Many women experience Dysmenorrhea, or painful periods, yet several of the women I see in practice dismiss their pain as a normal side effect of having two X chromosomes. I am often stunned by the stories my patients tell me of having such heavy flow that they must change a pad or tampon every hour, or being in so much pain that they have to pop Advil/Midol/Naproxen like candy in order to function. And let’s not get into the women who suffer through a week of PMS prior to suffering through a week of their period. Being in pain for 2 weeks out of 4 is HALF YOUR LIFE! I am not okay with this and you shouldn’t be either. Rant over. Let’s talk about solutions.
From a hormonal perspective, it’s important to recognize the two main female hormones that impact the menstrual cycle: estrogen and progesterone. To simplify a very complex hormonal system, think of the first two weeks (day 1-14) of your menstrual cycle as Estrogen Dominant and the second two weeks (day 15-28) as Progesterone Dominant. Note: this is assuming all women have a perfectly regular 28 day cycle, with day 1 being the first day of bleeding and day 14 being the day of ovulation. When it comes to heavy and painful periods, the culprit tends to be estrogen, and typically we associate higher-than-normal estrogen with these symptoms. Conversely, premenstrual symptoms are typically associated with progesterone, since this time of the month is “Progesterone Dominant”.
These simple 4 tips to improve your painful periods are particularly helpful in clearing excess estrogen:
- Drink Green & Raspberry Teas. Green tea has been well studied to improve conditions associated with estrogen dominance and has become a staple in my recommendations to women suffering with painful periods. The chemical constituent in green tea, EGCG, is responsible for its effect in reducing cramps, improving heavy bleeding, and some conditions responsible for these symptoms, including fibroids and endometriosis. I often couple this with raspberry leaf tea, which does not have the strong research support for its use in patients with menstrual complaints, but has worked wonders in my practice clinically, and has a strong safety profile. Not to mention, these teas are crowd pleasers! They are delicious, both separately and if brewed together.
- Ditch Coffee. As much as we love a soothing hot beverage to ease the cramping pain of periods, coffee is the worst choice to do the job. Coffee is a known pro-estrogenic beverage, which means that it worsens estrogen dominance and symptoms like PMS, menstrual cramps, heavy bleeding, and breast tenderness. If quitting coffee altogether is too challenging for you, try avoiding it during the week of your period, or at the least, during your heaviest days.
- Eat Ground Flaxseed. Ground flax contains omega 3 fatty acids, fibre and lignans. The lignans have weak estrogenic effects, which allows these compounds to displace the excess estrogen. This seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? How can a phytoestrogen (plant based estrogen) cause lowering of estrogen? Think of it as a game of musical chairs, but the chairs are estrogen receptors. The lignans bind to your body’s own estrogen receptors, competing with your “natural” estrogen, and when they succeed in locking into that receptor, your natural estrogen ends up “free” in the bloodstream and able to be cleared through the liver.
- Embrace the Brassica Family. No, this isn’t the new trending family on HBO, I’m talking about a family of vegetables – I know, much more exciting! The brassica family of veggies includes broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and collard greens (among others, but these are my personal favourites). These vegetables contains protective compounds called indole-3-carbinol and DIM, which are responsible for clearing excess estrogen from the body. Increasing your consumption of these veggies throughout the month, but especially in the first two weeks of your cycle is an easy way to improve the symptoms of estrogen dominance.
If your period pain is unrelenting despite making the changes I’ve talked about in this article, you may have a more severe hormonal dysfunction or condition that requires further assessment. Book in with one of our naturopathic doctors or our functional medical doctor at the Centre for Collaborative Health to get started on a plan for your hormonal health.