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Are Your Hormones Causing Painful Periods?

Do you dread every month when your period is right around the corner because you're waiting for the inevitable pain that might come?

Or maybe you just think, well, my painful period is just part of who I am and part of being a woman because my mom or other women in my family also experience the same symptoms that I do.

And so you're reaching for the ibuprofen.

You're reaching for that hot water bottle by the end of the night, trying to soothe those painful cramps away.

Or maybe you find yourself in the bathroom a few days before, or when you get your period because you have diarrhea. So not only is the painful period happening, but you have diarrhea on top of it.

If this resonates with you and sounds like someone you might know, then you're in the right place today. Because today I'm going to talk about a reason why you might be having these painful periods.

These painful periods aren't something that you should be having and you don't have to live through them. We're going to find some ways to correct what might be happening.

My name is Marcie Vaske and I'm a functional medicine nutritionist. I specialize in gut health. So I work with a lot of people who have pain and discomfort in the way of constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas. And that's just to name a few, but I also work with a lot of women who have hormone issues and period troubles every month.

So if I'm talking to you and this resonates with you, you can make an initial appointment with us, and we can help you through the journey of either your gut health or even hormonal troubles that you might be experiencing.

You can download our FREE GUIDE: 5 Ways to Improve Gut Health. And that's just a nice, easy step into, what can I take on myself before I might need some more help?

Okay. So let's dig into this fun topic of hormones.

And I really do love talking about hormones and periods because through my journey and my dysfunction with a hormonal imbalance on countless clients that I've worked with, I'm always astounded about how much we don't even know about our period. And so once you know some of the basics and maybe even a little more detail, you can understand your own body so much better.

And because I know as when I was in school or coming up on my period, I wasn't taught a lot. We did health class and they said, well, you're going to get your period. You'll ovulate halfway through, you might have some PMS symptoms and then just kind of go about your way, but we don't really learn what happens every month precisely.

And so today what I want to really dig into is just a painful period because so many women and girls are struggling with these painful periods month to month that either put them in bed or make them feel nauseous and sick.

And if there's a way that we can help with that, that's what I want to do. And once you get your period, it really does change your life forever.

And so we want to make it the best experience we can have instead of something that we dread every month. So, as I said today, I want to discuss painful periods. And this is something that maybe you've asked yourself, why do I have so much pain with my period?

And today I'm going to help you with the answer. Now there are many reasons why we might be experiencing painful periods. So what we're going to dig into today is something called prostaglandins.

Do prostaglandins cause painful periods?

You might be thinking, what the heck are prostaglandins? Well, they are a hormone-like substance. That's actually derived from a chemical called Arachidonic acid. And they are one of several hormone-like substances in our body. And these prostaglandins participate in many different things in our body, such as contractions and relaxation of our smooth muscles or dilatation and constriction of our blood vessels.

And they control our blood pressure and modulate inflammation. So now, even though we have, they can make menstrual cramps worse, not all prostaglandin functions are bad.

They're actually very necessary and protective. These necessary and protective prostaglandins are great unless we have too many of them.

So what's good about prostaglandins?

Well, I named them above, but just to dig in a bit more, prostaglandins will help an injured blood vessel. They are released at the site of the injury to help form a clot. And so your body can heal the damaged tissue. Prostaglandins also stimulate the contraction of the blood vessels and muscle tissue to prevent further bleeding from being lost. And so prostaglandin hormones are made nearly in every cell of our body.

So now how do these prostaglandins work in the uterus?

Well, they help the uterus to contract each month so that you can release the lining of your uterus called the endometrium.

And studies have shown that the more prostaglandin inflammation you have, the worse your menstrual cramps can be, which we call dysmenorrhea.

And prostaglandins don't only just work in the uterus, but they also help in other areas of our menstrual cycle, such as by stimulating the ovulation process, as well as playing a role in pregnancy. Prostaglandins and pregnancy elevating during labor stimulate uterine contractions and then of course the birth of the baby.

And since I am a gut health expert and I, and that's the people I work with, and of course I can't get through a whole video without talking about pooping, considering it is my area of expertise.

Have you ever noticed that maybe you get loose stools or diarrhea the day before, or maybe on the first day of your period?

And if it wasn't bad enough to have severe menstrual cramps, then you have diarrhea on top of it. Well, it is not fun obviously, but diarrhea during your period is a sign that you have too many prostaglandins.

So just as those prostaglandins affect our uterus and give cramping, they also affect the bowel. The prostaglandins actually stimulate the contracting and relaxation of muscles of the digestive tract. So, which is why your period can also cause those changes in bowels.

So again, highlighting that if you have too many prostaglandins in your body, you'll have loose stool and those painful period cramps.

So, okay, now we know how we have painful periods but...

how do prostaglandins become high in our body in the first place? and what can we do to decrease them?

So, as I said earlier, prostaglandins are made from Arachidonic acid. And this is when they're elevated, they're elevated in response to inflammation, and inflammation can be caused by factors such as a poor diet, and a diet rich in omega 6's.

And not that we don't need those omega 6's, but they need to be balanced with proper omega-3s. And unfortunately, the standard American diet, or SAD diet as it's called, is very high in omega-6s and very low in omega-3s so you can see how quickly that imbalance can happen and the inflammation begins and the prostaglandins become higher.

And so once the distortion becomes distorted, excessive, and chronic inflammation can occur.

As I said, chronic inflammation is where the problems like those painful periods begin. And in this case, those prostaglandins are elevated.

So what are some examples of foods high in omega-6 fatty acids?

Well, those are going to be things like damaged fats. And I talk about this all the time because they're everywhere and we don't realize damaged fats are things like soybean oil, corn oil, vegetable oil, and cottonseed oil. We want to stay far away from those for multiple reasons.

Also, things that are high and rich in omega-6s are going to be fast food. And often those fast food items or takeout have been cooked in those damaged fats I just spoke about or possibly commercially raised poultry. And that is because they have those antibiotics or they have hormones that have been placed in meat.

So we want to eliminate these poor food choices and really optimize that omega-6 to omega-3 balance to help reduce the inflammation in our body. And so besides eating whole foods, a diet rich in vegetables, proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats, we want to reduce the prostaglandins in our body. So how else can we do that?

Ways to decrease Prostaglandins in our body

Increase Magnesium

One way to decrease prostaglandins is actually to increase magnesium. Now, magnesium has been shown to be more effective than a placebo in decreasing prostaglandins and actually easing menstrual cramping.

Now, if you're a woman who already has loose stools, you want to be sure that you're not taking in magnesium citrate because that will just make, the problem even worse. And of course, we don't want that.

So I typically recommend magnesium glycinate. It's the most absorbable form of magnesium. And the dose is usually 300 or 400 milligrams at night.

And some women really find benefit and actually increasing their dose right before their period, maybe 5 - 7 days leading up to their period, and then taking it during if they need to diminish some of that cramping.

Incorporate Ginger into your diet

Another really natural way to decrease menstrual cramps is ginger. And there was actually a small study was done that found that ginger was actually more effective than ibuprofen in relieving menstrual cramps. And you would want to take in about a thousand milligrams is just kind of a minimum dose to get some relief from those cramps.

And so how can you do that?

Well, you can, of course, take a supplement or you can do some just daily things as you are kind of leading into the period.

Maybe it's a few days before, as I said, during the cramping time, but just incorporate ginger into your food, easy stir fries with some fresh shredded ginger in there, or maybe just brew yourself a cup of ginger tea and sip on it throughout the day.

But if you're really having really severe menstrual cramps, you probably are going to want to take a supplement with that.

Increase Fatty fish consumption

Another way to reduce prostaglandins is to increase your fatty fish consumption. So those fish that are high in omega 3s like mackerel, salmon, and sardines, and, the reason this is because omega 3s are extremely anti-inflammatory.

So while prostaglandins can be made from omega 3s, omega 3 versus omega 6, where the 3s make a much lesser, like a less strong prostaglandin, therefore you don't get the period cramping as you do. If you were taking in an overabundance of omega 6s from let's say takeout or fast food.

And the usual dose for omega-3s is about 1500 milligrams a day.

Eliminating dairy from your diet for 30 days

And if you're really struggling and suffering from those menstrual cramps, you might be up for the challenge of taking eliminating dairy from your diet for 30 days.

Many women who have dairy sensitivities also struggle with severe menstrual cramping. And part of this is likely because you're eating foods you are sensitive to, which naturally increases inflammation in the body.

And inflammation in the body can also lead to a further imbalance in your hormones, including one called estrogen dominance, which I am going to be discussing late in another topic later on. So when estrogen goes high, it creates a condition known as estrogen dominance, which can also contribute to this prostaglandin pain and other period problems.

So one way to do this is to take the dairy out for 30 days and make sure you're charting your symptoms and knowing your normal period cycle once you've had the dairy out for 30 days, and you've had a period and you've charted it all down, then you can start reintroducing the dairy. And then of course charting that for 30 days to see if the period was more painful or had changed in any way.

Now, as I said, make sure you go through the full cycle because that's where you get all the good data. And I feel it's just really important to remember that a healthy body has a healthy period. Our body is always trying to tell us something either if we're feeling good or we're feeling bad, and sometimes we just don't pay attention to it.

So start charting, start knowing your cycle, start seeing how foods interact with all of that and save yourself some pain and listen to what your body is always trying to tell you.