Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming!! – The first time I read that I can cure virtually all my PMS symptoms, I didn’t believe it! To say the least I was extremely skeptical. That can’t be possible. Adolescent girls and women just have to deal with it right? To my understanding, some of us are just born unlucky and have to learn to live with the hand we were dealt, don’t we? Now, before you call BS on the fact that we can cure our PMS, I am living proof it is possible.
There were times when I literally would have done anything to stop the pain. Anything to stop the fatigue, moodiness, headaches, back pain, breast tenderness, the occasional fainting, the full interruption to daily life, that happened Every. Single. Month.
Before I tell my story, here’s a little back history.
Premenstrual syndrome was originally seen as an imagined disease. Imagined. Women were told “it’s all in your head”. I’m sorry, but I was not imagining my symptoms, are you?
Although women have been experiencing PMS for centuries, a formal medical description of PMS and the more severe PMDD wasn’t noted until the early 1950’s and up until that time little to no research had been done surrounding PMS or PMDD. And, not until the 1980’s was PMS seen as a social concern.
Did you know there are over 200 documented symptoms associated with PMS and that eighty percent of women experience some form of PMS in the one to two weeks leading up to her period. And of those eighty percent, twenty percent experience symptoms so severe they seek medical help, have to stay home from school or work, or have their daily activities completely disrupted. Imagined disease!!!! Seriously?
For too long, no one was talking about PMS. For too long, doctors didn’t view a women’s menstrual cycle as meaning anything. For too long, PMS has been covered up with hormonal birth control (HBC) and prescription medications and I for one am so excited to see this one day come to an end. Not just for my sake, but my daughter’s and all women who suffer.
In the Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden, ND, she states, “Your period is not just your period. It is an expression of your underlying health. When you are healthy, your menstrual cycle will arrive smoothly, regularly, and without undesirable symptoms. When you are unhealthy in some way, your cycle will tell the story.”
She goes on to urge women to think of their menstrual cycle “as your monthly report card” and “what is happening with your health in general.”
Thankfully the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now agrees, and in 2015 released a statement naming the menstrual cycle as a vital sign. Unfortunately done quietly, but done all the same. In it they state:
“Identification of abnormal menstrual patterns in adolescence may improve early identification of potential health concerns for adulthood. It is important for clinicians to have an understanding of the menstrual patterns of adolescent girls, the ability to differentiate between normal and abnormal menstruation, and the skill to know how to evaluate the menstrual cycle as an additional vital sign, clinicians reinforce its importance in assessing overall health status for patients and caretakers.”
Translation – our doctors should be asking every girl and woman who enters their office about menstruation and their cycles for each appointment no matter the reason for the visit. By doing so they would lead the way in patients knowing that it’s “an important reflection of their overall health”.
I find it incredibly fascinating and hopeful that if we fix our health we can fix our periods. We no longer need to get placed on HBC as a band-aid solution to our menstrual issues. But rather, work on the underlying health issues that our body is signaling for us to fix. HBC doesn’t regulate our hormones, it shuts them off. So it is not an answer, but only a dely. Once you stop taking HBC, all the same old symptoms will return because the underlying issue was not addressed.
If our doctors aren’t concerned with our menstrual cycles and PMS symptoms as possible health concerns, then we need to be our own detective. Just like with any other ailment we experience, our PMS symptoms are telling us a story of our health, we just need to stop and listen.
Remember, there are 200+ ways our bodies can tell us something’s not right during our cycles and although at times it felt like I was experiencing all 200 at the same time, I wish I would’ve known twenty years ago to stop and listen. To take action towards better health to therefore have a better period.
But I know now, and my goal is to help spread the information that we do not have to just live with PMS any more. We can cure our PMS and experience the wonder of a painless, symptomless, smooth menstrual cycle and period.
How do I know this? Because I am proof it can happen and here’s my story –
Since I was a teenager I experienced ALL the things: fatigue, sharp cramps some so severe I would faint, back pain, mood swings, cravings, crying (usually at some sad oreo commercial, no joke lol), breast pain, and missing school and work. And yep, you guessed it, I was put on HBC at about 15-16 years old to mask my symptoms.
I remained on HBC until I was about 29, when my husband and I decided to try for children, for fear that my PMS would come back if I stopped it. As I feared, most of my symptoms returned in full force, but thankfully I was able to get pregnant fairly quickly.
After having my daughter, my periods were stable, much improved from my past history. Then, shortly after having my second child, everything started progressively getting worse. I didn’t go back on birth control, instead just dealt with it. Didn’t go far without my heating pad and extra large box of Midol. I never once thought all my symptoms was my body screaming for help.
When my youngest was almost a year old, my husband and I started CrossFit. We started hearing everyone talk about being “paleo” and “eating clean” (which started my fascination with nutrition and health).
I removed dairy and wheat from my diet, processed foods, added sugars, limited alcohol, and increased my vegetables and quality proteins. We started cooking from home, limited our industrial vegetable oils, and soy. Among all the benefits of doing this, came improved periods. This wasn’t my main goal or even on my radar of possibilities. It still took me awhile to put two and two together.
It wasn’t until I reintroduced some of those things that I realized my periods were getting bad again. My body was sending me signals that something wasn’t right, I wasn’t as healthy anymore. I removed dairy, wheat, and soy and that was it, freedom from PMS once again. It wasn’t easy the first time, removing those things, but this time it was simple and a no brainer.
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When I knew what was on the other side of eliminating those foods that were inflammatory to my body, the transition was motivated by a pain free period. I was still having some mild symptoms but nothing like before.
After reading the Period Repair Manual, I implemented some of the advanced treatment protocols and I am happy to report my last few periods have come and gone without notice. I almost sat down and cried with joy, 27 years of dealing with this and now nothing but a smooth period. So like I said before, pinch me, I think I’m dreaming!!
So what is a “normal” healthy period supposed to be like anyways?
It’s the sum of three main phases:
- The follicular phase, which can last from 7 to 21 days and starts on day 1 of your period.
- Ovulation, which lasts one day
- The luteal phase, which lasts 10-16 days
As mentioned above, your period should come without much notice, smoothly and pain free. Estrogen and progesterone are each others yin and yang, rising and falling at specific times during the three phases.
Estrogen and progesterone are good hormones to have, the hormones themselves are not bad. But it’s when these hormones are off balance, having too much or too little of either one, that the body will let you know by producing a less than favorable period experience. Remember, when the body is unhealthy in some way, your period is a vital sign, there to let you know.
Symptoms of estrogen excess include heavy periods, breast tenderness, short cycles, PMS, and fibroids. Estrogen is good and beneficial, but too much, and it creates this “higher you fly – harder you fall” scenario. When estrogen falls you need progesterone to come to the rescue and rise. If it does not, symptoms of low progesterone include no luteal phase or a short luteal phase, fertile mucus during the premenstrual phase, PMS, premenstrual bleeding or spotting, and prolonged or heavy menstrual bleeding.
Here’s a short video from Dr. Axe explaining how high estrogen foods disrupt the balance of hormones causing some of the mentioned symptoms:
Ok, back to the period talk… what should we be looking for?
Here’s a long list of noteworthy clues to investigate and treat:
→ No periods at all
→ Late periods
→ Early periods
→ Heavy periods
→ Prolonged bleeding
→ Menstrual clots
→ Light periods
→ Period pain
→ Pain before periods
→ Pain during sex
→ Pain from infection
→ Mid-cycle ovarian pain
→ No fertile mucus
→ Abnormal timing of fertile mucus
→ Yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis
→ Mid-cycle bleeding
→ Premenstrual bleeding
→ Bleeding after sex
→ Premenstrual symptoms (PMS, all those 200+ symptoms we imagine)
→ Postmenstrual symptoms
[Tweet ““Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” -Hippocrates-“]
Take the time and opportunity to heal yourself. Healing and treatment are a combination of strategies.
Most important and first and foremost, is consistently maintaining good general health. Without the foundation of good health and achieving these basic principles, more advanced treatments will not be as beneficial. Listed below are natural treatments that are best in preventing PMS.
Managing stress and cortisol:
These are key factors in period health. Short term activation of cortisol is beneficial, but long term chronic cortisol is not beneficial. It can be associated with severe fatigue, muscle weakness as it steals protein from your muscles, depression and anxiety, reduces your sensitivity to insulin, weakens immune system, impedes ovulation, and lastly, damages the hippocampus which is the part of the brain that calms the HPA axis leading to HPA axis dysfunction.
Proper sleep and regular exercise:
Again, two other key factors in period health. “Sleep is more important than exercise. Hopefully you have time for both in your day, but if you have to choose, choose sleep.” says Lara Briden, ND. Sleep is important for the regulation of hormones and getting 7-9 hours a night is optimal. Regular exercise is beneficial and committing to something you love and enjoy and can do consistently throughout the week is ideal.
Cooling chronic inflammation:
Another important aspect of general whole body health, including period health, is inflammation. Chronic inflammation distorts hormonal communication and is a major cause of PMS. It impairs the manufacture of progesterone, the yang to estrogens yin and interferes with estrogen detoxification. Without the ability to detoxify estrogen, it can circulate back into the bloodstream causing estrogen excess. Major sources of inflammation are smoking, stress, lack of exercise, environmental toxins, unhealthy gut microbiome, and inflammatory foods.
Dr. Lara Briden’s top 5 inflammatory foods are:
→ Processed vegetable oils and GMO soy
Testing these foods to see if they are in fact causing you inflammation could be a start to finding good general health. Eliminating these foods for 4-6 weeks and then reintroducing them each separately to see if inflammation returns.
To identify foods that may be causing PMS symptoms, it may take longer to notice, therefore, cutting out dairy or wheat for several months may be necessary. Dr. Briden states, “My clinical observation is that stopping normal cow’s dairy is one the best front-line treatments for many period problems including PMS, acne, endometriosis, and heavy periods.”
I, myself, am a huge advocate for eliminating dairy from our diets, but of course, it’s ultimately up to each individual person. We have milk in our house because my kids and husband choose to keep it in their diets. I buy organic grass fed milks and cheeses vs conventional in order to provide them with the healthiest option of that food.
Maintaining a healthy level of macro and micro-nutrients:
These are things that our bodies simple need in order to thrive. Eating a balanced amount of protein, fats, and carbs that come from real whole foods and keeping a balance between calories in and calories out. Both undereating and overeating cause problems, but for this particular blog I’m going to concentrate on undereating and how that affects our period health (This is where reverse dieting comes into play, click here to watch a video where we break down the what, why, when and how of reverse dieting).
Completely removing entire food groups when not necessary can have adverse effects. Going low-carb or low-fat or low-protein for extended periods of time can run you into problems and cause you to unintentionally undereat. Undereating comes along with its own long list of problems but one in particular is lack of micronutrients.
If we’re not eating enough nutrient dense foods, then we’re also not eating enough vitamins and minerals that are essential to period health. The most important ones pertaining to period health are magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, and iodine.
Ladies, don’t be afraid of hunger, don’t be afraid to eat. Thinking that women are supposed to be these frail little skeleton figures that hardly eat all day is not a desirable way to live and it most definitely is not sustainable for long term health. Nutrition doesn’t have to be so complicated. Our diets don’t need a name or a clear box of rules that we eat within and can’t go outside of it for fear that we won’t be 100% paleo anymore. The best diet is the one we can adhere to, the one that makes us feel great and energized, makes us progress towards our goals.
If you find you are not one of the lucky few to have never experienced PMS, then you can do something about it. Putting in some effort and time to do the three key steps that Dr. Briden says will help you “cultivate hormonal resilience”.
- Enhance progesterone and GABA
- Stabilize estrogen and metabolize it properly
- Reduce inflammation – this one being most important and key to period health
After creating a solid healthy foundation, there are additional and advanced strategies to improve period health even more. She provides recommended supplements to enhance your new healthy body. Along with tests and lab work that you can ask your doctor to perform to give you an even more in depth look at your period health. Dr. Briden’s book goes into each of these strategies in depth, providing information and a road map to heal.
Her final message in her book: Trust Your Body
“Your body wants to be healthy. It wants to have healthy periods. Treat the cause, and play the long game. Stick with your treatment. Trust your body.”
This could not be more perfect advice. Our bodies do want to heal and if given the opportunity are really good at it. But most importantly is it does take time and focus. It could take several months, so be patient and give your body the respect it deserves. Sticking to the plan and consistently adhering to the steps it takes to reveal what a healthy body and then a healthy period should feel like.
Written by Boom Boom Performance Nutrition Coach, Courtney Sturgeon. Courtney is a health coach specializing in nutrition and positive long-term lifestyle changes. After graduating from Oklahoma State University in 2001, she and her husband moved to the PNW where they currently live with their 2 children. While taking some time off from working as a Certified Ophthalmic Assistant to raise her children, she discovered her true passion and calling in the field of health, fitness, and nutrition – now coaching clients full time. To work directly with Coach Courtney on your nutrition, click here now.
You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram at @coachcourtney_bbp