A woman has about 400 periods over her lifetime. Most women see periods as an annoying monthly occurrence that can come with a boatload of symptoms, including fatigue, mood dips, depression, anxiety, foggy thinking, and pain. In response, many well-meaning doctors prescribe birth control pills to “manage” these issues and their hormones.
However, says Lara Briden, ND, your period is essentially a monthly report card on your health. “Fix your health, and you will fix your period,” says Briden, author of Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods.
Here are some of our favorite takeaways from Briden’s book.
1. Ovulation Is Key to a Healthy Period
“When it comes to period health, it’s all about ovulation. Ovulation matters because it’s how you progress through all the menstrual cycle phases to your menstrual flow or period. Ovulation is also how you make progesterone, a steroid reproductive hormone produced by a temporary gland in your ovary after ovulation. It’s beneficial for mood, metabolism, and bones.”
2. You Need Carbohydrates to Ovulate
“A low-carb diet can cause you to eventually lose your period because women need carbohydrate to ovulate. Some women need quite a lot of carbohydrate to ovulate, but some need less. If you eat the Standard American Diet, you’re eating cereal for breakfast, bread for lunch, and pasta for dinner. That adds up to more than 400 grams of carbohydrate per day, which is far too much. Instead aim for about 150 to 200 grams of non-inflammatory carbohydrate foods such as rice, oats, potato, sweet potato, gluten-free pasta, and whole fruit. If you can tolerate gluten, you can also enjoy bread, including sourdough spelt, rye, or even wheat.”
3. A Pill Bleed Is Different From a Natural Period Bleed
“A pill bleed is not a real period. A pill bleed does not proceed from ovulation. Instead, it is a withdrawal bleed from the drugs that stimulate your uterine lining but shut down your ovaries. A pill bleed is about the dosing of a drug.”
4. The Pill Switches Your Sex Hormones Off
“On the pill, you have no sex hormones of your own. Instead you have steroid drugs given to you as a kind of ‘hormone replacement’ — not unlike the hormone replacement that is given to women in menopause. The steroid drugs in hormonal birth control are not the same as your own estrogen and progesterone, and that can pose a big problem for health. Your ovarian hormones are estradiol and progesterone. They have many benefits — not just for reproduction, but also for mood, bones, thyroid, muscles, and metabolism. They’re human hormones that are essential for human physiology. In contrast, the steroid drugs in hormonal birth control are ethinylestradiol, drospirenone, levonorgestrel, and others. There’s no progesterone in hormonal birth control.”
5. Having a Heavy Period in Your Teen Years Is Not Unhealthy
“When you first started having periods, estrogen was new to your body. At that young age, you reacted strongly to estrogen because your hormone receptors were still quite sensitive and you were probably not yet making the progesterone you needed to counterbalance estrogen. The result may have been the heavy periods of the early teen years. With time, you reacted less strongly to estrogen because your hormone receptors became less sensitive. You, hopefully, also started to ovulate and make progesterone, resulting in a natural lightening of your periods.”
6. It Can Take Years for Your Menstrual Cycle to Mature
“According to Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior, a Canadian endocrinologist with expertise in reproductive hormones, it can take up to 12 years to develop a mature menstrual cycle with healthy, regular ovulation and optimal level of progesterone. So, what happens if you take hormonal birth control as a teen and hit the ‘pause button’ on that maturation process? You will probably need some time to get things going again, and you may not see regular periods right away when you first stop birth control.”
7. Try Magnesium to Relieve PMS Symptoms
“Magnesium is my front-line treatment for PMS. It improves premenstrual symptoms so dramatically that some scientists have suggested that magnesium deficiency is the main cause of PMS. It reduces inflammation, regulates the stress response, and enhances GABA activity.”
8. Curb Inflammation for a Healthier Period
“Chronic inflammation is a major factor in all types of period problems. Pro-inflammatory cytokines are chemical messengers that your body uses to fight infection. They are part of your body’s inflammatory response. Their primary job is to protect you against infections and cancer. That’s a good thing.
“Unfortunately, inflammatory cytokines also insert themselves into the conversation between your hormones and your hormone-sensitive tissues. Their contribution to the conversation is mostly obstructive. They impede ovulation and impair progesterone production. Inflammatory cytokines also block the receptors for your beneficial hormones, progesterone and thyroid hormone, and hyperstimulate your receptors for estrogen.
“All things considered, inflammatory cytokines are a profound hindrance to period health.
“How do you reduce inflammatory cytokines? You avoid as much as possible anything that overactivates your immune system, such as smoking, stress, lack of exercise, environmental toxins, inflammatory foods, and an unhealthy gut microbiome.”
9. Histamine Intolerance Can Affect Your Period
“Histamine intolerance can cause or worsen headaches, anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, hives, and nasal congestion, as well as cause or worsen period symptoms such as acne, PMS, and period pain.
“Histamine intolerance is more common in women, and is often worse at ovulation and just before the period. Why? Because that’s when estrogen is high compared to progesterone, and estrogen increases histamine. It does so by stimulating your immune system to make more histamine and down-regulating the DAO enzyme that breaks down histamine. At the same time, histamine stimulates the ovaries to make more estrogen. The result is a vicious cycle of estrogen→histamine→estrogen→histamine.
“You may find that taking steps to lower histamine can relieve PMS, period pain, and heavy periods. That usually means avoiding cow’s dairy and high-histamine foods, such as red wine, and by taking vitamin B6, which upregulates the enzyme that breaks down histamine.”