Hacking My Cycle: Eliminating PMS Naturally PART ONE
I go and find the only other woman on the floor
Is the secretary sitting at the desk by the door
I ask her if she's got a tampon I could use
Oh honey, what a hassle for you
Sure I do
You know I do
It ain't no hassle, no, it ain't no mess
Right now it's the only power
That I possess
These businessmen got the money
They got the instruments of death
But I can make life
I can make breath
Sitting in the boardroom
The I'm-so-bored room
Listening to the suits talk about their world
I didn't really have much to say
The whole time I was there
So I just left a big brown bloodstain
On their white chair
Last verse From the song Blood in the Boardroom by Ani DiFranco.
Ani Difranco’s anthem to menstruation is brilliant. It is a reminder that women’s bodies are the site of life giving force and that our menstrual cycle is a source of power. Yet for many women it is not just a “hassle” and a “mess.” It is a bringer of headaches, bloating, cramps, low energy and pimples. After transitioning to neutral soled shoes a few years ago I stopped getting menstrual cramps. when I cut down on sugar (processed and natural) my premenstrual energy stayed more constant and for the past few months I have been experimenting with getting to the source of my other symptoms pre and menstrual. And, I have been doing a lot. So much in fact that I’ve broken it all down into two blog posts. This first one is a general overview of my approach, the second gets into specifics. So here goes:
General Oestrogen Balancing - Giving Progesterone a Chance
Before I could do anything about bloating or grumpiness or headaches I first needed to get to the source of the problem. PMS happens when oestrogen and and progesterone levels become imbalanced. Progesterone is a sensitive wee flower and it gets depleted or dominated really easily. It is boosted through getting lots of good quality sleep and it converts into cortisol when we are stressed. I don’t know many people with young children who are well rested and stress free so I moved on to areas that I do have more control over. like my old friends
sugar and refined carbohydrates. These foods cause insulin to spike which then leads to lower levels of sex hormone binding globulin being produced which helps the body get rid of excess oestrogen and testosterone in the blood. I tried to keep my blood sugar levels constant which really means that I snacked on a whole lot of nuts, seeds hummus and vegetables in the two weeks preceding my period. I had sweet treats occasionally and didn’t beat myself up over it either.
I don’t really drink so wine isn’t an issue for me but - just so you know - wine has sugar in it too, and alcohol distracts the liver from excreting excess oestrogen.
On a happier note daily movement helps to balance our hormones. Exercise increases endorphins, decreases stress hormones and reduces cellular inflammation. A half hour walk or putting on washing and making dinner and putting out washing and watering the garden and folding washing, all count as movement by the way.
Back to the bad news: caffeine borrows energy from our neurotransmitter bank and doesn’t give it all back, it also increases cortisol production (more cortisol?) which depletes progesterone (again). So. For three months, for the purposes of this experiment I haven’t had any caffeine at all and I still miss my morning soy chai tea. Going forward in the middle weeks of my cycle I will go back to caffeinated tea, for the week before and during I’m happy to stick to herbal teas.
A healthy gut is really important for hormonal health as it takes the rejected oestrogen from the liver and processes it out of our bodies. If it isn’t healthy then it reabsorbs oestrogen back into the bloodstream. Fibre is essential for gut health as our “good” bacteria feed on and ferment the dietary fibre in fruit and vegetables. I have been turning the vegetable pulp from my juicer into protein balls by adding blended nuts and dried fruit, rolling it all up into balls and putting them in the fridge. As I am allergic to dairy I take a daily probiotic supplement and try to drink fermented liquids such as miso and cider vinegar that feed gut bacteria every day.
Oestrogen can also be introduced to our bodies through meat or milk from animals that have been given growth hormones. This is a good reason to buy organic grass fed or free range meat and to make me feel guilty for being a lapsed vegetarian.
Xenoestrogens are chemicals with oestrogen like effects. They are in parabens which are found in lotions, skin creams and lipstick.They are in phthalates which are found in plastics, in shampoo, deodorant, body wash, hair gel and nail polish but they are hard to spot on the ingredients list as they are frequently listed as “perfume.” They are in sodium lauryl sulphate which makes soap, toothpaste and shampoo foam. They are in pesticides and in our drinking water they are everywhere. For almost a year now I have been phasing out my tried and tested but chemical heavy shampoos, lotions and deodorant and buying most of my personal grooming and beauty products from our local heath food store. I haven’t yet found a good replacement shampoo and my deodorant definitely doesn’t work as well, so I will be slightly smellier and frizzier until I find products that do work for me.
As you can see that’s a whole lot of oestrogen to balance and mitigate, and this has been a really long process but I promise it has been worth it: do keep reading. So, that was my general environment sorted but what about the recognition of my spiritual and emotional needs? So many authors stress the importance of an holistic approach to menstrual wellness. Before any PMS anger arose I needed to have a think, I needed to:
Prepare Myself to Air Issues
I believe that a woman who is tired or in pain can be forgiven for being grumpy right before or during her period. Christiane Northrup however asks us to address the issues that arise premenstrually. She describes this dissatisfaction as our “inner wisdom asking for attention.” So, I prepared myself to air any grievances rationally and fairly. I thought through my usual stress points two weeks before my period. Then in the week before my period I didn’t feel any anger at my kids running late for school because it’s their problem if they’re late, not mine. If the house was a mess well that was a whole family problem, I just left it, we all have to make our home look nice after all. I encouraged my son to load the dishwasher and my daughter to make her own lunch, essentially I handed over the drama. Brilliant! I just wish that I had got perspective on these little things years ago.
And there we go, that is PART ONE of PMS Hacking. Essentially I endeavoured to protect my progesterone levels and think through my drama allowing myself to hand it over to the people that caused it. Part Two is about nutritional support and filling myself with goodness in an effort to reduce or eliminate GI discomfort, bloating, headaches and low energy.