Ready to be let in on a completely world-changing secret? Healthy periods aren’t painful.
Know what else healthy periods don’t have? Heavy or irregular bleeding, big mood swings, acne, and bloating.
If you’re 28-day cycle comes with any of these symptoms, here’s the good news: you can biohack your way to a better period in as quickly as a month and a pain-free period in as little as three months. The most effective hack that will solve your period problems quickly is eating, exercising, and living in sync with your 28-day menstrual cycle. (More on that below.)
But the first step is to understand why you have period pain (and other PMS problems like acne, bloating, mood swings, and migraines) in the first place.
Here’s are 7 reasons you have period pain:
- You’re inflamed. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances (technically called “lipid autacoids”) that control the body’s inflammatory response. This is a good thing when you need a quick hit of inflammation to trigger the uterine contractions that cause you to shed the uterine lining (bleeding) because you didn’t get pregnant that month. But when too many prostaglandins flood the system, you get too much inflammation—and all the quality-of-life-eroding symptoms that come with it. (Prostaglandin overproduction is why some women get relief by taking NSAIDs like ibuprofen. NSAIDs block the synthesis of prostaglandins.)
- Your endocrine system is out of whack. The endocrine system is your body’s hormone system—and it is easily thrown off balance by, well, just about everything: high-sugar diets, environmental toxins, stress, lack of sleep, and medications (including the birth control pill), to name just a few. If your hormones are out of balance, your period will be riddled with symptoms.
- You’re drinking coffee. Drinking coffee increases your risk of forming cysts and fibroids, and fibroids increase your risk of period pain and other period problems.
- You’re still drinking coffee. Caffeine is broken down by the liver using the enzyme CYP1A2 and it turns out that only 10 percent of the population makes robust levels of this enzyme. Why does that matter for your period? CYP1A2 is also involved in the metabolism of estrogen, so if you struggle with PMS or an estrogen-dominant condition like PCOS, fibroids, or endometriosis, you have reason to suspect that you are one of the 9 in 10 people who don’t make enough of this enzyme. So if you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages, you’re using up your precious CY1A2 resources on getting rid of coffee and not on getting rid of estrogen.
- You have a hidden weight problem. Overweight and obesity are associated with a three-fold risk in experiencing PMS. So for women who struggle with weight loss resistance, adopting a healthy, sustainable approach to weight loss [read: NOT crash diets] can help with hormonal chaos and unwanted symptoms. But in the past two decades, research has shown that some people who present as a “normal” weight when they step on the scale actually have the insides of someone who is overweight or obese. The official term for this is “medically obese, normal-weight individual,” though a lot of practitioners refer this condition as being “skinny fat.” So you can’t just look in the mirror or step on the scale to know what’s happening on the inside. Your painful period might be telling you that you need address internal obesity (and when you do, your period symptoms will get better).
- You don’t take stress reduction seriously. We live in a society that places a high value on always being busy. If you ask someone how they’re doing or what’s new and they reply, “I’ve been SO busy,” it often sounds as much like a point of pride as it does a complaint. But we need to reverse our stance on stress. Research shows that the higher the level of our perceived stress, the worse our PMS—and that stress reduction techniques might be effective non-pharmaceutical interventions for easing PMS. So grab your yoga mat, download that meditation app, or make more time for the leisure activity that relaxes you.
- You’re not living in sync with your cycle. (This is the biggest factor in painful periods!) You’ve probably read about the importance of the 24-hour circadian cycle—how important it is to get high-quality, consecutive hours of sleep during the night, for example, and to get some safe sun exposure during the day, etc. But you probably haven’t heard about the importance of living in sync with your 28-day cycle—and, for women, that cycle is just as important to tend to as the circadian cycle. Research shows that our 28-day menstrual cycle affects our brain function, emotions, mood, sensory processing, appetite, and even our perception of pain. If you’re not supporting your body’s unique hormonal needs during each of the four phases of the 28-day cycle, you won’t have healthy, pain-free periods.
So what’s a girl to do? The answers are easy, straightforward, and doable right away today. And if you start right now, you can have a better period by next month—and a pain-free period within three months.
Here’s Your Period Rx:
- Stomp out inflammation. Eat low inflammatory foods, like cruciferous vegetables, pastured eggs and pastured animal proteins, and nuts and seeds. Reduce the amount of sugar you eat or eliminate it all together. A high-sugar diet drives up the production of advanced-glycation end products, which contributes to inflammation. Two foods that have been shown to help specifically with prostaglandin reduction are the pomegranate the small, oily fish that contain high levels of inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids.
- Make “organic” and “clean” a main part of your life. When you’re standing in the grocery aisle or at the makeup counter and the clean products and organic foods are more expensive than the conventional option, it can be easy to make the wallet-friendly choice. But what you need to keep in mind in these moments is the true cost of the choice you’re making. The toxins in these foods and products come into direct contact with the body and alter endocrine function. You may save at check-out, but you are ultimately paying with your health.
- Give up coffee. This piece of advice is self-explanatory and, after the first week of withdrawal, not nearly as hard as you think. Within a month you won’t even miss it. Skip caffeinated tea, too.
- In case you’re tempted to skip tip #3, allow me to repeat myself: no more caffeine!
- Improve your health from the inside out. You might look lean in the mirror, but if you don’t exercise (hence, you don’t have much lean muscle mass) and if you eat a high-sugar diet (and have wonky blood sugar), if you’re chronically stressed out and undernourished (that is, there aren’t enough phytonutrient-rich vegetables on your plate) you might have the blood work profile of someone with overweight or obesity. Looking lean is no guarantee that you will reap the benefits associated with leanness! When you start correcting what’s going on internally, you can see a reduction in symptoms
- Find what relaxes you… and make it a regular part of your life. The time for stress reduction is now, not when you finish this big project or after that big presentation. Because guess what? When you finish those things there will just be more to do. The time is now. Your health depends on it.
- Start Cycle Syncing. All of the biohacks I just mentioned will only get you so far if you don’t start to live in accordance with your cycle. Eating and exercising for each week-long phase of your 28-day cycle is the foundation of feeling better and having a symptom-free period. For too long, we’ve been living the same way day in and day out. This works for men, but not for women. Syncing your cycle will not only fix your period problems, it will help you find more happiness, energy, and success in life. Simply put, tending to your 28-day cycle is as important as tending to your 24-hour circadian cycle. If the idea of syncing with your cycle is new to you, I have an app and a treasure trove of articles on the blog to help you get started.
Always remember, that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this – the science of your body is on your side!
To your FLO,
Is Your Period Healthy?
How do you know if your hormones are healthy? The answer is in your 5th vital sign – your period.
The color of your flow, frequency of your period, and symptoms you have each month can tell you a lot about your health. There are 5 different V-SIGN TYPES, and knowing which one you have will help you get healthy now and prevent disease in the future.