So many women deal with PMS symptoms (cravings, breast tenderness, moodiness, bloating, headaches, anxiety, sleep issues, fatigue, skin eruptions, etc.) in addition to what they already think of as an unpleasant monthly visit from Aunt Flo. About 75% of women experience issues like this surrounding their monthly cycle and have just normalized how uncomfortable they are. The good news is these symptoms aren’t normal, they just take some work to bring the body back into balance. But, what are the ingredients for a healthy period?
First, understand your cycle
There are actually six (6) hormones that are in-charge of the menstrual cycle in women. These hormones are made in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (GnRh, FSH, LH) and the follicles of the ovaries (estradiol, progesterone, testosterone). The hypothalamus produces gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRh) which sends pulses to the pituitary gland to produce more (or less) follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). FSH is secreted when estradiol is low during menstruation and stimulates a number of follicles (eggs) to start the process of maturation. When a dominant follicle is selected, FSH stimulates it to produce estradiol. At the same time, FSH secretions decrease, LH levels––low at the beginning of the follicular phase–-begin to increase, and then the pituitary secretes a surge of LH in response to the increasing estrogen production occurring during dominant follicle selection. At this point, ovulation occurs and estradiol levels drop dramatically. Post-ovulation, LH stimulates progesterone production via the corpus luteum (luteal phase). Ovulation is necessary to produce progesterone so if you’re not ovulating, it can lead to estrogen dominance (the underlying cause of PMS symptoms) simply by ratio. Without fertilization, levels of progesterone decline which triggers the hypothalamus to stimulate the production of FSH, which triggers the shedding of the uterine lining (menstruation) and causing the selection and accelerated growth of 6-12 ovarian follicles to begin the cycle all over again.
PMS = Hormone imbalances
When hormones become unbalanced, estrogen levels increase and progesterone levels decrease—either relatively or absolutely—which is the real cause of PMS. Causes of hormone imbalances include a poor diet, caffeine, stress, dairy, hormones in dairy products and meat, and environmental toxins (endocrine-disruptors). Alcohol and NSAIDs also contribute to problems because they congest the liver and prevent it from excreting excess estrogen.
Hormone imbalances are not only behind premenstrual symptoms, they are also a common underlying cause of issues ranging from weight gain, hair loss, and moodiness to infertility, breast cancer, strokes, and heart attacks. Here’s how imbalances occur:
Diet – When the diet includes excessive amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates and lacks healthy fats & oils (such as the omega-3 fatty acids found in wild-caught fish); fiber from a variety of above-ground veggies, and a lack of nutrients & minerals from these foods.
Environmental toxins – When we are exposed to toxins such as pesticides on non-organic veggies – or even nail polish – we are absorbing chemicals that interfere with our hormonal systems. These are called endocrine disruptors because their disruptions can lead to cancer, reproductive issues, neurological diseases, and immune system suppression. Endocrine-disruptors work by mimicking the hormones that occur naturally in the body (causing overstimulation), binding to hormone receptors on cells, and essentially block the hormone (which prevents normal hormone signaling within the body), or they work by interfering with hormone production. There are endocrine-disruptors all over our homes — even in ‘trusted’ household or skincare products that you’ve probably been using for years without understanding the consequences.
Stress – When we are under constant stress, this depletes the adrenal glands – a factor which, on its own can create imbalances
Lifestyle – Lack of exercise, sleep issues, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and the use of birth control pills
♀ Menstruation — This is the bleeding part of our cycle and the start of the follicular phase. While estradiol (estrogen) is low, our energy is low — this is an ideal time for some self-care and mellower movement.
♀ Follicular phase (Days 1-14) — This is when estradiol is most dominant and slowly starts to rise along with FSH, which drops and lets LH lead our bodies into ovulation. Creativity is high during this phase along with endurance — so go for a long hike and brainstorm your future.
♀ Ovulation — This is when luteinizing hormone (LH) stimulates the follicle to release an egg and our uterine lining begins to thicken with the rise in estradiol. You’ll have more energy surrounding ovulation, so this is a great time to work out a bit harder. You’ll also feel like a sexy she-beast on this the MOST fertile of days (Coincidence? Nope.)
♀ Luteal phase (Days 14-28) — This phase occurs when hormones (estradiol & progesterone) hit their peak and then drop drastically right before menstruation occurs again (without a fertilized egg). If imbalances are present in the body, PMS-symptoms (heavy bleeding, clotting, cramping, water retention + bloating) occur.
Without a diet rich in healthy dietary fats or if a woman isn’t able to properly absorb the nutrients she’s consuming because of digestive dysfunction, she’s unable to produce good hormones. And when digestion is impaired that can lead to dysbiosis or an overgrowth of bad bacteria. These bacteria have an adverse impact on how the body eliminates excess estrogen, due to an enzyme they produce––b-glucuronidase––which may de-conjugate the estrogen bond with glucuronic acid. The estrogen that would have been excreted is then reabsorbed into the bloodstream, which can elevate levels and lead to estrogen dominance when the conjugated estrogens are unable to be properly eliminated via the bowels.
Ways to give your period some love:
Get enough sleep. This allows your liver to process all that you’re going through
Consume B vitamin-rich foods such as grass-fed meats, leafy greens, and avocados
Reduce toxins. Use less plastic, use a high-quality charcoal water filter, choose clean beauty products (I shop for my clean products at CredoBeauty.com), swap out chemical cleaners for ‘green’ ones, use organic cotton period products
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet and plenty of cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, greens, Brussels sprouts) which increase the liver’s natural detoxification enzymes
Load up on omega-3-rich foods such as cold-water, wild-caught fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies, etc.), flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds for anti-inflammatory support that can support a happy mood while reducing cramps
Increase vitamin C-rich foods or supplement with a high-quality product (such as MegaFood Ultra C). Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to support the liver and mobilize fat in the body
Eat magnesium-rich foods (dark chocolate, Brazil nuts, spinach, cashews, etc.) AND a take a high-quality magnesium supplement. Magnesium (go for Mg Glycinate) is great for calming the body & mind and it assists the liver in carbohydrate metabolization to keep blood sugar levels stable – because when insulin goes up, so does estrogen
Drink Red Raspberry Leaf tea, it is wonderful uterine tonic. It helps to support and tonify the uterus pre-menstruation (and pre-birth), helping to relieve menstrual cramps and pain. It's also helpful in easing symptoms of endometriosis, heavy period flows, and at any stage of pregnancy.
It’s super important to understand what your period should be like, and what’s not normal (debilitating cramps, clots, bloating, etc.). So many of us struggle every month and assume that it is normal. It’s not. If your periods are troublesome each month, I recommend reaching out to your trusted health care provider(s) to investigate. It is important to keep in mind that we’re all bio-individuals, so what works for one person may not work for another. If you need help finding what works best for you, let’s have a quick chat, because you deserve to have a happy period!