Having a healthy, normal period is incredibly important for fertility and long-term health in women. An irregular period or one with symptoms including menstrual cramps, heavy menses, or clots is often a sign that something is imbalanced with your hormones and body.
A regular menstrual cycle is also important when you are planning for pregnancy not only to maximise fertility but to establish when you are most fertile and how balanced your hormones are. This can be achieved by measuring basal body temperature along with monitoring cervical mucus to anticipate ovulation and overall hormone status.
Addressing your menstrual irregularities is highly recommend to ensure optimal fertility, pregnancy, birth and for your own quality of life. This is achieved through testing and treating the underlying causes of cycle irregularity such as:
- blood sugar abnormalities
- Adrenal fatigue (HPA axis dysfunction)
- Poor Sleep
- gut dysfunction
- impaired liver function
- Progesterone deficiency
- Oestrogen deficiency
- Thyroid Imbalances
- Autoimmune disorders
- Pituitary disorders
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
Many of these conditions can often be managed with acupuncture, dietary and lifestyle changes.
Eat a healthy diet
For improved hormonal function, the goal should be to keep blood sugar steady. This means limiting refined carbohydrates and sugars such as white bread, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, ice-cream which can cause your blood sugar to spike. My tip is to limit the amount of packaged food you consume and concentrate on fresh fruit, vegetables and quality organic meat instead.
Don’t forget about fat! There is a misconception that fat is bad for you but it’s the quality and quantity of fat that you need to consider. Omega fatty acids often found in fish oil, olive oil, nuts and avocados are important for balancing hormones.
A higher fibre intake from plant foods can help with the excretion of extra hormones in the stool. Micronutrient-dense foods like liver, eggs, fatty fish, dark leafy greens also provide vitamins and minerals that support liver detoxification and ovarian health.
There is not one diet that works for everyone however I will recommend to all my clients particularly those planning for pregnancy, to opt for organic food where possible to limit their toxin exposure.
Maintain a healthy weight
Extremes of BMI, either significantly underweight or overweight, is associated with menstrual irregularities such as amenorrhea along with its impact on Fetal Programming (more on that one later)
As a general rule for fertility, a woman’s BMI should be between 18.5 and 30. Lower than 18.5 is considered underweight, and higher than 30 is considered obese. Studies show a higher prevalence of PCOS in women who are overweight and obese, which is likely related to the insulin resistance seen in many women who are significantly overweight. Healthy eating (and exercise) can help improve insulin sensitivity and shed excess body weight, reducing symptoms of PCOS and thereby increasing your chances of becoming fertile.
If you are underweight (BMI is below 18.5) and you are struggling with dysfunctional menstruation or amenorrhea, your goal should be to gain enough weight to get back into the 19 to 25 range of BMI.
Practice stress management
Chronic stress changes your hormonal profile and can have a long-term impact on menstrual function. Stress impairs the ovarian cycle through activation of the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, which affects the release of ovarian hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone. The symptoms of adrenal fatigue such as reduced libido, worsened PMS, and weight gain, are related to the impact of chronic stress and HPA axis activation on hormonal balance.
Women under chronic stress are at higher risk for menstrual abnormalities and infertility. Therefore, I recommend to add in some regular stress management techniques such as acupuncture, light exercise, meditation, yoga, gardening or other hobby into your daily or weekly routine to help you feel better (and calmer).
Improve your gut function
Good gut function is crucial for hormonal balance as excess hormones are eliminated via our stool. Research shows that the gut microbiome has a major impact on hormonal balance. Certain gut flora, dysbiosis and intestinal permeability (leaky gut) can raise insulin levels. Improving gut flora and ensuring regular (daily) bowel movements is an important part of my treatment protocol particularly if you are experiencing constipation, bloating, loose stools and even reflux.
A healthy, balanced diet including fermented foods, fibre, probiotics and avoidance of foods allergens (especially with leaky gut) can help increase diversity of your gut flora which in turn can reduce inflammation, physiological stress and assist to balance hormones.
The importance of sleep
Sleep and sleep disturbances can affect menstrual function due to the disruption of your natural circadian rhythm. The primary hormone that is responsible for these circadian rhythm-related menstrual disturbances is melatonin, (aka. the sleep hormone). Inappropriate patterns of light and dark exposure disrupt melatonin secretion, thus negatively impacting the menstrual cycle.
To regulate your circadian rhythms, avoid bright and artificial light at night (eg phone and computer screen use) and get plenty of natural light during the day. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule (even on weekends) and aim to have 7-8 hours of sleep at night.
Avoid environmental toxins
Whilst chemicals are found everywhere, we can reduce our exposure to them. There are many chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, these have the ability to affect our delicate hormonal balance
Avoiding BPA in plastics and phthalates found in skin care is a good place to start. Swap your plastic food containers and drink bottles for glass and your skin care/cosmetics for natural, toxin free products. Learn more about reducing toxin exposure here
Supplement if necessary
There are a handful of supplements that can be helpful for generally balancing hormones, as well as for improving the metabolic disturbances that occur in PCOS.
I prescribe supplementation and herbs based on an individual’s needs but it may often include zinc, magnesium, probiotics, methylated B-vitamins, vitex (chastetree) and vitamin D if status is low.
There is evidence that acupuncture may assist in reducing symptoms of PMS including menstrual pain associated with cramps. Acupuncture can also help with reducing stress.
If you need help or guidance with regulating your menstrual cycle or balancing your hormones contact me for an appointment today to start feeling better tomorrow.