Dr. Doni explains how simple lifestyle adjustments can help with pre-menstrual symptoms without the side effects and health risks of the pill or anti-depressants.
Imagine feeling exhausted, foggy-headed, beyond bloated, super irritable, head pounding, sleep disrupted, breast soreness, and feeling like your relationships are all wrong and your life is upside-down. This is how women can feel for up to 10 days (or maybe even more) prior to their period starting. Then it repeats again the next month. And the next. And the next. Some women have just a few days of feeling good each month, during which they try to put their lives back together in preparation for the next cycle. This is referred to as premenstrual syndrome or PMS and, in the most severe form, premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD.
Despite all of these tortuous and painful symptoms, one of the hardest things about PMS and PMDD is that women don’t feel they can talk about it openly. Instead they feel their symptoms are dismissed or explained away with a joke. “Oh you’re just hormonal,” or, “Is it that time of the month again?” – as if that would help them feel better. Women are also led to believe that there is nothing that can be done to help balance their hormones and menstrual cycle, other than taking over for their body by taking a pill. So rather than confront this social discrimination while not feeling themselves, these women tend to isolate themselves at home and just try to get through it without upsetting their loved ones too much.
Or they go to see a gynecologist or medical practitioner only to be told that the only option is to take the pill or an anti-depressant medication, both of which come with side-effects and health risks. The pill is known to cause weight gain, headaches, depression, nausea, nutrient deficiencies, low libido, blood clots, and cancer. Anti-depressant medications can cause weight gain, insomnia, low libido, fatigue, anxiety, memory loss, and suicide. This begs the question:
Are synthetic chemicals really the solution to hormone-related symptoms?
No! I would say no, they’re not. Women’s menstrual cycles are not a mystery and there is so much that can be done to help balance hormones and mood WITHOUT medications.
The solution is to give your body the CARE it needs (clean eating, adequate sleep, reduced stress and exercise) the way we do in the Stress Remedy Programs. Let me show you what I mean:
C.A.R.E. Activities to Help with PMS and PMDD
Clean Eating: Nutrient-Dense Foods
It’s not just what is in the food you eat, but what’s not in it. When you choose organic foods, it means you’re not consuming pesticides that can disrupt your hormone balance. When you choose whole foods over processed, packaged foods, you avoid added sugars which are known to throw off your menstrual cycle. And when you eat gluten-free and dairy-free, you’ll be decreasing inflammation throughout your body, including in your nervous system, improving your mood, energy, sleep, and digestion.
Delayed food sensitivities could be contributing to some common PMS symptoms (anxiety, depression, and headaches) via the Gut-Brain Axis and Leaky Gut. And if you’re wondering whether you may have gluten sensitivity, read more here.
On the other hand, when you eat colorful fruits and veggies, along with a variety of protein options and healthy fats, you’ll be getting lots of B vitamins, minerals (like magnesium) and anti-oxidants to help metabolize estrogens in a good way. Plus, the body uses healthy fats to make hormones, so eating enough fats is essential to balanced hormones. Even drinking clean, filtered water instead of sweetened, alcoholic and caffeinated beverages sets you up for success when it comes to your menstrual cycle.
Adequate Sleep: Sleep and More Sleep
I know, you work long hours and/or have children to care for through the night and early morning. When the heck are you supposed to sleep? Well, just do your best.
Although it can seem that staying up a bit longer at night will help you catch up with what you need to get done for the next day, it can actually set you back – especially if you’ve got to wake up early. Believe me; I’ve played that game myself many times. Once you switch things around and make sleep a priority, everything else will fall in line. Just keep in mind that your body can only adjust its sleep time by between 30 and 60 minutes each night, so you may have to work yourself back little by little to an earlier bedtime.
And with 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep each night, you are giving your body and brain time to rest and recover, which also means time for your ovaries to do their best work making the hormones you need to keep everything in balance – and keep PMS at bay. Exposure to darkness at night sets up the right signals for your brain to tell your ovaries to do their thing. Then, a bit of light exposure mid-cycle (such a full moon outside your window) switches the signal and tells your ovaries that it’s time to ovulate. For more tips on better sleep and to sign up to find out when my book on natural approaches for insomnia is ready, you can sign up here.
What I actually mean is optimize your stress. There is such a thing as “good” stress – like feeling excited about a project or a holiday party – so we don’t want to get rid of all stress. We just want to choose our stresses carefully and counterbalance them with plenty of opportunities to de-stress. Why? Because the more stress you have:
- The less communication there is from your brain to your ovaries;
- The more your liver is bogged down with stress instead of being able to process estrogen successfully; and
- The more methylation slows down. Methylation uses B vitamins like folate and B12 to make methionine which we need for making neurotransmitters to keep your mood up and powering your mitochondria to prevent your energy from dropping down. Read more about methylation, mood and genetics here.
How can you reduce and optimize your stress? It is a matter of decreasing exposure to stresses that we have some say over – such as synthetic hormones in the pill, pesticides in food, and toxins in skin-care products – and increasing exposure to stress reducing activities – such as meditation, yoga, journaling, and connecting with yourself. In the Stress Remedy Programs we do this in steps, gradually implementing these changes until they become second nature.
Exercise your Heart and Muscles
I don’t mean to say that you have run a 5K every day (unless you’d like to, of course). I mean that when you move your body in some way on a regular basis, it helps to balance your hormones.
One of the best ways exercise helps is by reducing stress, and consequently cortisol production (as long as you don’t overdo it). But it also optimizes the function of insulin and other hormones and neurotransmitters that play a huge role in how you feel.
Start with even just 5 minutes of stretching and strength training, such as squats, a plank, and maybe a few ab crunches or bridge pose. You can play a podcast or music while you exercise, to keep your mind engaged. You don’t even have to go to a gym – get a Bosu, a few weights, and a yoga mat for home, and you’ll be ready to go.
A Little CARE Goes a Long Way
These relatively simple daily activities can make all the difference when it comes to preventing PMS and PMDD. The issue is making these tasks a priority in your life. And if anyone questions your choice… just show them this article!
Okay so once you’re started with the CARE activities, see what happens. Many women have reported back to me within a month that they see a difference. Even if it doesn’t get you to 100% better, these activities are likely to get you at least 20-25% better, which is quite a good thing when you’ve been feeling as awful as I described above. Then each month that goes by, the improvements are likely to increase.
If, having made these changes, you want to take it to the next level the next step would be to work with a naturopathic doctor who can run some tests, fine-tune your nutrients and suggest some herbs to help you get even better.
I hope this gives you a taste of the options available to you, and a sense that change is possible. Your body is not in a static state – the only thing that is the same is what you are doing (or not doing) to help your body out. When you change what you do, your body will change too. By the time you switch up what you eat each day, and give yourself some brain breaks and plenty of rest and exercise, I think you’ll find that you’ll be feeling better than you ever thought you could.
And best of all, you’ll find that the power to feel better is in your own hands – which is the best place for it to be. No one else can do this for you. There is no miracle pill. But you can do this – you can feel better simply by putting yourself first.
Are you ready to read more about how your body works and what you can do to support it? That’s exactly why I wrote The Stress Remedy book – to help you help yourself!
And why I created the Stress Remedy Programs – 7 and 21 day support systems that help you to implement the CARE model with gluten-free and dairy-free meal plans, recipes, daily email tips, and the Stress Remedy Pea Protein Shake specially formulated so you have easy and tasty protein ready to go at all times. You can read more about the Stress Remedy Programs here.
I’ve also just launched a Women’s Wellness Solutions Package, which includes the tests I find help women discover their bodies best, and one-on-one sessions with me so I can help guide you through the process.
Or if you’re not sure where to start, check out the consultation and testing packages that I offer for patients. If you have a naturopathic doctor already, feel free to show this information to him or her so they can help you with these approaches.
The time for you to feel better is here! Let’s get started. Don’t forget to sign up to receive my weekly e-newsletter to be sure and receive my next article.
1st November 2016