While none of us are exactly excited about our period each month, it certainly should not be something we dread. But the painful cramps, extreme moodiness, irritability and excessive bloating that many women experience causes feelings of anxiety about that time of the month.
Leading Sydney based naturopath Victoria O’Sullivan believes that in many cases bad period pain is your body’s way of telling you about a hormonal or nutritional imbalance and that with a few small changes and a little patience, you could be on your way to a pain-free period.
RESCU: Can you explain a little more about hormonal and nutritional imbalances?
Victoria O’Sullivan: A common hormonal imbalance is a state that develops known as oestrogen dominance, where the oestrogen is not being balanced by progesterone. Common symptoms that can occur as a result are fluid retention, bloating, sore breasts, pain, and moodiness.
Another example is elevated testosterone which is often the issue related to polycystic ovarian syndrome. Elevated testosterone can create feelings of aggression, frustration, male pattern hair growth like facial hair.
A nutritional imbalance in the body can be many things. A common example in Australia is Iodine deficiency, which can trigger breast lumps.
Another quite common imbalance is magnesium deficiency. This can cause the abdominal cramps, which many woman experience during their period. Magnesium is most concentrated in our muscles, and when we are low in magnesium it will cause the muscles to cramp. This is the same with cramps anywhere in the body.
RESCU: Does age affect severity of PMT symptoms?
Victoria O’Sullivan: Some girls have a dreadful time from the get go, but there is a tendency that PMT gets worse with age as many of us experience oestrogen dominance which can make PMT worse. Using the oral contraceptive pill or eating too much sugar in the diet can aggravate oestrogen dominance, with symptoms such as tenderness or lumps in the breasts, weight gain and mood swings.
RESCU: How does the body change after having a baby?
Victoria O’Sullivan: Pregnancy is a big demand on the body. In the last trimester the foetus draws on a lot of mineral stores from the mothers’ body, which can leave her depleted of minerals like iron and calcium. These are very important for keeping our energy levels high. Having a baby can also leave you sleep deprived, which will cause a stress response in the body and when we are stressed we crave sugar which will inevitably lead to weight gain.
RESCU: What is considered normal for PMT and what in your opinion needs to be investigated?
Victoria O’Sullivan: In my opinion normal symptoms of PMT include a slight drop in energy, mild abdominal cramping or a mild feeling of sore breasts. Ideally we should not be having any symptoms.
If pain is not mild or getting progressively worse or if you are experiencing lumps in the breast, it could be due to a hormonal or nutritional imbalance in the body but it could also be a sign of endometriosis or fibroids.
If the pain is not mild, it is in my opinion best to go see a naturopath or a doctor. Women really should view their period as a monthly score check for their heath.
Victoria’s top tips for reducing period pain in as little as three cycles:
1. Are you a sugar or caffeine addict? “Processed sugar can create a yeast overgrowth in the stomach, causing bloating and stomach cramps. Limit the sugar intake to natural sugar, and have no more than two pieces of fruit a day. Caffeine contains a compound called xanthine which aggravates inflammation in the body, causing the muscles to spasm which is what happens when we experience stomach cramps. Avoiding caffeine altogether will make it more likely for the period pains to reduce. If you can’t go without caffeine, have 1-2 cups of green tea a day instead,” Victoria says.
2. Herbs can help! “Ginger and turmeric both contain anti-inflammatory properties and can work as natural painkillers. They are also a lot less hard on the stomach than regular painkillers, which can eliminate good bacteria. Another important herb when dealing with period pains is chaste berry, also known as vitex agnus castus. This works well with balancing out the hormones oestrogen and progesterone,” Victoria says.
3. Don’t neglect those delicious greens. Vegetables of the broccoli family such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts are high in indoles which makes them excellent for maintaining a hormonal balance. “Ideally, women should have 6-7 cups of veggies a day and I encourage all my clients to measure this out to get an idea of how much we need daily,” Victoria says.
4. Feeling stressed? “Stress is very much linked with period pain,” Victoria says. “When stressed, our body produces increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower-than-healthy levels of progesterone. This causes a hormonal imbalance between our oestrogen and progesterone levels.” Victoria says a good solution is to work on decreasing stress. “A great reliever of stress is exercise, which releases the feel-good hormone endorphins in the body. Endorphins reduce pain and affects emotions,” Victoria says.
5. Don’t go overboard on the salt. Salt will draw fluids, causing you to retain water and bloat. Water retention in the body is also often the cause of sore breasts, which a lot of women experience in connection with their period. “The limit for women is 3-5 grams of salt a day,” Victoria says.
6.Essential fatty acids.
“Period pain is a sign that the body is inflamed, and fish oil is high in Omega 3 essential fatty acids, which is an excellent anti-inflammatory. Other foods high in essential fatty acids are primrose oil, nuts, seeds and chia. We do not produce essential fatty acids internally which makes it quite important that we eat foods that contain them, if we are trying to reduce the inflammation in the body,” Victoria says.
7. Get a check-up. “It is important for me to underline that no woman should accept pains in connection with their period. If these tips do not relieve your pains or if the pains are becoming increasingly more painful, there could be underlying issues such as endometriosis or fibroids and you should go see your doctor or a health specialist such as a naturopath,” Victoria says.
For more information visit www.victoriaosullivan.com.au