I can’t even tell you how many times a woman has said to me, “No, my periods are fine – just the normal amount of pain and cramping”. News flash – no amount of pain and cramping are normal. Even though it’s common for women to suffer during their time of the month, those symptoms are pointing to a larger body imbalance. And this larger imbalance is something that is fix-able!
If you deal with abdominal or back pain during your period, or even before it starts, there are things you can do to get rid of it. If you get headaches or migraines, moodiness or breast tenderness, digestive symptoms or fatigue – none of it is normal. Fluctuations in pain and other symptoms that follow your cycle are all signs of a hormone imbalance.
Conventional Western medicine only has one solution for these problems: birth control pills. Unfortunately, taking synthetic hormones doesn’t actually fix the imbalance, and over the long term makes it worse. So, what’s a girl to do, just suffer through decades of pain and wait until menopause? Probably not the best idea, since those hormone imbalances just get worse and then start causing other problems like hot flashes, irritability and dryness. Suck it up, take the pills, and hope for the best? That choice is up to you – but if you’re looking for a third, and better, option, you’ve come to the right place.
I recommend starting with the first 3 steps, and if you still need more help, move on to the final step. If starting with all three at the same times seems overwhelming, begin with whichever step seems the most doable. After a few weeks, once you’ve got that step down, you can add one more. Incremental changes can make a big difference in the long haul, especially if that’s what you need to do to get these habits to stick.
4 Steps to Easy, Breezy Periods
1. Tweak Your Diet
Start with Whole Foods
I think it probably goes without saying at this point that eating foods as close to their natural state as possible is your best bet for overall health. It’s also ideal for regulating hormones. So, it’s time to say goodbye to processed sugar (fruit is fine, honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar in small amounts are ok) and processed foods in general. This includes chips, crackers, cereal, granola bars, cookies – really most things that come in a box or bag.
And speaking of processed foods, there is one ingredient that is extra important to watch out for, and that is omega-6 oils, or oils that are high in poly-unsaturated fats. These just happen to be very processed oils, like soy, corn, canola or “vegetable”. Have you ever pressed corn and have oil come out? No? So how do they make oil from corn? I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question. Plus, our bodies are mostly made form saturated and mono-unsaturated oils, and these processed oils are extremely inflammatory. So let’s make an extra effort of avoid these guys.
But let’s not be sad about having to cut out some of those problem foods, because now we get to add some in! Every veggie in the brassicas family, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale, contains a chemical that regulates estrogen. I recommend not eating too much of these guys raw however, because they can be a bit hard for your digestive tract to break down. So steam, sauté, braise or roast to your heart’s content, and add these babies into your diet daily.
Your ovaries make lots of estrogen during the first half of your cycle. Then after you ovulate, estrogen levels should go down and progesterone takes over. All that estrogen is broken down and eliminated by your Liver. One of the biggest causes of women’s hormone imbalances is estrogen dominance – where this process doesn’t happen efficiently. One of the reasons for that is your Liver is too busy dealing with all the toxic things we’re putting in to it.
This is why you're gonna need to ease the load on your Liver. Step one: avoid pesticides in your food. Shop organic or local (so you can ask the farmer what kinds of things they put on their crops) as much as possible. (Find Step 2 below)
Start Seed Cycling
This diet chat wouldn’t be complete without mentioning seed cycling. This is the super easy practice of incorporating specific seeds into your diet during different parts of your cycle. The oils and nutrients in the seeds helps to support and balance your hormones. I talk more about seed cycling in this article.
As soon as your period starts, add one tablespoon each of ground flax seeds and ground pumpkin seeds to your daily diet. This combo binds to excess estrogen and decreases inflammation. Then once you ovulate, which in most women is about 14 days after the start of your period, switch to one tablespoon each of ground sunflower and sesame seeds. These seeds support and balance progesterone production.
2. Detox Your Home
Replace Personal Care and Home Cleaning Products
Remember that whole discussion about the Liver getting all gummed up by having to break down too many toxins? Those toxins aren’t just found in your food, but they are also in the products you use to clean your body, house, and even in your mascara and tampons. So - Liver detox step #2? Green up your clean routine.
Thankfully, there are tons of clean options these days. For home cleaning I love Branch Basics – a concentrate that can be mixed with water in varying strengths to clean everything from the bathroom, windows, laundry and your hands. And Method makes specialized green cleaners for floors, stainless steel and granite. For personal care products, there are tons of good options at your local health food store, and for higher end products, I shop online at Credo Beauty and Detox Market. And for feminine care, look for organic, unbleached cotton tampons, or use a reusable product like the Diva Cup or Thinx.
Watch Out For Plastics
A special shout-out must be made to BPA plastics, which contain hormone disruptors. So if revamping your whole house seems a little intimidating right now, just start with this one. You can find these plastics in everything from food storage/packaging containers, toiletries, or lining your canned food. To figure out if your plastic contains BPA, look for the marking on the bottom – and if it says 3, 7 or PC, just avoid it.
3. Coordinate Activity and Rest
If there’s one thing that’ll tweak your hormones in an instant, it’s stress. Whether it’s bad stress or good, conscious stress in your mind, or unconscious stress held in your body, your hormones are constantly responding and working to rebalance your body. Your endocrine system is designed to do this – but if we’re constantly asking it to do too much, it can’t keep up. That’s why it’s important to give our bodies some time to recharge and rebalance.
Make Time For Sleep and Rest
Yes, sleep and rest are two different things, and we need time for both. Just like a computer that has been on too long, we start to slow down and misfire when we’re not put to sleep. If you’re having problems sleeping, take a look at this article, and if not, just make sure you’re getting enough, good quality sleep.
Resting involves switching your body from its fight or flight response to rest and digest mode. This can be done through meditation or prayer, deep breathing exercises, and just stopping to smell the roses. Create a safe space for your body and mind, and your hormones will breathe a sigh of relief.
Mindful Exercise and Movement
As you may already have noticed, our female bodies change throughout the month with our cycle (Hooray for womanhood!). Sometimes we feel outgoing, strong and energetic, and other days we’re more introspective and slower moving. Stay in tune with these cycles and adjust your workouts and movement activities accordingly. It feels good to push ourselves on days we’re feeling strong, so when those days come, take advantage of that with a long bike ride or an intense Pilates class. But if you try to push yourself in a hardcore weightlifting class on a day you’re feeling more tired, you risk injury and adrenal fatigue (which will make it even harder to get your female hormones in check). On these days, lets just shoot for a long walk or gentle yoga class, ok?
4. Try Acupuncture and Herbs
Find A Good Acupuncturist
Let’s say you’ve cleaned up your diet, “green-ed” up your home, and have been resting and moving mindfully. I bet you’re feeling better already, but if those cramps keep rearing their ugly head every month – there’s still hope. Acupuncture is great at balancing hormones, detoxing your body and reducing inflammation.
And Find an Acupuncturist That Also Practices Herbal Medicine
In Chinese Medicine, pain during your period is usually caused by what we call Blood Stagnation. Especially if it’s that sharp, stabbing kind of pain. We have wonderfully effective herbs that we call “blood breakers” that crack the blood so to speak, and allow your body to release it. These herbs are also great for cysts, fibroids and endometriosis. We’ll also add other herbs to your formula to treat your individual imbalance. These are complex formulas made of multiple herbs, and it’s important to consult a professional herbalist to create a formula just for you. While they can be extremely effective, the stronger herbs must be used carefully to avoid side effects.
Now that you're armed with knowledge, let's start fixing your period, woman!
Elizabeth Allen is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of AcuMed Spa, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.