Do you suffer from PMS and menstrual cramps? You are not alone!
Many of us experience pain, bloating, acne, headaches, cravings, weight gain, water retention, anxiety, irregular periods, heaviness and mood swings during this cyclical hormonal change.
Did you know that up to 80% of women have significant cramping during their monthly cycle?
Many women report that they often miss a day of work each month due to PMS and cramps, and those that do go in say they feel like their productivity is compromised.
While menstrual cramps and PMS are incredibly common, they’re actually not normal.
They are our body’s way of telling us that something is not working as well as it should be.
Pain and discomfort are not normal for our body. It is an indication that something deep inside is not right. Think of PMS and cramps as warning mechanisms. Our body is sending us messages through pain to get our attention.
Now, like everything else, there is no magic pill and a cure will not happen overnight. You must be patient and consistent and healing will follow through.
In order to have a healthy menstrual cycle, you have to have a healthy body.
An awful monthly cycle tells you that your hormones and reproductive system are not working properly. Lifestyle and food choices work both ways: Make bad ones and your menstrual health may suffer; make good ones and your uncomfortable symptoms can improve.
What Are Menstrual Cramps?
Menstrual cramps are caused by the womb contracting to shed its lining.
If the muscles of the uterus, or womb contracts too strongly during your menstrual cycle, it can press against nearby blood vessels. This briefly cuts off the supply of oxygen to the uterus. It’s this lack of oxygen that causes your pain and cramping.
What Causes PMS and Menstrual Cramps?
Oestrogen is one of a woman’s two main sex hormones; the other is progesterone. Oestrogen peaks in the first half of a woman’s menstrual cycle to trigger ovulation, then progesterone peaks in the second half of the cycle and continues to rise if there is a pregnancy, or falls to trigger menstruation.
Many PMS symptoms are caused by a state of hormonal imbalance called “oestrogen dominance.”
Although oestrogen is a necessary hormone for our reproductive health, an excessive amount can cause problems. When the body’s oestrogen to progesterone balance is off, symptoms like heavy periods, cramping, breast tenderness, moodiness, and weight gain can result.
Our hectic lives stress out every system in our body, but especially our reproductive system. When we experience stress of any kind, our body responds by producing adrenaline, and this can cause an overproduction of cortisol (aka belly fat hormone).
High levels of these stress hormones can lower the levels of progesterone (causing oestrogen dominance) and even affect our liver function, which can ultimately contribute to both PMS and cramping in the second half of our cycle.
Poor sleeping habits
A lack of sleep can be a huge contributor to hormonal imbalances.
A diet lacking in a plethora of fresh fruits and veggies, high quality proteins, good fats and an abundance of fresh water can lead to some major nutritional deficiencies, and therefore some hormonal imbalances.
Alcohol, caffeine, sodas, sugar, and processed foods can all leach precious nutrients from your body and cause haywire in the hormonal department.
One nutrient in particular that is often robbed is Magnesium which is known for its ability to reduce menstrual cramps.
Other hormonal disrupters can be caused by chemicals in our foods, chemicals in our body care products, tap water, non organic dairy and meat products, being over-weight, living an inactive lifestyle or even drinking too much coffee!
To help balance hormones naturally and get back to a pleasant monthly cycle, try these 9 diet and lifestyle changes:
No. 1 – Focus on your digestion
After your liver detoxes and sends excess oestrogens to be excreted via your stools, they must then be excreted from the body. If you’re constipated, your stool isn’t going anywhere, so the oestrogens and toxins can actually be reabsorbed through the gut and back into your system.
You don’t want that!
If you’re someone that doesn’t have daily bowel movements, improving your digestion is step one in balancing your hormones. See my previous blog here on improving your digestion.
No. 2 – Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
This means it’s free of dairy, sugar, gluten, processed foods and refined foods and alcohol.
All of these foods are known to increase inflammation in the body, and when it comes to PMS, inflammation increases the activity of aromatase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to oestrogen.
This leads to higher levels of oestrogen and oestrogen metabolites, which cause the symptoms of PMS.
And in the case of alcohol, there’s no good news for your cycle.
Research suggests that drinking too much alcohol may increase oestrogen levels, which can lead to cramping and even alter the length of your cycle.
And then there’s your poor liver. In addition to the excess oestrogen, alcohol also impairs your liver production, which is responsible for breaking down excess oestrogen.
No. 3 – Add cruciferous vegetables to your diet
The liver is your detoxification organ and is responsible for breaking down oestrogen so that it can be eliminated.
To support the liver’s natural detoxification process, increase your intake of cruciferous vegetables, which contain a helpful compound called indole-3-carbinol.
Eat at least one serving of these greens daily, like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, cabbage, bok choy and Brussels sprouts.
No. 4 – Eat more fibre
One way to reduce your oestrogen levels is simply to physically eliminate more of it.
Try adding more fibre to your diet in the form of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds such as flaxseed or chia, as well as wholegrains like oats.
Foods high in fibre bind to oestrogen, helping to eliminate it from the body.
Remember to drink plenty of fluids when consuming fibre as otherwise you could end up causing yourself the opposite effect and becoming constipated. Fibre absorbs water in your gut so you need to make sure you’ve got plenty of it!
No. 5 – Eat good fats, with a focus on omega 3’s
Omega-3s have been shown to naturally reduce period pain by improving blood flow and reducing inflammation. They even reduce the clotting and help to decrease prostaglandin production, related to menstrual pain.
Sources include fish oil, algae oils, nuts (walnuts are a great source of omega 3) and seeds (flax, hemp, chia, sunflower and pumpkin in particular), green leafy vegetables and oily fish.
No. 6 – Manage Stress
When you are chronically stressed, you are persistently producing cortisol, a hormone that is supposed to be released intermittently, in times of true stress, and certainly not regularly.
Chronic stress is a hormone disruptor and therefore we need to use stress relieving techniques to lower the hormonal effects on our body.
There are many options out there to help you distress. Think yoga, meditation, breathing practices, and regular exercise. Perhaps journaling, reading, having baths, manicures, pedicure, massages.. if it relaxes you, do it!
Anything you can do to reduce stress and its negative effects on your body.
No. 7 – Stick to a sleep routine
As I mentioned previously, a lack of sleep can be a huge contributor to hormonal imbalances. To make sure you’re getting quality zzz’s, it may help you to set a routine.
Try waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, with the aim of eight hours of sleep a night.
It’s also a wise idea to try and aim to eat your main meals roughly around the same time every day. This helps contribute to normal circadian rhythms, which leads to proper melatonin production and more restful sleep. See my previous blog on Sleep here.
No. 8 – Exercise
We all know that exercise is good for us, but did you know it can actually help your PMS and menstrual cramps?
You don’t need to be taking high-intensity spin classes or boot camps, but research has shown that moderate, regular exercise is effective at significantly reducing cramps associated with menstruation.
Aerobic exercises releases endorphin hormones or “feel good” hormones in the body, and the presence of this hormone works like a natural pain killer.
A gentle walk or stretch on your yoga mat can really help pump your blood enough to reduce the cramping. Personally I swear by it!
Another excellent result of exercise is weight management.
Fat cells in your body can act as a pool for hormones, for example ooestrogen. This can contribute towards an imbalance in your sex hormones, so try and keep your weight within the normal BMI range.
No. 9 – Consider taking supplements that help with PMS and Cramps
Supplementing daily with magnesium can be such a helpful trick for dealing with menstrual cramping.
I recommend BetterYou Magnesium spray because it is absorbed through your skin (which is one of the best ways to absorb magnesium). You could also opt for Epsom Salt baths a week before your cycle as well.
Alternatively you can take roughly 400mg of magnesium daily in powder, tablet or capsule form (if you take them before bed it may help you sleep better too!).
If you’re not one for supplementing, you’re in luck for food is one of the easiest ways to naturally boost your magnesium intake.
Reach for more green leafy vegetables, beetoots, beans, cacao (raw cacao, not milk chocolate!) and salmon to naturally increase your daily intake of magnesium.
A.Vogel Agnus Castus
A.Vogel Agnus castus is a licensed herbal remedy which can be used to help relieve symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) such as menstrual cramps, breast tenderness, bloating, irritability and mood swings.
It works by gently supporting progesterone, the opposing hormone to oestrogen and can help to restore hormonal balance.
One thing to note is that you must take this everyday, and it generally takes about 3 months to see results. Sorting out your hormones is not a quick fix!
(Please note, anyone using hormonal contraceptives, whether the Pill, an injection, an implant or the Mirena coil, should not use herbs such as Agnus castus that affect hormone levels.)
A. Vogel Milk Thistle is a wonderful herb to help with PMS.
As we have discussed previously, the liver has a controlling effect on hormonal balance, and if the liver is stressed (which it is for most people these days!), it can affect hormonal balance leading to a variety of symptoms.
With excess ooestrogen, your liver can suffer as a result. Ensure your bowels are moving and try adding some milk thistle into your regime to gently support your liver.
If your symptoms are severe, I would advise to seek out a health professional who deals in female health, or consult your GP.
There could be more to it than just your diet and lifestyle choices, and it’s best to find out sooner rather than later.
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication