for the past 30 years, arterial plaques have been found to be 74% unsaturated fats. This research dates back 20 years.
Since hormones are made up of cholesterol and dietary fat, eating inappropriate fat can produce ineffective hormones. Consumption of PUFAs may also increase your estrogen, according to this study, and thus lead to menstrual cramping
Food that increase inflammation in the body can negatively affect your monthly cycle. The following foods can cause excess inflammation in the body and should be limited:
A huge problem that we face these days is the fact that we are exposed to chemicals that contain endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors may come in the form of xenoestrogens. These chemicals basically mimic human estrogen in the body, causing estrogen dominance. They also have the ability to throw off your hormones in other ways.
The other day I heard the statistic that the average women puts over 515 different chemicals on her body before she even leaves the house in the morning. This study was performed by, Bionsen, a natural deodorant company.
This actually blows my mind. Not only are we exposure to thousands of different chemicals in our environment but many of us willingly rub even more chemicals onto our body in the form of body lotion, shampoo, toners, makeup, hairspray and deodorant.
When I work with clients to balance their hormones, I always recommend ditching chemical skin care and beauty products. This is crucial. Switch to organic and natural products or make your own with the ingredients in your kitchen (another topic coming soon!)
This is one of my all-time favorite supplements for female hormones. Maca Root has helped me tremendously and it has helped many of my clients. Maca is a tuber that comes from the radish family. It has a long history of use helping both men and women with everything from infertility to libido issues to hot flashes.
Maca root helps balance hormones with its adaptogenic properties. Adaptogenic means that it doesn’t contain any hormones but contains all the nutrients needed to support hormone production. It is naturally high in minerals like calcium, potassium, iron, magnesim, phosphorus and zinc. It also contains up to 20 essential fatty acids and many amino acids.
Maca is also a great option for people suffering from adrenal fatigue and HPA axis dysfunction. It helps nourish the stress system and can actively bring down stress hormones.
I have seen fantastic results from maca root. In my menopausal clients, I have seen it reduce and eliminate hot flashes and night sweats in a matter of weeks.
Maca root seems to have a cumulative effect and should be used for at least 3-4 weeks before expecting results.
Magnesium is needed for over 300 different enzymatic reactions in the body. It is also one of the nervous systems main relaxants which means it promotes a sense of calm, helps with sleep and can reduce muscle twitching.
There is a good reason that women often crave chocolate at the time of their periods. Cocao is very high in magnesium. Magnesium levels fluctuate throughout the month with estrogen and progesterone. Excessively high estrogen or progesterone can cause magnesium deficiency. So if you are having weird hormone fluctuations, then your magnesium levels can plummet.
Since magnesium relaxes the muscles, it can also reduce the contractions that cause menstrual cramps. One of the best ways to get magnesium is to take an Epsom salt bath in the week leading up to your period.
You can also apply trans dermal magnesium oil to your feet before bed. This is a great way to get magnesium directly into your bloodstream.
This herb is known for its fertility enhancing properties. I have found it also to be helpful in reducing symptoms of PMS and menstrual cramps in some women. It contains high levels of nutrients, including calcium. The best way to take this is to brew it up as a hot tea.
Vitex has a long history of helping women with their hormones. It is very helpful especially with raising progesterone. If progesterone is too low, you can end up with estrogen dominance, even when estrogen is normal or low. Using this herb to raise progesterone can help some women with menstrual cramps. It my experience it takes about 2-3 months to become effective.
Cod liver oil is a great supplement with a high nutrient profile. It contains all the fat soluble vitamins that are necessary for building hearty hormones, including A, D and K. it is also high in Omega 3 fatty acids which can help calm and soothe inflammation.
Sleep is one of the most important things for hormone production. Without proper amounts of sleep, you will not have good hormone balance.
Create a healthy sleep routine to get yourself in bed and asleep by 10:30pm and make sure to get 7-9 hours every night.
Reducing stress may be one of the most important factors in creating happy, balanced hormones. The adrenal glands, which make stress hormones, also make a significant amount of your sex hormones.
Due to survival factors, stress hormones will always get priority over your other hormones. This means that if you are constantly stressed, your body preferentially makes stress hormones instead of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
Find a way to manage your stress, whether that means daily meditation, going to a yoga class, hanging out with good friends or spending a day at the beach.
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