In "Menstrual Cramp Remedies - My Experience" I discussed specific remedies I had used to temporarily and longer-term to eliminate pain from menstrual cramps. I listed my observations, products I had used, and the successes and failures I had had, but I also detailed some life events where the cramps had just disappeared on their own, without necessarily knowing the definite reason why that had happened.
In this article I discuss natural remedies for menstrual cramps from a more scientific, research-based perspective, and less from my own personal experience. These two articles are meant to support each other, and are best read together. Here I introduce different natural and alternative medicine perspectives for what causes menstrual cramps and how to help our body heal them.
Each month one of woman's ovaries release an egg, which travels through fallopian tubes into the uterus. The ovaries are located on both sides in the lower belly, inside the hip bones. If the egg is not fertilized, estrogen in the body increases, which causes the mucous membrane of the uterus (called endometrium) to be shed, and the uterine tissue to bleed. This is a natural process of 'cleaning house', to ensure that next month the uterus is clean and in good condition for the egg to be potentially fertilized and to grow into a baby.
But a healthy hormonal balance is important so that this process goes smoothly. Various different menstrual dysfunctions can be caused by too high or too low levels of the female sex hormones. Not only are the absolute levels of hormones important, but the relative levels as well, so that one hormone does not overpower the other.
Progesterone is a steroid hormone produced in the ovaries and in the adrenal glands. It is essential to stop the action of estrogen and its effects upon the uterine tissue. According to some sources, too much estrogen relative to progesterone levels, releases too many chemicals called prostaglandins, which in turn cause inflammation. Progesterone can act as an anti-inflammatory, 'putting out the fire', so to speak.
According to Dr. Robert Morse (5), if progesterone is not produced in large enough quantities, estrogen dominance develops and this can result in ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, bleeding problems, atypical cell formation, endometriosis and even cancers.
When searching online for menstrual cramps, many websites come up explaining that certain amount of pain and discomfort is normal and nothing to worry about. Some websites go as far as providing research findings to say that the regular use of birth control pills is quite safe. In almost all cases, pain killers are recommended. This is the advice I followed for a lot of my life but my menstrual cramps are getting worse by the year and other hormone- and endocrine-system -related problems started appearing as well.
An alternative view is provided by the various different alternative medicine professionals, some of whom, like Dr. Morse above, suggest that this condition in itself is very serious, and that the continuous use of pain killers and birth-control pills can make the situation even worse by causing intestinal dysbiosis, liver stress, and other problems. Whichever point of view you are inclined to believe, the purpose of this article is not to fear-monger, but to provide clearly explained solutions for permanently eliminating menstrual cramps without the need for medications.
Of course if your doctor has already put you on medication you will have to discuss any changes you wish to make with him. In some extreme cases hormonal intervention through synthetic hormones or other means may be necessary but I am hoping that most people won't have to resort to that, as these will often cause more problems. If in doubt, best thing is to talk to your doctor and your nutritionist, in addition to doing your own research.
You will find that there are many very deep imbalances associated with menstrual cramps and hormonal imbalances, and perhaps all the advice in this article is impossible to implement all at once.
What is more, when you balance your hormones many diseases and imbalances are eliminated at the same time. After all, the recent stem cell research shows that our health challenges are more to do with the environment and lifestyle and less to do with genes than previously thought. Many of the disease-causing genes can be turned on or off by diet and lifestyle changes.
Hormone levels can be tested from blood (serum tests) or from saliva, but there seems to be some disagreement between different doctors whether the saliva tests are reliable. The blood tests done by a doctor are generally thought to be the most reliable method for testing hormones, although the saliva test is agreed to be reliable at least for cortisol levels, if not the other hormone levels. Urine tests can also give an indication of hormone levels but are less used.
Personally, I won't be using any tests because I'm not sure the spit tests available online are reliable, and also because I don't think the tests are necessarily needed.
Supplementing with hormones - at least in the long term - is quite risky, in my view. Hormones are very strong substances and the imbalance of sex hormones especially, whether too much or too little, can have serious implications. The best way, in my view, in less than serious cases of hormonal imbalance is to try to strengthen and support the body's glands first to allow them to start producing more of the needed hormones.
However, I will briefly discuss the hormone-supplementation options below because I believe it to be an important part of the topic discussed in this article, and in some cases these bioidentical hormone therapies might be needed to avoid synthetic hormone therapies.
Natural, bioidentical hormone creams are a gentler treatment than synthetic creams or hormone treatments. Dr John R Lee and Dr C W Randolph are some of the well-known promoters of bioidentical hormone creams. However, others point out that at worst these can cause further hormonal imbalances and at best they still don't address the underlying problems of endocrine system imbalances, stress, diet, etc.
One of the biggest risks of all hormone supplementation to keep in mind is that once the body gets used to regularly receiving hormones from an external source, it tends to lessen its own hormone production. With continued use, the body can eventually stop producing the hormone altogether by essentially shutting down its production. This can cause life-long dependency on hormone supplements along with their additional health risks and side effects.
The fine balance of hormones in the body is best maintained by strengthening the body in various ways - discussed more in the rest of this article - to enable it to naturally produce the needed hormones in correct quantities.
I have used Mexican Wild Yam progesterone cream for temporary relief of period pains in the past, and David Wolfe, among others recommends this product for general hormone balance. Whether this cream supplements hormones or just helps to balance hormones is under debate. In any case, if used regularly, it would be best to use it in the second half of the menstrual cycle only, when the progesterone levels of the body naturally rise.
"[Mexican] wild yam [cream] may help by displacing estrogen and reversing estrogen dominance, in cases where estrogen remains high during the second half of the cycle.
"Wild yam creams are also helpful to pregnant women in relieving many symptoms of morning sickness, including nausea and inflammation. It may also help prevent miscarriage, and has shown to help relieve discomfort after childbirth.
"Wild yam is a powerful antispasmodic and has been used for cramps, stress, and menstrual pain.
"It has even been used as a natural contraceptive. Taken in large doses over a long period of time it causes a temporary sterility. (This is reversed once the wild yam is discontinued and it clears the body.)"
- Dr. I. Michael Borkin (9)
Dr. Borkin explains that some women found relief from Wild Yam and some didn't. He seems to think that its beneficial action is somehow different from actual progesterone supplementation.
Some companies selling progesterone cream: AtLast Naturals (USA), Wellsprings Serenity (UK), Emerita-ProGest, Biovea Progesterone Cream, Sabre Sciences.
Dr. I. Michael Borkin explains (9) that neither estrogen nor progesterone should be supplemented continuously for the duration of the whole cycle because that will cause further imbalances. He explains that transdermal creams are available which contain DHEA and pregnenolone, or alternatively dual-phase Estrogen and Progesterone -formulas. Individual test results from the 24-hour circadian spit test should be used to determine the need for these with the help of a doctor, according to Dr. Borkin.
"In order for the Progesterone to be effective it must be given in a manner that mimics the body's own delivery. This means that it is important to give the correct dosage, at the right times." - Dr. Borkin (9)
One theory states that menstrual cramps and pain is caused when the uterus muscles repeatedly contract to shed the old lining and the tiny blood vessels in the uterus don't get enough oxygen as a result. The pain is thus caused by the lack of oxygen in the muscles of the uterus and also by the lactic acid that gets produced when the muscle cells are deprived of oxygen.
But what also pays a role are prostaglandins. These are chemicals that trigger menstruation in the body but if too many are released, uterine cramping and inflammation can occur. In a little more detail:
Prostaglandins are lipids that are produced by the body locally to deal with injury and illness. The pain-killer Aspirin works by preventing the production of prostaglandin. Prostaglandins are made where there is tissue damage or infection, where they cause inflammation, with its associated symptoms of redness, swelling, pain and fever. This is an important part of the body's healing process. Prostaglandins are involved in blood clotting, blood vessel wall contraction and relaxation, and contraction and relaxation of the muscles in the gut and the airways. Prostaglandins are also involved in the control of ovulation and labour.
"Shortly before a period begins, the endometrial cells that form the lining of the uterus make large amounts of prostaglandins. When these cells break down during menstruation, the prostaglandins are released. They constrict the blood vessels in the uterus and make its muscle layer contract, causing painful cramps. Some of the prostaglandins also enter the bloodstream, causing headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. [...] In every monthly menstrual cycle, the amount of estrogens in a woman's body rises and falls. Estrogens are responsibile for breast development at puberty, and each month they cause the lining of the uterus to thicken in anticipation of pregnancy.
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (2)
"However, this natural response can sometimes lead to excess and chronic production of prostaglandins which may contribute to several diseases by causing unwanted inflammation. This means that drugs which specifically block cyclooxygenase-2 [enzyme that produces prostaglandins] can be used to treat conditions such as arthritis, heavy menstrual bleeding and painful menstrual cramps and certain types of cancer including colon and breast cancer."
There are many different types of prostaglandins, only some of which cause inflammation, whereas other ones are anti-inflammatory. The discussion here focuses on the 'bad' ones.
It seems that prostaglandin levels rise when estrogen is high and progesterone is low, but the research findings also acknowledge that science so far knows quite little about this process.
Prostaglandins are responsible for the inflammation to a large degree. It is possible that too much estrogen causes too many prostaglandins, or it could be that there is a third factor that causes both. There may be other, more serious conditions that cause pain as well, such as infections or endometriosis, but the above is the more typical case. See a doctor regarding any severe pain in any case, but the lifestyle changes suggested in this article should provide relief for most conditions associated with menstrual cramps.
(In my own experience, I first thought that the pain might have been linked to a problem with the fallopian tubes - i.e. the tubes that link the ovaries with the uterus. When I have menstrual pain I can feel a tube-like form on both sides of my belly, and it feels as if it is filled with air, or swollen. I thought that perhaps the pain in this case was caused by endometriosis (i.e. uterus lining growing outside the uterus, in this case in the tubes), which causes irritation and inflammation. But since the general consensus seems to be that you can't feel the fallopian tubes, that they are too far back, I now think that what I can feel is air in the intestines. When I massage my belly it feels as if the air gets moved and the pain gets worse first before it lessens a little bit. Whenever I get gas out of the belly the pain reduces as well, so most likely that's all it is, gas in the intestines.)
To start addressing pain caused by menstrual cramps in the long-term, the correct balance of hormones is clearly very important at correct parts of the cycle, so as not to cause too much cramping. In addition, inflammation needs to be addressed.
Each of these topics will be discussed in what follows.
"One way the body tries to compensate for imbalances created and exacerbated by the demands of stress is to overproduce key hormones. Another way it tries to compensate is by converting sex hormones to stress hormones, thus further diminishing reproductive functions and the enjoyment of sexual health. [...]
"... adrenaline, unlike most hormones, has no enzyme to 'switch' or turn it off. Once released it must be used or it remains active. As a result, we remain in a state of hyperstimulation, with abnormal levels of adrenaline and cortisol, the primary fight-or-flight hormones. [...] If hyper-stimulation persists, we have difficulty inducing a relaxation response, and we do not return to a normal state."
- Dr. I. Michael Borkin
The key to getting rid of menstrual cramps in the long-term thus would seem to require first of all elimination of stress and the incorporation of 'parasympathetic nervous system' -stimulating activities, such as meditation, spending time in nature, etc., which also help to reduce stress hormone production. For more discussion on stress hormones, and how they are also linked to belly fat, read: How to Lose Belly Fat
So if menstrual pain is caused by too many prostaglandins, which in turn is linked to too high estrogen levels, why then, according to Dr. Lawrence Wilson (6), is pain also felt by women with too little estrogen? This is despite that fact that he also attributes the pain to muscle cramps, which we discussed earlier were caused by estrogen.
This apparent contradiction can be explained. A woman can be estrogen dominant even if her estrogen levels are lower than usual, if her progesterone levels are even lower. It is the relationship between progesterone and estrogen that determine which one is dominant. 'Estrogen dominance' or 'estrogen toxicity', usually means that there is not enough of progesterone in the woman's body to balance the effects of estrogen.
Estrogen dominance is thought to be a very common problem these days, especially because there are many so-called 'xenoestrogens', i.e. toxic fake estrogens, in the environment, which we get exposed to. Our drinking water may contain bad estrogens, plastic leaches bad estrogens, non-organic agricultural farming produces estrogenic pollution due to use of hormones, and on top of that we take birth-control pills and other sources of estrogen.
David Wolfe writes quite a bit about xenoestrogens and how to support the body in detoxifying these in his book: Longevity Now. He also lists foods, which he thinks are too high in estrogen and not suitable for those with estrogen dominance.
According to Dr. Lawrence Wilson: wild yam, sweet potato, all fats and dairy products, and all meats contain some estrogen. He continues that soy products are known to increase estrogen levels because they are somewhat toxic to the liver.
Supporting the liver is important as well since liver weakness and unhealthy gut can make estrogen dominance and menstrual cramps worse. A weakened liver can't do its job of detoxifying estrogens properly and dysbiosis in the gut causes leakage of the estrogens marked for removal back into the blood circulation.
Hormonal health is also to a large degree liver health, as explained by Dr. Lawrence Wilson (6), because the liver is able to detoxify harmful estrogens:
"According to the trophoblast theory of cancer, estrogen is the prime carcinogen. [...] ... wherever estrogens are abundant, cancer can grow more easily [...] For example, in damaged tissue, scarred tissue and in the female organs such as the breast and uterus, estrogens are known to give rise to cancer. [...]
"Removing excess estrogen is essential for life and to prevent many cancers. This is done primarily in the liver. Here, many estrogens are converted to other chemicals and they are removed from the body in the bile. This involves many detoxification pathways, including the glutathione-dependent, selenium-dependent P450 liver detoxification pathway.
"When this does not occur properly, a person is said to be estrogen dominant, or having too much estrogen. This is a common syndrome associated with premenstrual syndrome or PMS [...] The solution for it is to restore the liver to health. Most people's livers are very toxic today, even if all the blood tests for liver enzymes and other measures are normal."
Measures you can take to help your body restore the liver, according to Dr. Wilson (6), are as follows:
Foot reflexology: "To affect the estrogens, the areas of the feet and hands to be rubbed are the adrenal areas, ovary/testis areas, kidney areas, liver areas, and perhaps others." - Dr. Wilson (6)
In addition, exercise and movement in general is very important for the health of the liver, as explained to me during a visit to a Chinese Doctor. Certain liver-strengthening herbs, foods and supplements should also be considered.
Naturopathic Medical Doctor I. Michael Borkin wrote (1):
"What needs to be understood is that, for example, if a woman's thyroid or adrenal glands are depleted or functioning inadequately - a fairly common occurrence in our stressful culture - she will likely experience problems with her sexual reproductive organs. The connection between these organs and the thyroid, the adrenals and other endocrine glands is that they are all governed by endocrine hormones. This is an important relationship, which is why what disrupts one gland can disrupt another, causing a kind of domino effect or vicious cycle. The immune system and the thymus are involved, too, because immune response is inhibited by abnormal hormone levels."
And Dr. Robert Morse writes (5):
"Progesterone needs a pro-hormone, DHEA, produced in the adrenal glands, to be properly produced. Therefore, when the adrenal glands are hypoactive, this can effect the production and release of progesterone, leaving a woman estrogen-dominant. This causes a domino-effect, creating extensive cellular acidosis..."
According to Dr. Lawrence Wilson (6), anything that affects the adrenal glands negatively is likely to raise the biounavailable copper (bad copper) level too high, which then causes hormone imbalance. He says that fatigue is probably the single most common factor in adrenal underactivity and worry or other emotional imbalances is the second most important, in most cases. Excessive exercise and stressful life events can also exhaust the adrenals, as can continuous use of stimulants, such as caffeine and sugar.
Also hypothyroidism and sluggish thyroid function can cause menstrual difficulties.
I am personally in the process of doing this via hair mineral analysis and a related 'nutritional balancing programme'.
For more information, the book Brain Allergies is an interesting read.
"A complete nutritional balancing program will eventually reduce and usually completely stop the pre-menstrual symptoms. However, this can take a few years on a program to completely rebalance the hormones and eliminate toxic metals." - Dr Lawrence Wilson (6) on Hair Mineral Analysis
The Nutritional Balancing Program is a complex and demanding programme but so far I have had good results with it.
Other heavy metal detoxification protocols exist as well, and David Wolfe recommends using chelation therapy, e.g. drinking zeolite clay, which is thought to be able to safely bring out heavy metals and other toxins from the body. An added benefit of zeolites is its negative ions.
Estrogens are called steroids, or steroid hormones because they are made from cholesterol. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries and in the adrenal glands. It is also created in the body's fat reserves, so the more stored fat we have the more estrogen gets produced, according to some reports. In addition, prostaglandins are made from traces of fat which are stored in cell membranes.
A very interesting article on the website of "Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine" (2) explains how a low-fat diet can be linked to less problems from estrogen:
"If a woman eating a Western diet cuts her fat intake in half, her estrogen level will be about 20 percent lower. If the amount of fat is cut even more, the estrogen level will drop further, which is a good change because a lower hormone level will have less effect on the uterine cells. In addition to lowering estrogen, a low-fat diet may also be beneficial because high-fiber vegetables, beans, fruits and whole grains help the body eliminate estrogens.
"Estrogen is normally pulled from the bloodstream by the liver, which sends it though a small tube, called the bile duct, into the intestinal tract. There, fiber soaks it up like a sponge and carries it out with other waste. The more fiber there is in the diet, the better the natural 'estrogen disposal system' works. [...] So, by avoiding animal products and added oils, estrogen production is reduced. And by replacing chicken, skim milk, and other non-fiber foods with grains, beans, and vegetables, estrogen elimination is increased.
"In a research study published in 'Obstetrics & Gynecology' in February 2000, a low-fat, vegan diet significantly reduced pain and PMS for many women. The diet change was designed to do two things. First, it eliminated all animal fats and nearly all vegetable oils. Second, its emphasis on plant-based foods meant that there was more fiber in the diet. [...]
"A low-fat, high-fibre diet can significantly reduce estrogen levels."
Before you embark on a low-fat diet, however, please read the warnings in the following chapter.
In the previous chapter the point was made that if a woman eats less fat (and more fibre), her estrogen levels are reduced, which in turn can significantly reduce menstrual cramps and PMS symptoms. But too low fat can be bad for you as well!
The problem with too low fat is that depression and, again, hormonal problems can ensue. I think that more important than eating low fat, will be to ensure that good quality fats are eaten.
We don't want to hinder estrogen production too much and we also have to ensure that the other hormone levels are high enough to keep estrogen balanced. But excess fat may indeed be a cause for too high estrogen, since estrogen is produced, among other places, in the body's fat tissues:
"Far from hormonally inert, adipose tissue has, in recent years, been recognized as a major endocrine organ, as it produces hormones such as leptin, estrogen, resistin, and the cytokine TNFa." - Wikipedia on 'Adipose Tissue'
Yet women who have very low levels of fat may suffer worse menopause symptoms than others, which is another sign of hormone imbalance.
Good kinds of fats, including some saturated fats, are important for health and especially Omega 3 fatty acids are important for hormone health. Bad fats, such as trans fats, should be avoided, since they can hinder the production of stress and sex hormones. Vegetable oils should not be used for heating food, butter or coconut oil are better for this. Vegetable oils can be added to the food after cooking but ideally you would buy only organic vegetable oils stored in glass containers, in the fridge and away from daylight. The best sources of good quality fats are whole foods, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, coconuts, etc. You can read Udo Erasmus' book: 'Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill', for further information.
The correct level of fat consumption is being wildly debated by nutritionists, doctors and health enthusiasts. It may turn out that the correct amount depends to some degree on the individual's capacity to digest fats. Dr. Brian Clement of Hippocrates Health Institute recommends a low-fat diet, whereas Dr. Mercola recommends a fairly high-fat diet, depending on the person. The paleo diet is typically high fat. Some raw foodists promote high-fat, some extremely low-fat diets. David Wolfe has also previously mentioned that he eats a high-fat raw food diet.
There is some reason to believe that low-fat diets can be used for healing from serious illnesses, especially when a person comes from a background of eating high amounts of fat. In my thinking, however, this doesn't seem like a good idea in the long term. Some long-term raw foodists have reported becoming nutritionally very imbalanced because of the lack of good quality fats in their diet.
In conclusion, I would suggest that enough fibre is important, as is enough of the good kinds of fats but moderation is important as well.
To help you find the right balance and to understand how well your body digests fats, I suggest meeting with a nutritionist, as well as eliminating trans fats, anything deep dried, and rancid oils from your diet.
Menopause is seen as an energy imbalance in Chinese Medicine. Herbs, acupuncture and other natural healing methods are used to increase the activity of the ovaries and to return hormonal balance. These treatments are meant to help 'a woman to grow young from the inside-out'.
These are my notes from 'The River of Life and the Three Treasures' -article on the Hippocrates Health Institute website (3), regarding the Chinese Medicine view on dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation):
Qi energy is inseparable from blood. Blood in Chinese Medicine is a denser form of qi, which is lifeforce energy that surges through us and all living things.
Three main blood disorders and disharmonies are 1) stagnation, 2) deficiency and 3) excessive heat.
In blood stagnation, qi is obstructed by trauma - physical, emotional or environmental. The solution is to move blood and qi through acupuncture and herbs. The Hippocrates Health Institute's advice is also to include raw living foods into the healing plan because they have more energy to encourage our bodies to remove these obstructions. "These foods also activate our lymph with their potent, enzymatic 'sparks'". Releasing stagnation on all levels and letting go of what is no longer serving our highest purpose of well-being allows our inner waters to flow more freely.
Blood deficiency, on the other hand, is accompanied by qi deficiency. Due to the deficiency of blood, the blood is not able to grasp the bodily fluids to nourish and moisten. Anemia, numbness, paleness and palpitations are symptoms. Menstrual symptoms also result from blood deficiency. The body fluids contained in the blood are responsible for cooling the body and when the body is depleted of these fluids, we can experience hot flashes and night sweats.
Solutions suggested to a problem of blood deficiency by Hippocrates Health Institute are: the consumption of raw, living foods, which stimulate blood cell productivity and increase their ability to carry oxygen and cool the blood. In addition, adequate hydration and clean, optimally alkalized water is very important to the formation of blood.
The three major organs involved with the processing of blood are the heart, the liver and the spleen.
Heart: The emotions of joy, love and passion are associated with the heart. "Our self-love guides us to the infinite well of nourishment within." Essential oil from rose and rose water are good for the heart, as well as valerian in tea form to calm and rosehips to build the blood. Also, to nourish the heart, eat bitter greens, such as dandelions, broccoli, kale and spinach.
Liver: Sour lemons and limes, walking.
Spleen: Sitting meditation is useful to calm the mind and to increase spleen qi energy.
If you are able to personally visit a Traditional Chinese Doctor, he/she will be able to prepare powerful herbal concoctions for you as well as give further advice on the diet and lifestyle changes needed. Acupuncture may provide additional help in stimulating the flow of energies and clearing blockages.
The herb Holy Basil (Tulsi) is considered to be a powerful blood cleanser.
The Hippocrates Health Institute article also mentions that chlorophyll is important for the health of the blood.
These can potentially hinder hormonal function as well. According to 'Hormone Harmony' -book (4) these are not recommended and if you do wish to experiment with them, monitor any effects on your body carefully. David Wolfe provides quite a bit of information on phytoestrogens in his book the Longevity Now, including which foods to eat and which not.
Another study found that women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more likely to experience digestive disturbances during their menstrual periods. In addition, some studies show that women with diarrhea had higher levels of prostaglandins in their system.
Addressing inflammation, hormone imbalances and gut health all at the same time should be able to remedy this problem.
The live blood analysis nutritionist I visited explained that diarrhea during the period, especially when combined with nausea, is a sign of liver weakness and the Chinese Doctor I visited thought that liver weakness was one of the main problems behind my menstrual cramps as well.
According to the Chinese Doctor I visited, puffiness in the face is linked to fluid imbalance in the body, which is linked to weakness of the kidneys. Tendency to become easily dehydrated is also part of the same problem. I wonder whether menstrual bloatedness has something to do with fluid imbalance as well?
The other explanation is that imbalanced hormones cause a bloated belly during the menses but exactly how they do that seems not to be so clear, perhaps the prostaglandins have something to do with it, or the fact that the body rushes water to a site of inflammation.
In addition to supporting the kidney and re-balancing the hormones, addressing gut health will surely not hurt, even though menstrual bloatedness is quite different from normal bloatedness, where the latter would be a sign of intestinal dysbiosis.
PMS, according to Dr. Wilson (6), is caused by too much estrogen during the second half of the cycle, for 2-14 days just before the onset of menstruation. Estrogen levels start dropping up to two days before menstruation and relief from PMS may be felt at this time or just when menstruation starts. Too much estrogen causes excess emotional sensitivity, irritability, weepiness, anger, and other usual symptoms of PMS.
Dr. Mark Hyman seems to agree (8): "The real cause of PMS is simply this: Your hormones become unbalanced, your estrogen levels increase and progesterone levels decrease, either relatively or absolutely."
There are websites that claim that PMS is caused by low estrogen levels. This may be true for low estrogen people, but it seems that especially for high estrogen people, the opposite is the case, i.e. PMS is caused by too high estrogen levels.
Women may experience low magnesium levels during PMS, so magnesium supplementation or plenty of magnesium-rich foods should be taken.
Dr. Wilson's recommendations (6) for supplements to reduce pre-menstrual symptoms are listed below. One should start these supplements when the PMS symptoms start and stop taking them a day or two after your period, at the time when your symptoms subside:
Dr Wilson explains that the above measures (for those with estrogen dominance) should usually be enough to prevent menstrual cramping as well as PMS. I suspect he means for people who are already on the Nutritional Balancing Programme, however, but worth a try for others as well. Additional help, if needed, Wilson says would be gained from: Adding more 'paramin' (= calcium 250mg and magnesium 150mg) 3x 1 capsule per day or up to 3x 3 capsules per day. This would help relax the muscles and might prevent cramping. Additional rest and black cohosh may be needed too.
According to 'Hormone Harmony' -book (4) excess cortisol, which is a stress hormone, can also be linked to PMS.
Onion and garlic have also been shown to be beneficial in reducing PMS.
Inadequate rest will make PMS worse for most women.
One theory as to why women experience cravings during PMS or during menstruation is that low progesterone and high estrogen levels create a drop in blood sugar, which leads to sugar cravings.
In my opinion, something as simple as feeling more tired than usual can create sugar cravings, because the sugar will provide a temporary energy boost (and cause an energy-crash later).
Another theory states that serotonin levels are low during PMS and sugar is able to boost these quickly (temporarily before a crash), and so we reach for treats. It is possible to increase the feel-good chemicals of the brain by eating healthy foods too, instead of binging on junk.
An important feel-good brain chemical is dopamine. The body creates dopamine from tyrosine, an amino acid. B12, folic acid and magnesium are also important to ensure good dopamine levels. You can get tyrosine from: almonds, avocado, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, sesame seeds.
You can also use some of the tips in this article to help keep blood sugar levels balanced and thus lessen cravings: How and Why to Balance Blood Sugar.
It is theorized that gas in the intestines during menses is produced because of prostaglandin's action on the intestines. Bloatedness and unusual or increased bowel movements are also part of the same problem. Correcting estrogen levels, body-fat percentage and reducing inflammation should go a long way in helping to eliminate this problem.
So the first and most important thing is to reduce stress. Some of Dr. Borkin's other solutions for better female hormone balance are:
Dr. Mark Hyman (8), on the other hand, reports that the main things promoting hormone imbalances are: high-sugar, refined carbohydrate diet, caffeine, stress, dairy, hormones in dairy products and meat, as well as estrogen-like toxins from pesticides and pollution. He says that alcohol makes the problem worse because it damages the liver and prevents it from excreting excess estrogen. Constipation and imbalances in the gut can worsen the situation, he continues, because they lead to the reabsorption of estrogen from the gut back into your blood, even after your liver has tried to detoxify it. Exercise, he mentions, is important for balancing hormones as well.
Dr. Hyman (8) naturally first advices to correct all the above problems, but also to: balance your blood sugar by eating enough protein and not skipping meals; not to eat anything three hours before bedtime; eliminate allergens, e.g. dairy and gluten; increase fiber in your diet; increase omega 3s; and eat organic food to avoid environmental toxins.
The supplements he recommends are: magnesium citrate or glycinate (400-600mg per day), calcium citrate (600mg per day), vitamin B6 (50-100mg per day with 800mcg of folate and 1000 mcg of B12); evening primrose oil (2x 500mg capsules per day); EPA/DHA (omega 3 fats, 1000mg x1-2 per day), taurine (500mg per day) to help liver detoxification; and a good multivitamin.
Herbs and phytonutrients Dr. Hyman (8) recommends are:
Cooking vegetables destroys some of the nutrients but makes the vegetables easier to digest. Experiment with the amount of cooked and raw vegetables and see how your body feels and reacts. Too much raw food too suddenly, without strengthening the digestion at the same time, can possibly cause you to lack nutrients or to create stomach upsets.
Dr. I. Michael Borkin (1) lists the following recommended supplements for women who are 'stressed out' or hormonally imbalanced:
According to Dr. Lawrence Wilson (6), however, primrose or borage oil are slightly toxic and best avoided. Instead he recommends fish oil or flax seed oil, 1000mg per day. He does not recommend natural hormone creams, patches or tablets, such as estrogen or progesterone creams because he says that they are all toxic, and can increase one's risk of cancer. He also points out that they do not address the underlying causes of the problem in most cases and are very rarely needed. He thinks that black cohosh is a little toxic and not needed, whereas birth control pills and patches are highly toxic and should be avoided completely.
According to the 'Hormone Harmony' -book (4), Maca has been shown not to have a direct effect on hormone levels yet it has been shown to help with hormone balance, probably due to its high-nutrient content. Maca has aphrodisiac qualities.
Xenoestrogens from the environment can hinder the estrogen and thyroid hormone balance in the body, among other things. They can also cause typical menopausal complaints, such as dizziness, headache, numbness and tingling of arms and legs, muscle aches and joint aches. They are also able to destroy hormone balance.
In the case of too little estrogen, the body's natural production of estrogen can be increased and prolonged by regular exercise, healthy diet and herbal treatments.
There are clearly differences in the approach recommended by different doctors. Regardless of the specific supplements needed to achieve balance, it seems that from the research in this article the following conclusions can be drawn:
Apart from some temporary solutions discussed in this article and here, this is a summary of the steps needed to overcome menstrual cramps for good. I will put this list to test in my own health trial.
So the issues to be addressed to naturally overcome menstrual cramps are many but the good news is that the reproductive system is often one of the first to get compromised when the body is out of balance. So if you manage to balance your hormones and eliminate your menstrual cramps, you can take it as a sign that many other, more serious imbalances have been corrected as well.
I will now start a new diet and lifestyle diary, where I will endeavour to eliminate menstrual cramps. Hopefully I will get good results in one or two months. I am now on Day 9 of my cycle, having recently come off a very tiring period of menstrual cramps and pain. Follow the link to my diary (to come soon) to see what specific supplements I decided to include and which foods I ate day to day. In about two months (mid-October) we will find out whether my approach worked.
1. Dr. I. Michael Borkin: "Women's Hormones", published in 'Alternative Medicine', Issue 37 and on www.articles.mercola.com
2. "Using Food Against Menstrual Pain", Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, pcrm.org
3. Hippocrates Health Institute: "The River of Life and the Three Treasures" on hippocratesinst.org
4. Hormooniharmoniaa ('Hormone Harmony') by Vappu Tavi and Anja Huovinen (sections of the book translated from Finnish into English).
5. Dr. Robert Morse: Detox Miracle Sourcebook
6. Dr. Lawrence Wilson: "Menstrual Dysfunctions" and "Estrogens as Yin Toxins" on drlwilson.com
7. Janet E Shepherd: "Effects of Estrogen on Cognition, Mood, and Degenerative Diseases" in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association
8. Dr. Mark Hyman: "How to Eliminate PMS in 5 Simple Steps", drhyman.com
9. Dr. I. Michael Borkin: "Avoiding Problems with Progesterone", drmichaelborkin.wordpress.com
Ray Peat: Hot Flashes, Energy and Aging (external link)
Ray Peat mentions that high estrogen and low progesterone cause sodium loss, and so taking in natural rock salt is important. Normal table salt will have the opposite, negative effect, however. Peat recommends women with hormonal balance issues to eat natural rock salt according to the cravings. Here I explain why good levels of natural sodium is important for staying well-hydrated: Benefits of Natural Salt.
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