Period pains aren’t fun. So I have been told anyway! But they are common and something I treat a lot in clinic. Heavy or painful periods are actually really useful insights in to a woman’s overall health – they act like beacons to other hormonal or chemical imbalances. The good news is, if you get your cycle back on track, you’ll often see other aspects of your health improve too, whether it’s your skin, mood, or weight.
One of the most important things to look at when it comes to heavy or prolonged periods is the oestrogen-to-progesterone ratio. More often than not, in younger women this is caused by an excess of oestrogen, and in perimenopausal women by a decreased level of progesterone. The real clincher though is the ratio. Progesterone needs to balance oestrogen levels or else havoc occurs throughout the body – from irregular periods, to breast tenderness and changes in mood.Diet
Ok that’s great, you’re thinking, but how do I balance my hormone levels?
Cutting out those plastic bottles and food containers is the first step. They may leach what we call ‘xenoestrogens’ into the foods and drinks you consume. So knock them out and go for organic wherever possible.
After that, you need to focus on every health nut’s favourite organ – the liver. We always think of the liver as detoxifying those chemicals forced upon us, but before the days of pesticides, herbicides, and petrochemicals, the liver still worked away at detoxifying the body from things it no longer needs. Excess hormones are one of those things. You can give your liver a helping hand by supporting detox pathways with something called indole-3-carbinol, found in abundance in cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. I recommend one to three cups every day for women who have high oestrogen. Herbal superstars turmeric, rosemary, and green tea may also be of benefit.
Once you’ve given the liver the green light to eliminate more oestrogen, you want to make sure that it’s being bound in the gut so that it can’t be reabsorbed. You’ll need lots of water and fibre for this one. Oats are good option here, so why not kill two birds with one stone and make a yummy smoothie that’s loaded with indole-3-carbinol-containing greens and half a cup of whole oats?
If low progesterone is the issue, you might want to get your hands on some Chaste Tree. Also called ‘Vitex’, this little miracle worker is one of my favourite herbal medicines for women, and over time it improves levels of luteinising hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and progesterone.
Finally, and especially important for those of you who suffer pain and cramps, you want to take a look at how much inflammation you’ve got going on in the body. Your body has all kinds of ‘messengers’ moving between cells – the one’s we are interested in are called prostaglandins and leukotrienes – and they either support inflammation or they don’t, depending on the type produced. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, or a good fish oil supplement, is a good way of telling your body to make the anti-inflammatory ones.
This kind of hormonal imbalance isn’t sorted overnight, but with long-term dietary change, stress management, healthy lifestyle, and a few key herbs, you can restore balance and make an enormous difference to your health.