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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Oral contraceptive (OC) pills have become one of the main forms of birth control being used today. According to a National Canadian Contraception survey, 66.6% of women aged 15-19, 58.3% of women aged 20-29, 31.5 % of women aged 30-40 and 17.1% of women over 40 are using oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy.
In the United States, 12 million women are using the pill as their main form of pregnancy prevention.
While OC can be an excellent way to prevent becoming pregnant (up to 99.9% effective when used correctly), many women are using the pill for other reasons than preventing pregnancy.
According to a 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute, based on US government data from the National Survey of Family Growth, 58% of women using the pill are using it for reasons other than birth control.
The problem is that OC does not actually cure any of these problems. The pill simply manipulates hormone levels so that the user no longer experiences the symptom. This means the root cause of the hormonal issue continues despite oral contraceptive use.
So while you go about your life, symptom free, your underlying issue continues and gets worse without your knowledge.
The majority of women do not want to be on the pill long term. Most women, at some point, decide to become pregnant and go off the pill. Many women will find that it’s not as easy as they thought to become pregnant. This is because the hormonal issues they originally attempted to “cure” by using the pill, have now been going on for a long time (maybe over a decade or more for some women) and have never been addressed.
The longer these problem has been going on for, the more difficult it is to deal with. Unfortunately, many women who go off OC in their 30’s hoping to become pregnant find themselves struggling to conceive against the ticking internal clock.
A women’s cycle is ruled by the falling and rising of progesterone and estrogen. The first day of your period is day one of your cycle. This is called the Follicular Phase. It lasts until ovulation starts. The length of this phase will be different for every women. In a 28 day cycle, this will last from day 1-14.
The menstrual cycle is characterized by the shedding of the uterine wall. It’s usually lasts 3-7 days. During this phase, the pituitary gland secretes the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which causes the follicle to ripen an egg. Estrogen is at its highest during this time.
At ovulation, the egg is released. As the level of estrogen rises in the body, it will eventually cause the release of the Luteinizing Hormone (LH). LH causes the follicle to rupture and releases the egg down the Fallopian tube.
This is the time in a women’s cycle when she is able to become pregnant. She will be fertile the first day of ovulation and for 24 hours afterwards. Keep in mind that sperm can survive for up 4-6 days in a woman’s body which means that she is fertile on the first day of ovulation and for those 4-6 days before hand.
The egg eventually becomes the corpus luteum which results in a huge release of progesterone. The progesterone maintains the lining of the uterus and prepares for implantation. This phase is call the Luteal phase. Estrogen and progesterone are strongest at this time.
If fertilization does not occur than the corpus luteum degrades and breaks down. Progesterone and estrogen begin to decrease. Decreasing hormone levels mean that the lining of the uterus cannot be maintained. When the two hormones are at their lowest, the lining begins to shed which marks the beginning of a women’s period.
When a women takes OC, estrogen and/or progesterone levels are kept high which “tricks” her body into thinking she’s pregnant. This mean that pregnancy cannot occur because ovulation will not occur.
Some pills work differently. Some pills prevent ovulation all together while others prevent implantation of the egg into the uterine wall or make the cervical mucus so thick that a sperm cannot make it through.
The problem is that the pill has many side effects that are not discussed with women upon prescription. I can attest to this. I began taking the pill when I was 16 years old. I was not having sex at that point. But I was thinking about it and my doctor encouraged me to go on it “just in case.”
The result was me taking OC for a year and a half for absolutely no reason. I had no idea that what I was doing was affecting my health. Other than an increased risk of clots, no other risk was discussed with me.
Taking the pill for contraception is an individual choice. But I believe that in order to make an well informed choice, a woman needs to have all the proper information in their hands.
Here is a list of side effects your doctor may not have told you about.
In order for the liver to metabolize birth control pills properly, it needs extra amounts of nutrients including B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc.With this increased need, a women is susceptible to becoming deficient in these important nutrients. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to weight gain, fluid retention, mood changes, depression and heart disease.
This study showed the decrease in 6 nutrients including riboflavin, pyridoxine, folacin, vitamin B12, ascorbic acid and zinc, in women who were using oral contraception. B-vitamins, for example are critical for every energy reaction in your body. A deficiency in B vitamins can cause a wide range of issues including anemia, chronic fatigue, acne, depression and fatigue
Zinc, on the other hand, controls many of the reactions of the immune system. This means that a zinc deficiency can cause immune system dysfunction leading to excess inflammation.
Magnesium is important for over 300 different enzymatic reactions in the body. For example, magnesium is a precursor for your happy hormone, serotonin. It also aids in the digestion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Without enough magnesium you are susceptible to depression, insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks.
As humans, we have 10 times as many bacterial cells in our body than we do actual human cells. Cutting edge research has found that the microflora in our body is important not only for digestion but for brain health, immune health and hormone balance.
The pill devastates gut microflora. Studies have shown that women who take long term OC have altered gut flora. According to digestive health expert Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, “The effect of contraceptive pills on the composition of bacteria in the gut is devastating. The longer the lady is on the contraceptive pill, the deeper will be the damage on her gut flora.”
Candida Albicans is a yeast that naturally lives in your large intestine. When a woman’s body is healthy, her gut flora colonies keep this opportunistic yeast in check. Once gut flora is impacted by OC, Candida, which can be aggressive if the opportunity arises, can spread from the large intestine to other places in the body.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, up to 75% of women will experience Candida overgrowth in their lifetime. Women often experience this as yeast infections. But yeast can affect the body in a number of other ways.
This includes: headaches, sugar cravings, weight gain, hyperactivity, chronic fatigue and digestive dysfunction. Inappropriate gut flora can also lead to bacterial and parasitic infection.
In The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, Sam Epstein, MD, writes,
“more than 20 well-controlled studies have demonstrated the clear risk of premenopausal breast cancer with the use of oral contraceptives. These estimates indicate that a young woman who uses oral contraceptives has up to ten times the risk for developing breast cancer as does a non-user, particularly if she uses the Pill during her teens or early twenties; if she uses the Pill for two years or more; if she uses the Pill before her first full-term pregnancy; if she has a family history of breast cancer.”
Human and animal studies have shown that a group of genes called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) can influence odor. In general, females prefer the odor of mates with a dissimilar MHC. This means that naturally, we are meant to be attracted to men that are the least genetically similar to us.
Obviously this is a positive advantage on an evolutionary standpoint. When we choose partners that are the least genetically similar to us, we increase the likelihood or creating healthy, strong offspring.
A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, however, suggests that women on the pill tend to prefer mates who are more genetically similar to them. Basically the pill makes women choose mates who are more like a brother than a partner.
There are many stories of women who choose a partner while taking OC, get married and then go off OC to become pregnant. Suddenly they find themselves no longer attracted to their husbands.
The vagina is a hormone dependent organ – meaning it needs adequate amounts of hormones to function and grow. Studies have shown that taking the pill for just 2 years has the ability to shrink the size of your clitoris. According to women’s health expert, Dr. Sara Gottfried, taking the pill can shrink your clitoris up to 20%. Um whaaaaat?
Since taking the pill will decrease your free testosterone, which controls sexual function in women, taking the pill can not only result in a shrunken clitoris but has the ability to completely squash your sex drive as well.
Many women take oral contraceptives so they can have sex more freely, but after a couple of years of being on the pill, they may have little desire to have sex anymore.
Taking the pill is not a decision to be taken lightly. It should take some serious thought that involves weighing the pros against the cons. Unfortunately, some doctors readily prescribe the pill to teenage girls, who have little ability make informed decisions.
The pill can be a wonderful thing that allows women to have sex without the fear of becoming pregnant. But truth be told, the freedom of the pill does not come without consequences. I believe that women should know what they are getting themselves into.
This is something you will have to decide for yourself. While providing sexual freedom, it does not come without its side effects. And these side effects may have far reaching consequences that can seriously affect your life in the future.
Something to important to remember is that the pill will not fix your hormonal issues. So if you are considering taking OC to reduce nasty symptoms, understand that you are likely only making your symptoms worse in the long term.
If you do decide to take oral contraceptives, take steps to reduce some of the side effects. Supplement with magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and Vitamin C. Take a high quality probiotic, digestive enzymes and increase your consumption of homemade fermented foods.
And if you are considering getting married to your partner while taking OC, go off it for a while to make sure you are making a good choice.