Below are 4 of the most common period problems along with the 5 steps that can help. First, let me explain what I hear women talk about often when it comes to their cycle.
1. Heavy Periods
If your periods are long, or heavy it is called menorrhagia. You may be surprised to hear that iron deficient anemia is one of the causes of heavy cycles. Talk about unfair! I see this a lot especially in women who are vegetarian or have an absorption issue. They are already low in iron and then they lose an excess amount of blood each cycle making the problem that much worse. Hypothyroidism can be a contributing factor and is often missed. I see this every week in my practice as well.
Fibroids and another type of growth in or around the uterus can also cause heavy bleeding. Endometrial hyperplasia is the fancy way to say the endometrium is growing too much. Both of these are linked with estrogen dominance. I’ll talk more about that in a minute.
2. Irregular Period
Some women don’t know when their cycle will come or how heavy it will be. There are a few reasons this can happen but the most common one is because of a metabolic disorder called PCOS. At the root of PCOS is a blood sugar imbalance combined with poor androgen metabolism which causes hair growth on the face, chest and abdomen.
3. Painful Periods
Extremely painful periods where you are doubled over in pain and perhaps even vomiting could be caused by endometriosis. This autoimmune condition is difficult to diagnose because surgery is required. I often find painful periods can be alleviated within a month by specific diet and lifestyle changes. In my practice, I recently had three young women who suspected endometriosis. Two recovered from painful periods quickly while one decided to go through with surgery. In each case we worked on underlying causes but the woman who had surgery arranged to have the overgrown tissue removed. I trust the decisions my patients make. Surgery isn’t an easy choice but it can offer relief like nothing else can.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) are used to treat the pain. These specifically blocks hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins which cause the cramping in your uterus. They also harm the gut health and delay ovulation resulting in lower progesterone levels. This can lead to estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is where there is more estrogen and lower levels of progesterone. This can cause heavy cycles. painful cycles and worsen PMS.
4. Missed Periods
Amenorrhea is when your period has been absent for more than three months. This can happen in athletes who are pushing their bodies very hard. This has been termed the female athlete triad meaning energy is low, there is no period and bone density is impacted.
Early menopause can also cause this although women often think this is happening and their labs say otherwise. Probably the most common cause of missed periods is due to discontinued use of hormonal birth control or straight up pregnancy.
Traumatic brain injury, malabsorption disorders like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, pituitary tumors, and thyroid illness also need to be ruled out.
5 Steps to Help Your Period Problems
1. Track Your Cycle
Start tracking your cycle and symptoms so that you can understand if there’s a pattern or clues your period is giving you. There are more and more excellent tools for doing this easily now. Tracking can help you identify problems early before they become bigger issues.
2. Stress & Blood Sugar
Cortisol production will go up when you are stressed and dampen your progesterone. Estrogen dominance comes next. High stress means cortisol is going to keep you up at night giving you less time to recover. Include fat and protein with each of your meals as this will help with your insulin and blood sugar levels so that the rest of your hormones can get back into balance.
2. Lab work
If you’re experiencing period problems then definitely consider lab testing to understand what the root cause is for you. I always look at blood sugar, thyroid and ferritin. Then I do cortisol testing which includes a complete picture of how its regulating throughout the day. The sex hormones and their metabolites help us see a full picture of what may be causing the imbalance or symptoms.
4. Magnesium, Evening Primrose Oil & Turmeric
Magnesium inhibits prostaglandins and helps with methylation. If you get headaches with your period, magnesium can work wonders. You can increase your intake up to 600 mg the week before your cycle.
There is research supporting the use of evening primrose oil for the treatment of PMS and menopausal symptoms. For PMS and painful periods begin on the first day of your cycle until ovulation. Taking 1500mg for these first two weeks supports what the body is already doing. I use seed cycling for PMS for balancing hormones for similar reasons. During menopause you can take a lower dose during the whole month. Evening primrose oil is helpful for skin, hair loss and fertility.
Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory and supports healthy liver detox which is where your hormones get metabolized. Turmeric can reduce pain driving prostaglandins and supports healthy estrogen levels.