Your Period Is Not Supposed To Be An Event
By BB Arrington
I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking that periods suck, were a literal physical pain, and something to dread every month. While I’m very grateful that menstruation is more openly talked about now, people who menstruate have been sold a myth. Let me be clear: if you are in good health and hormonal balance, your period should be unremarkable-- forgettable even.
About 47.8% of menstruating people world wide experience PMS (Gudipally and Sharma 2021). Severe cramping, mood swings, very heavy bleeds, acne, excessive bloating, headaches... are all signs of imbalance, NOT signs of the cycle. Additionally your period should happen when you expect it to whether your cycle is 28 or 33 days long -- it happens at a consistent cadence (the exception is for people entering puberty and entering menopause-- irregularity during this phase is normal).
While there are many hormones at play to creating a successful cycle, let’s focus on the star vehicles: estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones balance out one another. Too much of one, or too little of the other throws the body out of balance.
Estrogen has many functions in the body outside of sexual function, but its big role within sexual funtions is that it is a part of the hormonal signalling for follicule/egg maturation, promotes cellular proliferation and the build up of uterine lining. It is the predominant ovarian hormone during the first part of the cycle- the follicular phase.
Progesterone’s role in the the cycle is that it is an ovarian hormone secreted by the selected follicle (corpus luteum), it ripens the uterine lining, and takes centerstage in the second half of the cycle-- the inability to reach a certain threshold disallows the body to maintain a pregnancy.
So what happens when these two hormones are out of whack? For cycling people, Estrogen in excess may present itself with heavy bleeding, cramping, clotting, water retention, bloating, breast tenderness, headaches or migraines, weight gain, irritability, anxiety, emotional hypersensitivity, sugar cravings, blood sugar instability, decreased sesual response, acne, to name a few. A progesterone deficiency may present itself with PMS, and may have the same symptoms of estrogen excess and endometriosis and fibroids.
So what can be done, what are some EASY steps you can take to help get your hormones to a place where your periods are unremarkable?
1) Eat a whole food diet with good fats. If you don't have quality fats, you don't have the precursor for good hormones.
2) Make sure you are eliminating. Yes. If you’re backed up, excess hormones can’t make their way out of the body and can be picked back up in the bloodstream creating imbalances. While we’re here, make sure you’re well hydrated to help the flush.
3) Increase the amount of cruciferous veggies in your diet. Cruciferous veggies help shuttle excess estrogen down a particular pathway (2 Hydroxy) that is less destructive (think cellular damage) on its way out of your system.
4) Increase your Omega-3 intake. Nothing a well sourced fish oil can’t help you out with. It lowers inflammation in the body and is nourishing to the HPA axis-- the master conductor of it all-- which results in better regulation and thus fewer symptoms.
5) Work on your stress management. Chronically high stress levels impact your HPA axis which is the main controller for your hormones. While sometimes the issues are more downstream– ie an issue with the ovaries, it would be remiss not to look more upstream for any signalling issues.
Some people are able to balance their hormones by cleaning up and balancing their diet, adopting a consistent exercise routine and managing stress. Others may need a little more clinical help to get things back to balance. So if you suffer from PMS, irregularity, or any of the symptoms described above, know that you suffering is not your destiny and that you have the power to bring yourself back into balance. (Nadjarzadeh and Azadeh 2013).
- Gudipally PR, Sharma GK. Premenstrual Syndrome. [Updated 2021 Jul 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560698/
Nadjarzadeh, Azadeh et al. “The effect of omega-3 supplementation on androgen profile and menstrual status in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized clinical trial.” Iranian journal of reproductive medicine vol. 11,8 (2013): 665-72.