Women's Health: Your Menstrual Cycle

Although I'm interested in all areas of nutrition, I am probably most interested in women's health. As someone who has experienced severe menstrual pain and witnessed many women go through breast cancer and hormonal issues, it seems that women's health is often overlooked. Preventative care is almost zilch, while mediocre symptom management runs amuck in the medical world. 

I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a doctor with my mother, and they've told her nothing is wrong with her. Offices ask us to share intimate details about our menstrual cycles and sex lives (but barely bother asking men, I might add). Yet, even with all of our personal details, they are often unable to prescribe anything helpful, besides pain killers and anti-depressants. 

Thankfully, more and more doctors are trying to improve this. Alisa Vitti, author of the book, WomanCode, is leading the way in her approach to women's health and in particular, the endocrine system and women's hormones.

Here are a few tips for your next period. I hope it's a kinder one!

1. Eat a fiber rich diet.

Not only does this help establish more regular periods, it can reduce acne, menstrual cramps and urinary tract infections. In fact, studies show that women on fiber rich diets have less intense and shorter pains.

Plants are full of fiber, which helps you avoid constipation during your cycle. They are also plentiful in micronutrients, many of which are vital for supporting our endocrine system.

2. Eliminate dairy from your diet. 

This includes dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter. Besides the clear link between dairy and breast cancer, there is now a strong correlation between dairy consumption and acne severity. Dairy is high in IGF-1 hormones, which are bad for our systems, especially if we're already dealing with hormonal imbalance. 

3. Consume plenty of healthy fats. 

Especially if you're in the reproductive phase of your life (think 20s-40s), your body likely needs a substantial amount of quality fat. When I tried going low-fat (about 10%) to "cure" my skin issues, my acne became worse. Now, I consume a lot of fat!

Think plant-based sources of fat, like avocado, chia seeds, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, pumpkin seeds, coconut milk, sunflower seeds, and some nuts. Don't forget to include local organic pasture-raised eggs and meat, and wild caught fish.

4. Eat flaxseed (or chia!) for breast tenderness. 

It appears that flaxseed can help alleviate this symptom, due to their high omega-3 fatty acid content. Just add a tablespoon to your oatmeal or smoothie, or even your pasta sauce--it will just make it thicker!

However, flaxseeds (like soy) contain phytoestrogens, which can cause problems in women who have a hormonal imbalance like elevated estrogen levels. Chia seeds are another great source of omega-3 ALA fats that won't mimic estrogen in your body.

5. Consume ginger or fennel seed for menstrual pain and bleeding.

Mix 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger with 1/2 cup of warm water, essentially creating ginger tea. Drink up! It can decrease cramp intensity and heavy flow.

You can also try fennel seed extract, which may make your periods heavier by relaxing your uterine muscles, but can significantly decrease the pain.

Magnesium supplements are another great way to reduce cramps!

6. Try red raspberry leaf tea for PMS. 

There are claims that this herbal tea is great for acne and PMS--and it tastes good! Just drink a cup a day during your luteal phase (the week before your period). It has helped me with irritability and boosts my mood because it can raise low progesterone levels. Besides, the act of preparing tea is stress-relief. It's a good daily practice to get into. 

Saffron has also been known to work for PMS specifically.

7. Take Vitex berry to balance your hormones. 

For centuries, people have been using chasteberry for women's health. Since I went off birth control pills, my hormones have been slightly off. I consumed two vitex berry supplements each morning after breakfast for about six months with noticeable results. My chin acne subsided and my periods became a bit more regular. It didn't end up being quite right for my body, but it might be right for yours.

However, exercise caution if you already have PCOS with high LH levels - Vitex can raise these levels even more, so look for alternative ways to support healthy progesterone.

These are just a few of the ways dietary choices can help us tackle health issues. Treating our bodies with natural remedies is always preferred, but always consult your doctor for your specific issues.