By Dr. Hilary Booth
For many women, the perfect period seems like an elusive idea. I know it might sound crazy but your period should come and go with no pain, no PMS, no fatigue… no symptoms at all. If your hormones are in balance, and your body has adequate amounts of nutrients, and adequate detox pathways, your period should indeed be “perfect”.
First, let’s define “perfect”. The flow should be bright red, not dark, with few to no clots. The flow should not be excessive, nor should it be barely there. It should be regular, with cycles lasting 26-34 days, and flow lasting about 3-7 days. It should also not be accompanied by mood swings, breast tenderness, acne, fatigue, bloating, food cravings, or cramps.
In this article I am going to address possible reasons why your period might not be up to snuff.
1. Your hormones are unbalanced
The most common pattern of unbalanced hormones is estrogen dominance, which causes symptoms of heavy, painful periods, breast tenderness, and mood swings.
Estrogen dominance occurs due to xenoestrogens, which are chemical substances in our environment that mimic estrogen in our bodies. We get xenoestrogens from plastics, BPA, pthalates, and pesticides. We are also exposed to exogenous estrogen from non-organic, non-hormone free animal products, like chicken breasts.
The best way to minimize exposure is to buy organic, hormone free animal products, avoid personal care products containing phthalates, and compounds labeled “fragrance”, and to limit your use of plastics for food and beverage storage.
It’s important to note there are many types of hormone imbalances. I recommend hormone testing to determine which pattern might be occurring before starting treatment.
2. Your detox pathways are inhibited
Normally, the liver processes and deactivates hormones, which are then excreted in stool via bile. If the liver isn’t functioning optimally, this process is slowed, which causes premenstrual and menstrual symptoms.
In addition, if you are constipated (fewer than 1-2 bm’s per day) the hormones that were supposed to be excreted in the stool sit in your intestine and are reabsorbed into the body. Again, this raises hormone levels, causing sub-optimal periods.
Simple things to do to improve detox pathways include:
- Increase your water and fibre to promote more frequent bowel movements.
- Eat lots of garlic, onions, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage to help the liver detox.
- Do a supervised liver cleanse to help the liver function more optimally.
3. You are deficient in nutrients
Many women are deficient in B vitamins, especially if you are taking the birth control pill, or if you are under stress. Studies show that taking a robust B complex can improve mood swings and energy levels. Specifically, vitamin B6 regulates irregular menses, and also reduces fluid retention and bloating. Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 also help process estrogen and progesterone, which helps with overall hormone balancing.
The other major nutrient deficiency that causes mood swings, migraines, bloating, painful periods, and sugar cravings, is magnesium. If you crave chocolate before your period, or experience the above symptoms, you may be deficient in magnesium. You can increase your magnesium intake by eating magnesium rich foods, including leafy greens, nuts, seeds, nettle, and yes, dark chocolate.
4. You may have an underlying undiagnosed condition
Many undiagnosed hormonal conditions can cause your period to be abnormal.
- PCOS is a condition affecting 8% of women, and it causes irregular periods, acne, weight gain, and extra hair growth on the body.
- An underactive or overactive thyroid can also cause heavy or light menstrual flow, pain, and fatigue.
- Endometriosis can cause extremely painful periods, or pain with intercourse.
- Fibroids, which are abnormal growths in the uterus, can cause long and heavy periods, with abdominal or back pain.
All of these conditions can be treated with naturopathic care, it’s just a matter of being diagnosed with the correct lab testing.
The menstrual cycle gives each woman a unique window into what’s going on in her body from month to month. I want to encourage you to not be “okay” with having periods that are far from perfect. The perfect period may not be as elusive as you’d think!