Hacking my Cycle: Eliminating PMS Naturally PART TWO
There's men wearing the blood of the woman they love
There's white wearing the blood of the brown
but every woman learns how to bleed from the moon
and we bleed to renew life every time it's cut down
I got my vertebrae all stacked up high as they can go
But I still feel myself sliding from the earth that I know
So I excuse myself and leave the room
Saying my period came early but it's not a minute too soon
Ani DiFranco verse two of Blood in the Boardroom
And, I’m back. Ani DiFranco rocks doesn’t she? Part two of my blog gets into the details of what I have been doing over these past few months to get rid of premenstrual bloating, menstrual diarrhoea and menstrual headaches. The prostaglandins that cause diarrhoea are the same chemicals that make the uterus contract to expel the lining also cause cramps. I don’t really get cramps and as I’ve already said I think this is because of my neutral sole shoe wearing habits and my focus on lengthening and stretching my back line/ calves and hamstrings, which keeps my pelvis in (fairly) neutral alignment - that is my theory anyway, I just know that there is a link. But anyway, back to those prostaglandins:
Magnesium and Omega Threes for Cramps and GI discomfort
If your body makes more prostaglandins than it needs then there is an overflow effect to nearby organs and the smooth muscles of the bowels start overworking. We can decrease the effect of these cramp and diarrhoea causing chemicals by taking Magnesium and Omega 3 fatty acids. Magnesium levels fluctuate during a woman’s cycle. The higher the oestrogen or progesterone, the lower the magnesium. During the second half of the menstrual cycle, when both oestrogen and progesterone are elevated, magnesium plummets which makes no sense to me as that is the very mineral we need to relax our smooth muscles. Luckily dark chocolate (80 percent cocoa or higher) has loads of magnesium in it. This must be one of the reasons why women crave chocolate before our period. Another is: well it’s chocolate.
In the week leading up to my period and (because it was quite tasty) the week of my period, I made daily spinach, banana, avocado, tahini, pumpkin seed smoothies in my nutribullet. These ingredients are all high in magnesium and served as a very tasty second breakfast (to help keep on top of my blood sugar levels for headache prevention purposes.)
Omega 3 is found in oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, it’s in cod liver oil, walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds. So, in the week leading up to my period I ate mackerel for lunch, I had salmon for dinner, and for the entire three months I pimped my muesli: to my rolled oats with nuts and seeds I also added ground flaxseed, hemp seed, ground golden berry and chia. Making my own muesli is a really easy way to get some good protein and minerals into my diet and it just involves putting a whole bunch of ingredients into a tupperware container. I have made an accidental gluten free version with toasted quinoa flakes in place of rolled oats when the cupboards were almost empty.
I have always had period diarrhoea, I didn’t realise that I could do anything to prevent it. Amazing. I wish I had known years ago that omega threes and magnesium were the secret. For my most recent period I didn’t have any GI discomfort at all - nothing. On holiday, I’ll pack these vitamins and see if they work as well. I suspect that all the other progesterone and gut support is important too so I won’t get my hopes up.
The main reason why I started reading about hormones and diet was to see if I could do anything about my menstrual headaches. In Stacy Sims book Roar She explains how Nitric Oxide can help:
Nitric Oxide, regular snacks and teas to prevent menstrual headaches
Four days before my period I ate a whole lot of nitric oxide rich foods which support vasodilation and stop my body getting shocked with the drop in hormones and resulting vasoconstriction (like a boa constrictor in my head) of day 1 of my period. I ate pomegranate seeds, watermelon, beetroot risotto, roast beetroot salad, I drank beetroot juice - you get the idea. In preparation for day 1 of my cycle also I organised my “stable blood sugar” snacks the night before so for the first month I made a chia, flax, golden berry, sesame, hemp linseed pudding (omega 3s baby), I also made a batch of protein balls. For the second month I whipped up a pea and cannellini bean dip to eat with vegetable sticks, oat cakes or corn thins. The third month I rediscovered almond butter with apple. I then made a concerted effort to snack every two to three hours. I am pretty rubbish at identifying hunger signals, I sometimes weep or feel like fainting and then realise that I haven’t eaten all day. My darling husband used to meet me with bunches of bananas - not flowers - on our dates. Sometimes in the middle of a disagreement he will even ask me when I last ate (and no I do not slap him). To keep hydrated I sipped on iced Moon time tea throughout the day. All of this was a bit of a hassle - all that snacking and drinking and so.Much.Beetroot but for the first time ever I have now had three periods in a row without headaches. Something is working. I’m not sure what it is but it’s working. So now, onto:
Period teas and Activated Charcoal for Bloating
From ovulation onwards I brewed two pots of monthly moontime tea or red clover flower tea with dandelion tea every evening, I added a squeeze of lemon and put it in the fridge for the next day. It made a lovely cool lemon drink through the hot weather. The dandelion is supposed to prevent bloating, the moontime tea has black cohosh root (“cramp bark”) and skullcap leaves which have been used to prevent menstrual cramps for centuries. They also have chamomile, jasmine, red clover and passion flowers which are a mix of relaxants and herbs that are thought to help balance hormones and improve oestrogen detoxification. I didn’t have any caffeine. I also stopped having sparkling water for the second half of my cycle. I added celery to my beetroot juice too (and ginger turmeric and random other green vegetables) and for the three days before my period, 2 hours after dinner, I put a teaspoon of activated charcoal in a small glass of water and drank it quickly down - it is pretty gross. For my most recent period I had no premenstrual bloating. As I further tweak and get more efficient I’ll hopefully pin down what the secret was. I know it isn’t eliminating sugar because even when I was entirely sugar free (a cruel six month long experiment to fix my eczema) I still got bloat-y. Again, along with my headache suspicions it is probably an accumulation of everything, all that progesterone balancing surely helps.
Are you still with me? I’m almost finished, I’ll just touch on energy and you can get back to what you were doing..
Leucine for Energy
Leucine is a branched chain amino acid that fends off central nervous system fatigue it is found in fish, meat, chicken, cheese and pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and almonds - brilliant, I just added the last three to my morning muesli. I also chose to drink bone broth as an afternoon coffee replacement for that week before my period. Of course I recognise that my cycle is a cycle and with any cycle there will be high energy points and low energy points. I don’t expect to be bounding about with energy every day of the month, my husband and kids don’t menstruate and they too have energy fluctuations. I just wanted enough to get through the day. I still felt a down drop in energy and a need to go to bed earlier the night before my period and the first day of my period but I didn’t feel depleted in the way that I sometimes do.
who knew that pumpkin, flax and sesame seeds were so good for us? Though I have missed my chai tea and my soy decaf lattes I will have them again - in week two and three of my cycle. The rest of the time my liquids are herbal teas, juices, smoothies and bone broth. I had always assumed that there was nothing that I could do about my period diarrhoea - well a whole lot of green vegetables and some oily fish put a stop to that. The absence of a period headache or migraine was pretty fantastic too. Lots of effort and research went into my months of cycle hacking and I will keep playing around and tweaking but this was a good start. All the extra time spent in my kitchen was worth it. It was quite amazing to have almost no symptoms at all, the biggest hassle was washing my nutribullet and juicer. Considering the loss of at least a day of work and quality of life that a migraine brings - I think that’s a good trade.