The Oral Contraceptive Pill: Take Two
I’ve written an article on the Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP) before (you can read it here) so I don’t intend on this being a repeat. However, after writing an instagram post that the OCP can cause nutrient deficiencies, and having HUNDREDS of women reach out to me wanting more information, it’s quite clear that this is a sought after topic. It’s clear that people want to be informed. It’s clear that people are not being informed.
As I also mentioned in my first article, this is not about shaming you for your medication choices. Not I, your doctor, best mate, or cat has the right to tell you that you should choose a natural alternative of birth control, or pain management, or whatever the reason you are taking the OCP. You do you, because no-one understands the position you are in but you. I know all too well what it’s like to be offered a solution and wanting more than anything to take it, regardless of whether it is the correct one in the long run. In times of desperation or even just in times of merely wanting a change, we make the choice based on what is right for us in that very moment and that is ALWAYS ok. I’m very conscious of not shaming people for their medication choices.
In saying that, the full picture should be presented to you before you ultimately make that decision. You should be made aware of all the side effects, potential interactions, issues that may correlate with your particular health history, the nutritional deficiencies, all of it. And are you? Are you told about this when you are prescribed the pill? Were you notified that you actually won’t be ovulating while you’re on the pill? Did you know that ovulation is damn important and not just for making a baby? Were you told that the side effects include an increased risk of depression and likely a loss of your sex drive? Did you? I bet the answer is no.. and that is criminal. Health advisors need to be health advisors.
Although people do have reduction in symptoms such as lighter periods and less intense cramping, this is in no way fixing the causative factor and women find more often than not that when the pill is stopped their symptoms return with a vengeance.
So what is the pill actually doing and what kind of side effects are we talking about here?
Grab a cup of tea and sit down.
1. You are suppressing ovulation.
The function of two important hormones (luteinising hormone + follicle stimulating hormone) are suppressed, which results in ovulation not occuring. That’s problematic because ovulation is actually a good indication of what’s going on in your body, such as your thyroid function, hormonal health, whether you are eating enough and meeting your macronutrient requirements, your stress levels and that your insulin is not too high.
Ovulation is required to make steroid hormones that are needed for proper metabolism, healthy bones and a healthy brain. And when you are on the pill you do not ovulate, which means a whole crucial part of your hormonal cycle is suppressed. I’m just going to leave that there.
Ovulation is also how we make progesterone - which is no less important than estrogen. Lara Briden, a women’s health revolutionary and author of The Period Repair Manual explains the importance of ovulation and progesterone as:
“Every monthly dose of progesterone is like a deposit into the bank account of health. It builds bone and metabolic reserve to carry us through all the decades after menopause. (That’s why it’s so important to ovulate while we can during our reproductive decades, and not shut it down with hormonal birth control)”.
2. Nutritional deficiencies
Literature clearly states that the OCP is depleting many important nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin B2 (which is problematic for those predisposed to migraines and one reason why so many people report increased instance of migraines when taking the pill), vitamin B6, B12, Vitamin C and E, magnesium, selenium and zinc. Well shi*t, that’s enough of a problem as it is.
I can pick just one of those nutrients and focus on the detriment on the human body when it isn’t present. Just one. Times that by nine and there is the reality of the OCP. These nutrients on their own, let alone in combination, are responsible for energy levels, nervous system function, collagen production, skin health, immune modulation, metabolism, liver support, cardiovascular health, disease prevention, musculoskeletal health and hormone production. Not that important, right?
It’s also recommended to stay on the OCP until one is ready to conceive, in order to not miss the ‘fertility window’ after cessation of the pill. Oh great, so let’s try and fall pregnant when we are most nutrient depleted. That makes total sense to me. It is well documented that folate is one of the nutrients depleted with the use of the OCP and it is also well documented that folate is required during conception and pregnancy for your baby to develop a healthy brain and to not have neural tube defects. A folate deficiency also increases homocysteine which is then a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But we’re telling people to fall pregnant while they’re deficient. Have I missed something here? Dietary supplementation should be considered for women who are planning to fall pregnant immediately after stopping birth control and ideally, levels should be assessed BEFORE trying for a baby.
The reduced levels of antioxidants is problematic too (Vitamin C and E). If we know the pill is reducing your bodies ability to protect your cells via depleting some of our antioxidants, then we can expect damage to our cells. Whilst on the pill, it is vital to have an antioxidant rich diet and to work with a practitioner to assess whether supplementation is also required.
3. The pill affects your gut microbiome
This is quite convoluted because the ways in which our gut impacts the rest of our body is quite astronomical but I’ll try and explain this the best way I can. The OCP can disrupt the balance and environment of our normal flora which results in an overgrowth of less ideal bacteria and yeasts. This is a problem for various different reasons.
Firstly, our neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin are synthesised in the gut and these have extremely important roles to play in the outcomes of our mental health.
Secondly, we need a healthy microbiome to metabolise estrogen. Majority of the reasons people are prescribed the OCP is because of cramps, migraines, acne, nausea, vomiting or tender breasts and these are often caused by estrogen dominance. When we’re prescribed the pill for years and years on end which is so often the case, it’s reducing our bodies ability to metabolise estrogen due to its disruption to the microbiome (the place where estrogen is metabolised). We keep taking the pill, we keep worsening the problem, we keep getting symptoms. We stop taking the pill and our symptoms are the worse they’ve ever been. Does this sound familiar?? Now you know why.
Not only that, but your immune system, nervous system and skin health is also heavily dependant on a healthy microbiome and bacterial environment. Prioritising the health of your gut is also one of my number one treatments for all the symptoms that people are put on the pill for, such as PMS. To read more about this, click here.
The pill has also been linked to an increased likelihood of an overgrowth of candida albicans, which manifests as yeast infections. Do you have recurrent thrush?? The pill may be why, especially if you’ve taken it long term.
4. The pill may lower your libido
This one is really sad in my opinion, because a low libido has so many repercussions, not just on physical health. I don’t want to disrespect anyone’s beliefs and this is just my personal opinion, but sex and intimacy is such an important part of a relationship. It’s the ultimate way to express yourself in the most loving and intimate way you know how. Taking a medication that may suppress that is so so awful and can leave a woman questioning their very basic innate physiology. It’s really, really sad. Don’t even get me started on the fact that for many, the pill is prescribed to promote sexual freedom, yet it actually takes that away.
The worst part is that a particular website which I would love to name but I can’t (got myself into a few too many pickles in the past, I told myself to be more subtle from now on ha) suggested that women on the pill should assess their lives and relationships for choices that could be lowering their libidos. What does this message portray?? That women should be questioning themselves?? Nah, don’t let people blame themselves for things out of their control. That’s not cool. Sure, there are multiple factors that affect libido and the OCP is definitely not the only one, but let’s get the facts straight and not blame women for failed relationships. Let’s educate people on all the information, so instead of assuming that not going to the gym on Tuesday is the reason you can’t bring yourself to be intimate with your partner, we can actually view the bigger, more realistic picture.
Basically, birth control reduces the function of your thyroid hormones and lowers testosterone, which is what causes the low libido. Also, because we’re not ovulating (which is when we tend to feel a little more frisky due to a natural spike in testosterone), we miss out on that too. But low thyroid hormone function can also be responsible for weight gain, depression, constipation, dry skin and hair loss.
Literature also reports that the pill may increase your risk of blood clots, stroke and increase your risk of heart attacks. Since we live in a world where our risk factors for cardiovascular complications are already at an all time high, I think it’s time to start being more conscious - don’t you think?
Important take home message: Hormonal imbalances are not too complex to rectify, no matter how dismissive your doctor may seem at finding the root cause. Be persistent. Find someone who wants to help you. There are plenty of fantastic and educated doctors out there. I’m currently working on a resource to connect you with these very doctors so you know exactly where to find them.
Written by: Jocelyn Clark BSc Nursing, currently completing masters in Women's Health.
I’m sure we can all remember a situation like this. The cheap wine, doritos, girlfriend catchups that are way over due. And someone says "oh, I dunno... I've had this weird thing happening lately”. She’s talking about her body. A mixture of shame, relief, catharsis as we all ‘go there’.
Growing up I knew just enough to get by. I asked all the questions about anatomy, sex, hormones and mental health that we all ask ourselves, because we don’t know unless we’re told right? I’ve only ever wanted to work in Women’s Health, and since working in this field and starting a Master’s in Women’s Health, I’ve been the go-to girl for my friends personal health crises. I find myself always in conversation with women of all ages about the mystery of their bodies.
This is what inspired Talking V’s.
I want to crack the convo open. I’m going there. I’m talking about it. Because there’s nothing naughty about knowing about your body girl, and the more we know, the healthier we can be.
I’m Jocelyn, and with Talking V’s I’m starting these kinds of conversations to help de-stigmatise women’s health, one vagina at a time. I want you to know how important it is to be “Breast Aware”.
Breast awareness is really about getting to know yourself, your own body, feeling comfortable assessing your breasts so that if any changes occurred you’d know about it. Give them some love. Just notice them.. more often.
The first thing about being breast aware is to know what's normal for you!
Many women have different colours, shapes, sizes. Some nipples are flat, others large. Some women might have one larger than the other (yep I do). Some women experience tenderness before their period, others don’t. Many women will have different density to their tissue. Some women have bumps and lumps, and that is all very normal to their own body! If you can learn to navigate your breasts, you’ll be able to spot something that might not be quite right. You’ve got to know your breasts like a captain knows their ocean. Ya know what I’m saying? In your heart.
If you haven't already acquainted yourself with your breasts well, do so. It’s important to have a good idea of the size, colour and shape of your breasts as these may change.
Okay so I've got the basics down - what do you do now? Glad you asked! Firstly LOOK!
Image courtesy of: @planetprudence
Undress and find a mirror.
While looking in the mirror, raise your arms so you are able to see right underneath your breasts and also underneath your arms. Give your beautiful bod a good looksie (hot damn).
Differences you might find which would need a Medical checkup:
• If you are experiencing redness or a rash to the skin.
• If your nipple or breast is a different shape.
• Your nipple may look pinched, swollen, bulging or inverted (as long as it wasn’t normally like this).
• Any discharge if you slightly squeeze the nipple.
• Visible change to the shape or size of the breast.
Now FEEL. Breast lumps do not always form directly in the perkiest part of your chest. They can also form right up underneath your armpits, and even up to your collarbone. So to make sure you don’t miss a spot try to use this technique:
Image courtesy of: @theroseclinic
With one arm in the air, take the opposite hand and place it over your nipple. Begin to roll your flat fingers over your nipple in a clockwise formation. Slowly move your hands outward from your nipple around your breast. Make sure to continue on with this until you’ve reached right in your cleavage, under your armpit and up your chest to your collarbone. Once finished, repeat on the other side. You might feel most comfortable using shower gel or moisturiser. This process will help familiarise yourself with the lumps and bumps of your own breast tissue.
Go and see your GP if:
• You find a lump that you are not familiar with.
• You’re experiencing pain in your breast that you wouldn’t normally experience as a part of your menstruation cycle.
• You are able to feel a change in size or shape of the breast.
But when do we start checking ourselves?
Ladies, I’m here to tell you the time is now!
I don’t care how big or small your chesty crown jewels may be – those babies need a good (lovely and gentle) grab once a month! If you menstruate, the best time to do it is AFTER your period. During your cycle, your breasts change with the changes of hormones. It’s common for women to experience discomfort, swelling,
or bumps in their breast before and during their period.
So to be sure you’re getting the best idea of your ‘normal’ breast, check them in the few days after your period has finished. If you don’t menstruate, pick a day in the month that suits you and put it on your calendar, for habits sake!
So what about mammograms?
A mammogram is an XRAY to your breasts. These are important as they are more likely to detect cancers which our lovely fingers might not catch out.
Mammograms aren't recommended for women under 40, as they are not so effective due to the difference in density in breast tissue at a younger age. In Australia, women can have FREE mammograms from the age of 40.
Remember, be breast aware! Know your normal and go from there. Be a good gal-pal and remind your friends to check their breasts once a month too.
If you have any worries, do not hesitate to see your GP.
For further information, or to see how you can support the breast cancer cause check out these websites below.
Written by: Jess Demasi (B.A. in Psych + Eating Psychology Coach. Postgrad specialty in women's health and hormones).
I can vividly remember the day in 5th grade when they separated us from the boys, sat us down on mini blue chairs that now would barely support one of my butt cheeks and showed us the video that taught us EVERYTHING we need to know about being a woman. Pause for hour-long eye roll.
You know what that video failed to mention (besides anything USEFUL)? It failed to tell us a week out of every month you’ll have the honor of going through cramps that feel like an alien is putting down roots in your uterus, heavy bleeding that makes you wonder if this will actually be the period that kills you, and (my personal favorite) the emotional breakdowns that cause you to question all your life decisions up until that point, making you do something so drastic that you spend the OTHER 2 weeks of the month doing damage control for. And around and around we go. Not to mention the bloating, water retention, breakouts, nausea, cravings and (for the EXTRA lucky ones) vomiting.
Many of us look at these fun activities and just say, “Yeah, being a girl can be a real pain sometimes” as if this is our duty or responsibility. Mostly because we were told this was ‘just a part of being a woman’.
Funny thing is, being in excruciating pain around your period is actually NOT NORMAL.
Normal? Absolutely not.
It is NOT normal to have PMS and menses symptoms that are so painful and invasive they intrude on your everyday life. Experience some cramping? Sure, your uterus IS pushing lining out of your body after all. Some light fatigue and maybe some cravings? Yup, totally normal.
Cramps that leave you bedridden and mood swings so bad you feel like you become a different person? NOT NORMAL
You’re probably finding that really hard to believe, considering most women don’t know or haven’t experienced anything different. But that’s exactly why having this conversation is so necessary. Extreme PMS that interferes with your daily life HAS a root cause (and no, it’s not ‘being a woman’)
THE ROOT CAUSE OF PMS: ESTROGEN DOMINANCE
Long story short, PMS is caused by a HORMONE IMBALANCE. Though there are many different combinations of imbalances that can lead to a whole host of problems, there is a specific imbalance that correlates most to PMS symptoms. This imbalance is something referred to as ESTROGEN DOMINANCE. This essentially means there is too much estrogen floating around in your body, causing negative side effects like cramping, bloating, nausea, heavy bleeding, blood clots, weepiness, and anxiety/depression.
When Estrogen is too high, it’s either 1) absolutely high or 2) high IN RELATION to progesterone. This is more common.
*You see, hormones are tricky. You can never consider one without the other. Absolute numbers rarely tell you anything, because it is the RATIOS of one in relation to the other that really matter. So, essentially, you can have normal estrogen numbers but if your progesterone is dipping too low, you automatically enter into an estrogen dominant state. See what I mean when I say hormones are so temperamental?
There are many things that attribute to Estrogen Dominance, and therefore PMS:
1. INSUFFICIENT LIVER FUNCTION
The liver is responsible for detoxing hormones out of your body. If the liver is unable to detox estrogen out swiftly, it gets absorbed back into your bloodstream and contributes to estrogen dominance. Overwhelming the liver with high fructose foods, alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods don’t allow it the breathing room to focus on properly detoxing your hormones, which is why drinking the week leading up to your period can exacerbate PMS symptoms.
2. STRESS IS TOO HIGH
Stress is the NUMBER ONE cause of low progesterone. When you are stressed your body STEALS the materials it uses to make progesterone to instead make Cortisol. This can happen from not sleeping enough, over exercising and undereating, emotional stress, or anxiety/depression. Low progesterone + normal/excess estrogen = Estrogen Dominance.
3. NOT HAVING REGULAR BOWEL MOVEMENTS
The liver and gut are BFFs. Like, sleepovers-everyday-make-up-secret-language-BFFs. The liver sorts through and gets the estrogen ready for removal, and your GUT is responsible for taking out the trash. If you’re not pooping (like MINIMUM once a day) then you are not taking out the trash enough. Estrogen will get reabsorbed back into your body and, well, you know what happens then: Estrogen Dominance.
4. CARRYING TOO MUCH EXCESS BODY FAT FOR YOUR BODY
FUN FACT: Fat cells produce Estrogen. Or, more specifically, fat cells perform aromatization–which is where they convert testosterone INTO estrogen. The more fat cells you have, the more estrogen you produce. This is one of the reasons why when women engage in restrictive dieting and lose too much fat too quickly, their hormones can get all messed up. You NEED body fat to have healthy levels of estrogen. If you have too much for YOUR body, though, you can have too many fat cells producing too much estrogen. This can contribute to Estrogen Dominance. (*note, there is no specific weight where aromatization won’t take place. Everyone’s healthy stable weight is different. Please don’t take this as a reason to go lose all your body fat. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, eat nourishing whole foods, DO NOT under eat, move your body, and allow your weight to settle into its stable natural place. If you do that, I promise this factor won’t need to be on your radar.)
5. CONSUMING PHYTO- AND XENO-ESTROGENS
Phytoestrogens are foods that ACT like estrogen in the body. I normally advise being cautious with these for women with estrogen dominance since they can react to different forms of estrogen in the body in various ways. Foods like soy, legumes, and flaxseeds are not bad but I highly recommend caution if you are actively trying to heal Estrogen Dominance.
Xenoestrogens are estrogenic compounds that are found in, like, EVERYTHING these days. Fertilizer, BPA, cleaning products, skin care, make up, etc. This is the big reason why safe/non-toxic skincare has become such a hot topic. Every day it seems like there is more science coming out about the harmful effects a lot of our personal care products are having on our endocrine system. NOT TO MENTION, toxins in our products have to be detoxed by the liver, which we need to unburden as much as possible so it can focus on ridding our body of excess estrogen!
Switch to non-toxic skin care, makeup, and household products. Use the EWG skin deep database to see the safety ratings of thousands of products!
6. TAKING OR HAVE TAKEN THE BIRTH CONTROL PILL
You had to know this was coming right? What is the NUMBER 1 way to piss off your hormonal balance? Throw some synthetic hormones up in there and let them go crazy. If you’ve been on the pill or are on it, go here to read my in-depth post specifically about how to heal from the pill.
HOW TO GET RID OF PMS FOR GOOD
DETOX EXCESS ESTROGEN
You will do this by supporting your Liver and your Gut. A key recommendation for this is to eat a minimum of 30 grams of fiber from a MIX of soluble sources like root veggies and insoluble sources like leafy greens. Make sure you are pooping AT LEAST once a day. A good, hormone releasing, hey-look-at-you-go poop. Okay? This is important. It is crucial to be supporting your detoxification pathways to facilitate estrogen excretion. Here are my go-to detox supporting tips:
·drink warm water with lemon upon waking on an empty stomach
·sweat and move regularly
·consume potent liver supporting foods like dandelion root, broccoli sprouts, beets, grass-fed liver and bitter herbs
·take magnesium citrate if you struggle with bowel movements
·consume gut enriching foods like probiotics and bone broth
EAT AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET
When inflammation is high, it increases the aromatase enzyme, which, as I just mentioned, takes testosterone and converts it to estrogen. This makes estrogen dominance even worse and increases estrogen metabolites, which makes your PMS run wild. When you’re converting and producing more estrogen, with low testosterone, you experience symptoms like weepiness, mood swings, fatigue, inability to build muscle, and (most noticeably) your sex drive will disappear. In order to combat this, we need to focus on increasing our consumption of ANTI inflammatory foods while decreasing our consumption of inflammatory foods:
1. INCREASE consumption of these :
·omega 3 rich fish: salmon, sardines, wild herring
·fiber-rich and nutrient dense dark leafy greens
·turmeric & ginger
·COMPLETE proteins for your neurotransmitter health (aka, making sure you don’t feel like you’re going crazy during that time of the month) from pasture raised organic animal sources
·nourishing fats like avocados, grassfed butter, MCT oil, and olive oil
·starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, winter squash, cassava root, and taro
·bone broth and probiotic foods
2. DECREASE consumption of these PMS irritating foods *PARTICULARLY around menses:
·caffeine (at least while you experience symptoms)
·inflammatory fats: canola oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil, etc
·conventional meat and dairy: they are loaded with antibiotics which screw with your natural hormone levels–> choose grass-fed meat and grass-fed raw dairy
·over the counter pain meds like Tylenol or Advil. They mess with your bodies natural ability to regulate inflammation, which will increase it in the long run. Plus, popping them multiple times per day on your period every month can wreak havoc on the lining of your stomach. Try some of my pain-relieving tips at the end of the article!
·any food that YOU have a sensitivity to. Food sensitivities are one of the top unknown causes of chronic inflammation
Do you remember what I said happens when you are chronically stressed? THAT’S RIGHT! Your body steals materials it would use to make progesterone to make cortisol (I knew you’d remember. You guys are the best). This is something that is referred to as the ‘Pregnenolone Steal’. And it jacks your progesterone big time, therefore causing you to be in an estrogen dominant state by default. Estrogen Dominant= horrible PMS. When your progesterone is down and you’re producing extra cortisol, you’ll likely experience breast tenderness, intense sadness, anxiety, disturbed sleep, and excess weight in the midsection. Here are some of my favorite ways to manage emotional stress:
·cut out toxic people
·make boundaries. ALL DAY EVERY DAY MAKE BOUNDARIES
·learn to say no
·pray, journal, meditate
·stop finding your worth in the way you look–easier said than done, but a large source of stress for most women is physical insecurity and the day in-day out negative self-talk has physical consequences on your cortisol output
·prioritize sleep over any task, workout, plans, anything. Sleep is the foundation from which you function and can be your Badass self
·Practice Gratitude: every day, write down three things you’re most grateful for. Gratitude is the source of contentment
MAKE BARBELL YOUR BAE
Exercise, in general, is going to GREATLY improve your detoxification process, help with hormone balance, facilitate blood flow to alleviate PMS cramping and increase serotonin & dopamine production to keep your mental health stable. Resistance training- heavy weight training, in particular- is going to do WONDERS for your hormone health. Here’s why: UNLIKE chronic cardio that raises your cortisol level and can actually slow your metabolism, weight training sensitizes your body to a hormone called insulin.
Insulin is what your pancreas secretes when you eat any kind of sugar. Totally normal and necessary, but for most women that have lived on high amounts of processed foods and refined sugar, they have become insulin resistant. Basically, your body has become inefficient at processing sugar, and it is a precursor to diabetes. It also is HIGHLY correlative for women who have estrogen dominance and intense PMS symptoms to have some sort of insulin resistance (NOT ALL, but many).
The solution? Increase your insulin sensitivity. How? Well, besides the obvious of focusing on more whole foods, you can move your body in ways that feel good. Though I won’t FORCE you to love resistance training, I urge you to give it a shot because it is THAT beneficial for estrogen dominance.
Not only will you increase your insulin sensitivity, you will stimulate your Lymphatic system, improve detoxification, build muscle, speed up your metabolism, and balance your estrogen dominance with healthy testosterone levels which will restore your energy and (best for last) sex drive……
I should’ve led with that last one. Huh?
*note: This is a general recommendation for ALL month long. Listen to your body when you are PMSing and on your menses: if you are tired, sleep. If you want to move, go workout. You are the boss here.
As mentioned, it is very easy to enter into an estrogen dominant state if you’re progesterone dips too low. I mentioned above that this can happen for a number of reasons, mostly centering around things that put too much stress on your mind, body and heart. Learn how to manage those above, and then focus on a few key nutrients that are required for progesterone production.
·Magnesium: which regulates the pituitary gland (which then regulates hormones).
·Vitamin C: found in bell peppers, dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, and broccoli
·Vitamin B6: found in poultry, grass-fed beef, pistachios, and tuna.
·Zinc: found in Oysters, red meat, and some in pumpkin seeds.
·L-arginine: found highest in turkey, chicken, and pumpkin seeds
·Vitamin E: found highest in Almonds and Olive Oil. I recommend supplementing during your luteal phase (2nd half of cycle)
·Vitamin D: this is actually really important for ALL hormones, and considering most citizens work inside and don’t get their 20 minutes of direct sunlight a day, supplementing can be HUGE. I take a liposomal spray every morning with breakfast
MANAGE THE PAIN
I know what you’re probably thinking ‘Jess, I’m in pain NOW. Isn’t there anything I can do?’. GIRL I GOT YOU. I am not going to leave you hanging. While you implement all these long-term strategies, I have a few tried and true PMS pain relief techniques that never fail me or my cramping uterus:
·supplement with Magnesium Glycinate: Around 400mg and then leading up the week before your period until the first couple days of bleeding, boost it up to around 500-700 mg.
·Peppermint and Lavender Essential oil: AMAZING for headaches, nausea, and cramps. I rub peppermint oil in a circular motion on my temples if I ever get nauseous or have a headache.
·Magnesium Oil: it absorbs transdermally for better local absorption. I actually mix it with peppermint and lavender to get a dual pain relieving, calming rub on my tummy for menstrual cramps, stomach aches, and even sore muscles! Find it at any local health food store
·Heating pads: they’re a girl-with-cramps-so-bad-she-thinks-this-is-the-end’s best friend
·Exercise: on the days you know you usually get cramps, go and sweat. The endorphins help with the pain and the blood flow helps relieve cramps
Alright, ladies, that’s the basics of everything you need to know about PMS! Remember that extreme hormonal symptoms are NOT something you have to live with, but are your body’s way of communicating that something is off. Do some digging, and if you still can’t find relief from my suggestions above after a few cycles, get your hormone levels tested to pinpoint exactly what’s happening.
Written by Dianna Bedran (BHlthSc, AdvDip Nat & Nut, Remedial therapies, Cert Hatha Yoga & Ayurveda).
Could you be living with endometriosis and not know? The probability is worth being considered as 1 in 10 women are sufferers (1). Endometriosis can take up to 10 years before it is diagnosed, and sometimes longer. This is due to women believing their pain is normal, or for medical professionals telling them their pain is normal.
It is NOT normal, and leaves certain women suffering for numerous years without care or management. A lot of awareness is coming to light nowadays, and I'm glad to see so many worthy articles circulating. Some women I have spoken to with endometriosis appear to be vague in regards to knowledge, treatment and management of the condition. Education is valuable in taking steps forward to improving your health, and taking control of your current situation. If you are a sufferer, then you know how it can affect your daily life in unpleasant ways. So here’s an overview on endometriosis and ways to work through it in order to improve your quality of life.
What is it:
Tissue within the womb are known as endometrium. This grows during the menstrual cycle and is shed when there is no pregnancy, as menstruation. Endometriosis is a condition where similar endometrium is growing in other parts within the body, including female reproductive organs. Behaving in the same manner in response to estrogen, it follows a similar cycle yet has no where to shed and is trapped within the body. Endometriosis is known as an inflammatory condition. It can occur at any age starting from menses, and with a possible reduction in symptoms with menopause (2).
Pain is common and can vary from extreme to no pain at all, which is known as silent endometriosis. Having no symptoms does not mean that you no longer have the condition.
Furthermore, endometriosis can lead to other conditions and symptoms within the body. Due to its inflammatory nature, it can affect hormones, sleep, energy levels, mood, bowel movements, ovulation pain, and pain during intercourse. It can cause muscular and skeletal pain, joint pain, IBS, and UTI’s. The upside is that endometriosis can be managed and one can live symptom free with proper management.
This can only be done through surgical intervention, yet surgical intervention will not cure endometriosis. It can only be managed with the correct care. Blood tests and scans can not diagnose endometriosis. The only way to diagnose is via a laparoscopy / laparotomy, followed by a biopsy (3). For this to be performed correctly, the surgery needs to be done by a well advanced surgeon who specialises in excision of endometriosis.
There is no cure for endometriosis. Even if you no longer express the symptoms, you still have the condition, however, it can still be a manageable condition. It should be noted that the extent of the symptoms do not express the severity of the condition. You can live pain free and still have endometriosis. Although commonly prescribed, the oral contraceptive pill is not always the best answer. It can mask the condition, so when a woman comes off the oral contraceptive pill in an attempt to fall pregnant she may face infertility struggles and a chronic condition to treat (4). It is best to ask for all your available options and make an informed decision best for you and your current circumstances.
It is also worth noting that endometriosis can be anywhere in the body. Places it expresses itself include the bowel area, joints, and even around the heart. It is not only in the uterus, therefore, always seek the advice of a well informed health care practitioner before getting surgery such as a hysterectomy.
The following was stated by Dr Jason Abbott, Medical Director at Endometriosis Australia and Professor of gynaecological surgery at UNSW:
“Women with endometriosis, by definition, have disease outside the uterus with these areas of inflamed tissue being the cause of pain and/or infertility. Hence, the uterus in women with endometriosis is often normal. Having a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and/or cervix) without removal of the additional endometriosis will cause ongoing symptoms in a woman with pain. So, hysterectomy is not a cure for endometriosis but it is beneficial that endometriosis is removed” (5).
Infertility & pregnancy:
There is a misconception around believing that having children will cure endometriosis (4). What is true, is that a full term pregnancy can decrease the risk of having endometriosis. Also, during pregnancy and after pregnancy, hormonal changes occur naturally within the mothers’ body. These changes may improve the symptoms of endometriosis but only temporarily. Therefore, having a baby is not an ideal treatment option for endometriosis sufferers.
While some women with endometriosis find it difficult to fall pregnant, others have had no issues at all.
There seems to be a genetic link with endometriosis in families (2). It presents itself as an autoimmune condition due to its inflammatory nature. This is not to say that it is an autoimmune condition, just that more research needs to be conducted in this area.
Having excess estrogen will not cause endometriosis, yet the condition itself is driven by estrogen (4). This could be estrogens from the environment, drugs, body fat, food, plastics, hormones, or circulating estrogen's that are within the body.
Once correctly diagnosed, a multi disciplinary approach should be implemented for successful management. This should include proper nutrition, lifestyle changes, possibly counseling, herbal medicine, acupuncture, exercise, pain management, and supplements. Ideally seek a well informed practitioner to manage the treatment plan, and dispense practitioner quality herbs and supplements.
Nutrition & Supplements:
1. An antioxidant rich diet will address oxidation within the body occurring as a result of the inflammation. Include more fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic when possible. Vitamin C rich foods such as guava, pineapple and oranges are a great source of antioxidants. Vitamin A rich foods such as carrots, and broccoli are also beneficial (3).
2. Wash your fresh produce well to remove the residue of chemicals and pesticides. These can be hormonal disruptors.
3. Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids for their anti-inflammatory benefits, pain management, and positive affects on the hormonal system (2). Omega-3 fatty acids also assist with mood and brain function.
4. Supplementing with the anti-inflammatory N-Acetyl Cysteine assists pain reduction. Studies have shown this to be an optimally functioning supplement for endometriosis sufferers (6).
5. Include foods from the brassica family of vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts. They have an ability to assist in the clearance of estrogen's not required from the body.
6. Turmeric is another great anti-inflammatory. It has also been shown to reduce the size of endometriosis lesions and it's activity (6). Turmeric is also a beneficial liver herb and assists the liver with hormonal clearance (2).
7. Reduction of red meat, processed meats, caffeine, sugar, deep fried foods, saturated fats, cigarettes and alcohol. These can increase inflammation in the body. Alternatively include more ginger, nuts, seeds, and cold pressed oils.
8. Fibre eliminates excess estrogen via the bowels by binding to it, so increasing fibre intake from sources such as oats, chia seeds, brown rice, avocados, berries, psyllium husk, lentils and legumes can be hugely beneficial.
9. Excluding soy as it may aggravate estrogen receptor sites (3). Many products contain hidden soy ingredients such as energy bars, muesli bars, packaged foods, and processed meats.
10. Studies have shown that the microflora can be disrupted in inflammatory conditions such as endometriosis. Lactobacilli probiotics have shown to improve such situations (7).
11. Supplementing with Zinc as it has been found that most endometriosis sufferers are low in Zinc levels. It will also help reduce pain and prostaglandins (6).
12. Reduction or avoidance of dairy and gluten. These foods may disrupt immune function and release inflammatory cytokines (6) which can further pain.
1. The use of custom made herbal formulas and supplements will dramatically drive the management of endometriosis. Seek the advice of an experienced practitioner for such prescriptions.
2. Avoid the use of tampons due to the synthetics, fragrances and hormonal disrupting chemicals they may contain. The use of pure cotton sanitary pads is recommended.
3. Meditation has such a calming effect on the entire system. It is effective in pain management, improving quality of sleep, regaining a sense of inner peace and releases happy hormones throughout the body making it a natural medicine wonder.
4. Allow yourself to explore, ask, investigate, and not stop until you are satisfied with the answers. I know women who were told that their pain is “normal” by their health care professionals and so accepted it as a part of who they are in a women’s body for 20 years on. It is not normal. It is an indication of an imbalance that should be addressed. This applies to all menstrual conditions. Proper management improves quality of life.
I believe in the power of nature and the innate intelligence within our bodies that has an ability to manage, treat, resolve, and transform. It takes a change in perspective, lifestyle alterations, and compliancy to a professionally tailored treatment plan. Stay informed, empowered, and in control.
If you don’t feel quite right, ask a health professional you trust to go deeper into that with you. Be selective, you don’t want to see a health professional who will be quick to prescribe or quick to dismiss your situation. Most importantly, spread the awareness! A possible 10 year time frame for a diagnosis is way too long. With the correct knowledge, women will be able to detect signs and symptoms and seek professional advice earlier. Most importantly, don't take "your pain is normal" as an answer.
1. Endometriosis Australia (2016). Endometriosis Research. Retrieved from https://www.endometriosisaustralia.org/research.
2. Trickey, R. (2011). Women, Hormones, & the Menstrual Cycle. Melbourne, Australia: Holistic Health Group, p. 250, 253, 260, 261.
3. Hechtman, L. (2012). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Sydney, Australia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, p. 816-817, 820.
4. Orr, A., (2017). The Facts About Period Pain & Endometriosis- “What Women Need To Know”. Retrieved from http://drandreworr.com.au/the-facts-about-period-pain-endometriosis-what-women-need-to-know/
5. Price, L. (2018). Here’s What You Need To Know About Hysterectomies As An Endo ‘Cure’. Retrieved from https://www.pedestrian.tv/health/lena-denham-hysterectomy-endometriosis-australia/
6. Briden, L., (2016). Endometriosis: 5 Natural Treatments That Really Work. Retrieved from http://www.larabriden.com/endometriosis-natural-treatments-really-work/
7. Bailey, M.T., and Coe, C.L. (2002). Endometriosis is associated with an altered profile of intestinal microflora in female rhesus monkeys. Human Reproduction Journal 17(7):1704-8. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/120938272.
Written by Dianna Bedran (BHlthSc, AdvDip Nat & Nut, Remedial therapies, Cert Hatha Yoga & Ayurveda).
We've heard it all before, a healthy gut microbiome (which is the home to all of our microorganisms such as bacteria) is essential for maintaining a strong gut wall and protecting the cells within. It's also important for our immune system as the majority of our immune cells actually live in the gastrointestinal tract - AND we need a healthy gut to ensure we are absorbing all of our nutrients.
But there's more to a healthy gut than just that! It has also been discovered to have a connection with women's hormones, particularly estrogen. Why is this crucial? Well, an imbalance of estrogen relates to a wide range of conditions that affect a large portion of women. This includes those with PCOS, endometriosis, breast cancer, pre-menstrual disorders such as severe pain, breast tenderness, mood swings, menstrual migraines, and any other estrogenic dependant condition. Estrogen has also been found to have an influence on prostate cancer, so it's not even entirely exclusive to females.
New scientific research has emerged revealing a link between inflammatory conditions such as endometriosis and lower levels of Lactobacilli (1), which is a particular family of bacteria that has wide-ranging benefits in the body, not just limited to the gut. What do we mean it's not just limited to the gut?? Well, did you know we don't just have a microbiome in the digestive tract? We also have an environment of bacteria in the female reproductive tract, so protecting the health of bacterias that can work outside of the gut, particularly the vagina, is just as important (2).
Now let's introduce estrobolome.
These guys are a collection of genes that are found within our gut microbes, that have a unique ability to metabolise estrogens (3). They do this by modulating the circulation of estrogen within the liver, which then affects the amount of estrogen circulating throughout the body.
A healthy gut produces a perfect amount of estrobolome genes, but modern day living exposes us to a number of factors that compromise our gut health and it would be unrealistic to suggest anyone has a perfectly functioning unaltered gut. Estrobolome are not only necessary for modulating the circulation of estrogen’s, they also impact its excretion. This means that if gut health is less than optimal, an excess of estrogen can occur which then aids the promotion of estrogen connected conditions. Now it's not all bad news - estrogen plays a beneficial role in many functions of the body, particularly cardiovascular, reproductive, cell replication, bone health, and fat deposition. So ideally, we want the correct balance of it. Estrogen is always needs to be considered in someone's health as its role extends beyond a women's cycle.
So, what to do?
Diet and lifestyle have a huge influence on the health of our microorganisms and related genes. Over use of antibiotics, the oral contraceptive pill, and lack of proper nutrition have a negative impact on our hormonal balance. As does stress on our microbiome such as refined carbohydrates, refined sugar, smoking, alcohol, preservatives/vegetable oils, lack of exercise and improper sleep. Reducing contributing factors and adding in gut supporting foods has shown to be promising. Eating fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pot set yogurt with live cultures (can be coconut yogurt) will boost your microbiome and help to start creating a healthy gut.
Supplementing with a broad spectrum Lactobacillus probiotic has also shown positive improvement because probiotics can assist in eliminating bad bacteria and correcting the balance with more good bacteria. This is linked to women's hormones because now we know that improper elimination of bad bacteria can contribute to estrogen excess.
Prebiotic fibres are also important, as part of their role is to create a perfect environment for your own microbiome to thrive. That's where fibre comes in. Magical for so many reasons, one of them is that it clears excess estrogen (4) as well as stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria in our microbiome (5). Great fibre sources include chia seeds, berries, avocados, oatmeal, brown rice, nuts, hemp seeds and psyllium.
These days we have so much accessible knowledge at our fingertips, but authentic reliable sources highlight a very similar solution: A well functioning digestive system, less internal and external stress, proper nutrition and good quality sleep is the key to good health. A balanced lifestyle is also key.
More on gut health to come, as it's a universe of life within us. Hippocrates (460BCE-375BCE), said it over 2000 years ago- "All disease begins in the gut". He was definitely onto something. . .
1. Bailey, M.T., and Coe, C.L. (2002). Endometriosis is associated with an altered profile of intestinal microflora in female rhesus monkeys. Human Reproduction Journal 17(7):1704-8. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/120938272.
2. Puca, J., and Hoyne, F.G. (2017). Microbial dysbiosis and disease pathogenesis of endometriosis, could there be a link? Allied Journal of Medical Research 1(1). Retrieved fromhttp://www.alliedacademies.org/articles/microbial-dysbiosis-and-disease-pathogenesis-of-endometriosis-could-therebe-a-link-6652.html3.
3. Kwa ,M., Plottel, C.S., Blaser, M.J., Adams, S. (2016). The Intestinal Microbiome and Estrogen Receptor-Positive Female Breast Cancer. Journal National Cancer Institue, 108(8). doi: 10.1093/jnci/djw029.4.
4. Hechtman, L. (2012). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Sydney, Australia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, p. 801.5.
5. Trickey, R. (2011). Women, Hormones, & the Menstrual Cycle. Melbourne, Australia: Holistic Health Group, p. 693.