Here is the secret to hormones: They fluctuate.
As women, we are gifted the opportunity to have a natural flow and cycle. There are some averages and there are some norms, but there are lots of variations within the norm. Some women have heavier and longer periods, some have short and light. Some women have cramps, others get headaches. Some women have mood changes, others experience breast tenderness. Sometimes in the same woman some of these symptoms will occur some months, and other months none at all.
The average length between cycles is 28 days, about the same number of days as an average lunar month. However, normal cycles can range from 21-35 days. The first half of the cycle is focused on building the uterine lining as estrogen levels increase. Most women ovulate around day 14 of their cycle (mid-cycle) when hormones spike releasing an egg through the fallopian tube from an ovary. The ovary that releases an egg typically alternate sides, and some women will feel the mittelschmerz (German for “mild cramping”) at the time of ovulation. This is the period of peak fertility for most women. The second half of the cycle is about maintaining the environment in the body’s effort to produce offspring. If no fertilization happens, the body sheds its uterine lining and the process starts all over again.
WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR CYCLE:
There are various home remedies that can support your experience, but I always recommend speaking with your doctor and a wellness practitioner before beginning any new regimen.
Overall Hormonal Help
- Eat a non-inflammatory diet.
- Minimize polyunsaturated omega-6s.
- Eat more fish and nuts. Eat less processed vegetable oils like soy, corn, or safflower.
- Minimize dairy, eggs, and all processed foods.
- Avoid endocrine disruptors like plastics, chemical cleaning products, and canned or processed foods.
- Exercise. Newer reports show that as little as 1 minute of sprinting every day can improve cardiovascular function. Now time is not an excuse!
- Sleep enough. Find your balance to be feel rested.
- Avoid bleached, non-organic feminine hygiene products that may contain pesticide residues. Use 100% organic cotton pads and tampons or an alternative like the Diva Cup. For some women this switch may also help to decrease cramps.
- Seed cycling. Seed cycling is a system of using seeds and oils to harmonize the essential fatty acids during different phases of the menstrual cycle. The general concept is to eat ground flax and pumpkin seeds on days 1-14. Then, on days 15-28 consume sunflower and sesame seeds. (Peoples Rx practitioner Amy Neuzil, ND* writes about seed cycling here!)
- Support your adrenals. Stress plays a MAJOR role in hormone balance and production. Even the physical stress of travel can change the timing of a period.
- Track your cycles. There are lots of great period trackers out there that can help you understand if there are any patterns.
- Maca – a Peruvian adaptogenic herb to support the endocrine system.
- Vitex – helps with progesterone balance.
- Red Raspberry Leaf – tea or tincture. Helps with uterine muscle tone.
Helping with pain
- Castor Oil Packs. Applying castor oil topically and then covering with a heating source can soothe and help ease cycles for many women, during and before the cycle begins.
- Cramp Bark. Cramp bark (Vibirnum or combination viburnum tinctures are great for helping to decrease muscle spasms.
- Magnesium. Magnesium helps to relax skeletal muscle, thus often helping to alleviate some muscle cramps.
- White Willow Bark or other natural herbal inflammation modulators. Like OTC pain relievers, these are most effective if you begin them before the pain begins, thus blocking the cycle of inflammatory cytokines.
Some great books to help you find ideas, information, and strategies, include:
- Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, MD
- WomanCode by Alissa Vitti
As always, please consult with your doctor before implementing any of these strategies. If you have concerns about other hormone imbalance, such as endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids or another hormonal concern, please make sure that there are no contra-indications by speaking with your doctor.
Julia Strickler, ND* received her Doctorate of Naturopathy (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle. She also holds a BA in the History of Math and Science and Philosophy from St. John’s College. In order to address any number of chronic conditions and lifestyle challenges, she also assists patients through nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy and mind-body awareness. She is available for home visits as well as office visits.
*Naturopathic doctors are not currently licensed in Texas.