Five Factors Which Worsen Periods

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For many women, that time of the month can be filled with so much dread & angst. Knowing you are going to be in immense pain & discomfort, feel anxious & irritable, have difficulty sleeping & never straying too far away from the bathroom, is no way to live. Too many women have a negative experience with periods & too many women just accept that these symptoms are a fact of life. Well I’m here to tell you this couldn’t be more false & you too (yes you!) have every right to experience pain free, lovely periods. Here are the top 5 factors which care known to negatively influence your menstrual cycle & most of which we all dabble in. The commonality between these five factors is inflammation. All of these factors cause & promote inflammation to some degree, which as we know can be catastrophic for periods.

What is inflammation?

First lets define our main player in most of this chaos. Inflammation is essentially the bodies response to injury. When the body experiences inflammation, many different immune cells become involved & begin releasing inflammatory mediators (3). In acute settings inflammation is very helpful as it essential commences the healing process of the body. However chronic inflammation can become tricky & detrimental, resulting in increased oxidative stress & tissue damage, reducing the bodies ability to recover & potential manifesting in the onset of chronic health conditions.

Chronic Stress

It’s no secret that stress is a long standing nemesis of good health but did you know that stress also has a huge impact on our menstrual health. Acute stress is essentially a survival mechanism & the respective stress hormones, cortisol & adrenalin, are produced to help get us away from danger, quickly. However, for many of us this acute stress has become more constant & chronic. Meaning, these stress hormones are secreted more & more. For the body to keep up with the demand & because survival is of a higher priority, our reproductive hormones are unfortunately ceremoniously sacrificed to make more stress hormones. Aren’t our bodies so damn clever?! Hmmm…

Stress worsens periods in a number of ways, these include:

  • Reducing progesterone* production. Cortisol, is a steroid hormones & made from the same base product as progesterone. Due to the fact that cortisol is a survival hormone & progesterone is not, your body will always preference the production of cortisol. Adrenalin also blocks progesterone receptors. Thus leaving you with both lowered progesterone production & an inability to efficiently use what you do have. Insufficient progesterone manifests with symptoms including premenstrual syndrome, heavy & painful menstrual bleeds. A 2015 study in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research found that women who reported a elevated perceived stress score (i.e. feelings & thoughts) where much more likely to experience menstrual irregularities (1).

Cortisol quiet literally steals progesterone, to make more cortisol
— Lara Briden
  • Imbalance of metabolic hormones insulin & leptin. Insulin is a hormone, secreted by the pancreas, to help us take up sugar from food & convert it to usable energy. Leptin is the hormone which tells your hypothalamus how much body fat you have & influences hunger. Both of these hormones are negatively influenced by stress. Now I bet you’re wondering what insulin & leptin have to do with stress & periods? Well, its actually quiet simple. Chronic stress elevates both insulin & leptin which in turn encourages inflammation, promoting symptoms such as heavy & painful periods.

If you are having a hard time with stress feel free to read my last blog on improving your resilience to stress or book a consultation to really get to the bottom of it. Don’t let stress take over your life.

COWS dairy Products (Or rather A1 CASEIN)

Telling women to remove dairy from their daily routine, is more heinous that stealing candy from a baby. Truly. Cheese is life & messing with the morning latte is basically criminal. So hear me out….A1 casein from cows dairy is a highly inflammatory food for a number of women. Why? Because in those that are sensitive or intolerant to A1 casein, the immune system mounts a response by secreting inflammatory cytokines (2). In fact, period pain is very common manifestation of casein sensitivity & also significantly aggravated by A1 casein, therefore the removal of these products can have a positive influence over periods. If you experience painful periods & have yet to try this strategy I would highly recommend it. Go strictly dairy free for 3 months, it might just change your period life.

If milky coffee is your daily vice, I would recommend replacing the cows dairy for either of the following creamy replacements:

  • macadamia milk - my personal favourite, it’s both creamy & doesn’t split in coffee

  • coconut milk

  • soy milk (non GMO) i.e. Bonsoy - most places have this now, it’s also fab in coffee!

  • oat milk

  • goats milk (doesn’t contain A1 casein)

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption is a much disputed topic within the health sector. How much is too much? What is the safest amount for menstruating women? Is there actually a safe consumption amount at all? One thing that we know for sure is that it impairs healthy detoxification of oestrogen, resulting in recirculation of oestrogen, leading to a “relative oestrogen excess*” picture. Oestrogen by nature is more of a stimulatory hormone, which means that when we have more than we need (& not enough progesterone to balance it out) we are more likely to present with heavy & painful periods, insomnia, fluid retention, headaches & anxiety…the list goes on. Women who consume alcohol are also more likely to have higher plasma oestrogen levels (8).

Researchers discovered that low-dose alcohol consumption negatively influences allopregnanolone production, a neurosteroid which has a calming effect on the brain & associated with reducing symptoms associated with premenstrual anxiety, irritability & mood swings (5). Alcohol also reduces production of glutathione, our master anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Women should aim for no more the 4-5 standard drinks per week & no more than 2 standard drinks in one sitting for healthy menstrual cycles.

Caffeine EXCESS

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I really want to make something clear about the topic of coffee, I’m not bashing coffee, its the excessive consumption of coffee that is problematic. Too many women rely on coffee to wake up, keep going & get through the day. Drinking far, far too much coffee. Your morning coffee is absolutely NOT the problem, the 40 coffees you have after the fact ARE the problem.

Coffee with milk & sugar is the most problematic for women, because they are both inflammatory supportive foods. Black coffee is preferred & actually has some therapeutic properties. Coffee contains polyphenols, which are potent antioxidant compounds that have proven to reduce inflammation (7). That being said caffeine becomes a major problem for women when it negatively influences sleep, which is ESSENTIAL for healthy periods. Sleep deprivation = elevated cortisol > inflammation. Caffeine is naturally a adenosine blocker, which is the main mechanism it uses to help us “stay awake”. For this reason coffee can & should be kept to a minimum & consumed before lunchtime to ensure restful, rejuvinating sleep is achieved.

Refined Sugar

When I’m talking about refined sugar, I’m referring to the added sugar (i.e. cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, etc. etc.) which is added to food products NOT natural sugar in foods such as fruit. Foods like cakes, lollies, chocolate, pre-made sauces, etc. Refined sugar is processed, devoid of any good nutrition & gnarly for periods. Refined sugar messes our situation up in a number of ways, these include:

  • Inflammation. Activates inflammatory cytokine production, which potentially leads to high oxidative stress & tissue damage. PMS is thought to be an inflammatory driven condition.

  • Promoting insulin resistance. Every time we ingest sugar we experience a surge in insulin. The insulin goes to collect the sugar molecule so that it can be used efficient for energy. However, when we consistently & frequently consume lots of sugary food our body becomes unable to make enough insulin to deal with the amount we are consuming leaving free sugar in the blood & insulin resistance.

  • Nutrient depletion. Considering most sugary foods are devoid of nutrition, not only are you not consuming any nutrients but you’ll be using nutrient reserves to metabolise the glucose. For example, magnesium & b group vitamins are essential co-factors in the conversion of glucose to energy (ATP).