This post is for the ladies, and the informed man who wants to help his lady (although choose the time to impart your wisdom very carefully). If it’s TMI for you, then skip it today, I won’t hold it against you. I’ll be back Friday with a banana pancake recipe, mmmm.
I want to talk about hormones. In particular, let’s talk about periods. It happens once a month, for what, 30-40 years? And if you’re not suffering, then this post isn’t for you. I suffer. It starts about a week before the big event, with sore boobs (I usually think I’m pregnant – I’m not), feeling overly emotional, my temperature goes off (either too hot or too cold) and I get a nice big zit in the middle of my face as an early warning call. Yep, I know it’s period time. When Big Red finally makes an appearance, I take the day off work, I take as many Advil’s as legally possible, fill up the old hot water bottle and hunker down in front of day time television. I’m off duty for 24 hours, at least.
So about a year ago I decided to take matters into my own hands. I don’t think it’s right or normal to be so uncomfortable (and uncomfortable puts it mildly). There were times in the past when I was brought to tears. There have been times when it kept me from enjoying a special event or occasion. I wonder with panic what will happen after I have children and there are little ones depending on me. I am a basket-case for two days a month. What would I do with a child who needs me?
I began to research herbal remedies, but I also wanted to look at what nutrition could affect hormones, muscle cramps and blood loss. I looked at low-fat diets, high-fat diets, raw food diets, herbs with names I can’t pronounce, and finally I compiled a few key tricks that have been slowly helping me adjust my hormones and survive my monthly gift. The following is a list of what changes I have made and how it has helped me. It is a slow process, and may not be for you, but if you’re looking for answers it might be a good place to start.
- I gave up coffee. You could see that coming, right? Coffee directly affects hormones, decaf or not. Also, it is highly acidic, which can leech important minerals from your body. Minerals you need for a pain free period.
- I cut out the dairy. I sometimes find dairy infiltrating back into my diet when I’m not paying attention, and I can tell right away. Bloating and breast tenderness are non-existent when I’m being strict about my plant-based diet.
- I got off the birth control pill. Okay, this one might be controversial, but hear me out. If you’re having sex with someone whose baby you don’t want, you should be using condoms anyway. If you’re in a monogamous long-term committed relationship (and you have been tested for STDs), go for the old withdrawal or basal temperature methods. I was on the pill for about 8 years, and when I stopped taking it about 5 years ago, I finally started feeling human again. Messing with hormones can have very serious side-effects, and shouldn’t be taken as lightly as a free sample from a walk-in clinic. I understand women’s lib and all that, but to me, the pill is almost a different sort of enslavement. Hormones affect your feelings, so if your hormones are synthesized, what about your feelings?
- I stopped using tampons. I did this because I read that the body can be aggravated by having a “foreign body” inserted in it for 3 days straight. You might not have toxic shock syndrome, but it could be tensing the muscles. I have since noticed that I am way more aware of my flow. I buy Natura pads from the health food store, and change them as often as I need to (pretty much every time I go to the washroom).
- I upped my greens, and focussed on magnesium. So magnesium is a mineral that helps muscles relax. Therefore, it should help cramps. Magnesium is found in most whole foods, dark leafy greens, sea vegetables, nuts and seeds, to name a few. I started adding 2 tablespoons of chia seeds to my green smoothies, and every once in a while adding a calcium-magnesium supplement to my diet. (I’m not a huge pill-taker, so I’ll just throw it in the smoothie and blend it up).
- I stopped taking pain-killers. Yep, you heard right. I stopped taking pain-killers. Pain-killers like Advil or Tylenol can really toxify your liver. And when the liver is toxic, the toxins will try and get out some other, like through your uterus. Years back when I went to a naturopath about my PMS issues, she recommended a cod-liver oil press to help detoxify my liver. Of course I did it once and then got bored, but the point is, keep the liver clean! In fact, I didn’t notice much of a difference in pain. It’s shocking, but true. I took the day off work anyway, and just had a lot of hot baths and tea. I found the pain was a bit more intense, but didn’t last as long. As time has gone on, I don’t get pain at night anymore, and the pain is significantly shorter (about 24 hours, it used to last more like 36, with the whole thing taking about 6 days).
- I drink beer. This is not a joke. One good quality beer gives me more pain relief than 4 Advil ever did. This is not an excuse to get bombed, and you can’t do it first thing in the morning, but I swear by it.
- I do yoga. I wasn’t sure it would help, since I did a pretty intensive hot yoga stint last winter with no results. But since I’ve started the teacher training, were the focus is so much more on meditation and breathing, I have noticed a huge difference. Last month was shockingly easy on me.
- I became more aware of my cycle, my feelings and what I need. My last tip is that I become unapologetic. Why should we be expected to work through our period? Why should we be asked to take drugs so that we can continue to function as if nothing’s wrong? Maybe our bodies need a day of rest every month, to recharge, refocus, and allow us a day for ourselves. Since I started becoming more aware of my needs, I have found it easier to anticipate the hormonal changes. When I start to feel the shivers and dull ache that means big hormonal shift, I recognize it and allow my body to relax into it. There’s no point in fighting it, or hoping it’s not coming.
This is what has worked for me. I started this project last January, and it hasn’t changed overnight, but so far I have noticed improvements. I will continue to give you updates, I am really excited to see the effects of yoga, and I am focussed on dropping a few unwanted pounds, hopefully that will provide benefits too.
If you have any advice or any methods that have improved your period (or menopause) please post a comment. There’s no need for us to suffer!