We sat down with Carly from @thecyclicbody_ a Hormone Holistic Nutritionist, to ask her some questions & better understand our hormones and what can help some of the symptoms and side effects during our cycles.
Firstly, we asked Carly about our famous Period headaches.
Why do we get period headaches? What can we do to reduce and ease period headaches?
Cyclic headaches can be tricky. They’re so often in our luteal phase, during the time before our period or during the first day or two of our bleeds. More often these are actually associated with oestrogen dominance. In our cycles we have two of our main hormones, oestrogen & progesterone, they are both beautiful hormones but if they are not in balance, they can cause issues in our symptoms. So often when we're having cyclic headaches or PMS it’s because our oestrogen and progesterone is imbalanced, and we usually have more oestrogen than progesterone.
Our bodies are so amazing, they're so intelligent and so smart and with this! All of our different cells have progesterone receptors in them, every single one. Our brain cells, our lungs, our eye cells, our liver cells, our bone cells; they all have progesterone receptors. Progesterone is a really important hormone, but in our luteal phases, one or two weeks before our bleed, if we don't have adequate amounts of progesterone we have symptoms like these headaches because our body is missing this hormone. In the long-term, we need to deal with this root cause, the imbalance between the oestrogen and progesterone which is a long game!
But some of the things we can do in the short-term and in the moment of the headaches is bringing our bodies to a place of safety. Meaning, eating enough food that our bodies feel like they have plenty to runoff. Progesterone is a hormone that requires a lot of nourishment and a lot of nutrients to actually create fully, and our stress hormones steal a lot of those nutrients! So we want to make sure that our bodies are getting enough nourishment.
The basics of that, would be making sure we’re always eating breakfast, especially before coffee, which I know a lot of us don’t like doing! By starting our day with breakfast then we are starting our day with nutrients and not in a stressed-out state, if we have caffeine or coffee on an empty stomach, we’re starting our day with stress hormones.
And then from there, nourishing ourselves every few hours, because usually what happens is after that 3 to 4 hour mark our bodies get nervous & stressed as they’re needing food, releasing stress hormones and then as our stress hormones are being released it is then impacting our progesterone production, so our stress hormones also affect all the things in our bodies, so that's some of the basis of just trying to make sure progesterone gets enough nutrients in our bodies!
In the short-term moment, make sure you're drinking some kind of water with minerals inside of it, not just plain water. Something with minerals and electrolytes, like lemon water with some sea salt, just to make sure our cells are able to use the water and hydration that we’re bringing in, which also works great as a prevention to those headaches if you know you are prone to getting them.
You can also implement electrolytes into your hydration, and there's a brand called LMNT, they have nice, good quality little packs of electrolytes that would be something you can implement into your water as well. And then the other things are making sure that you are eating regularly and balancing your blood sugar, so no big rises and falls. Make sure you are eating every few hours and always combining a protein and a carb together, those are good ways to prevent the cause and help long-term.
Secondly, some women can feel very anxious, sad and have heightened anxiety before and during their cycle.
What causes menstrual anxiety? What can we do to reduce those menstrual anxious feelings?
As women or people with cyclic bodies & have a menstrual cycle, our nervous systems are so intelligent and they are more sensitive to stressors.
‘Am I safe and have enough nourishment’, and this can lead to having heightened emotions in our cycle or in life in general.
Because we are more sensitive in our emotions in general, nutrition and eating enough food is such a game changer. When we don't eat breakfast or we fast or we're not eating enough, our bodies are really stressed out and so a way to help manage some of that anxiety and emotion really is to make sure you're eating enough food.
Giving your body enough food can really reduce anxiousness within the body. There are other triggers to anxiety throughout the body, however giving your body the foundation of enough food & nourishment can really help.
However, sometimes there are certain foods that we may feel like eating in the moment but may actually trigger a negative result and heighten the ups and downs of anxiety.
So often anxiety and having a blood sugar crash can feel very similar. When we’re crashing, we’re getting a little panicky, maybe even hangry, and we’re reaching for those treats and sweets in those moments.
When we eat, our stress hormones are reduced, so our bodies are smart and are saying ‘OK I want food now’ to reduce our stress hormones. However, often in those times we do end up craving some of the things that are more of a quick fuel-fix, like the sweets and chocolates, but in the long term they will make us crash afterwards and then make us more anxious as we go on through our day. We're going to have that peak with the sugar, but then a bigger crash afterwards!
If you’re feeling that desire to eat something that's quick or that’s sweet, that's OK, but make sure that you balance it with some protein also on the side. When you're eating consistently every few hours, as far as this is possible, this will help lessen that crash and anxious feeling overtime so that our stress hormones aren’t running the show
Are there any foods or ingredients that can help with anxiety?
There are the three main macro-nutrients: protein, carbs and fat. Getting a good amount of each of those is really important. But if we’re going to go deeper into specifics, magnesium is beautiful for our bodies, and it is an anti-stress mineral so can help with the anxious feelings and heightened emotions.
If you’re in your luteal phase, the time before your bleed and you’re struggling with sleep, or with heightened emotions, magnesium can be great to help with that too.
There’s a lot of options, there’s magnesium oil, bath salts & supplements. Everyone needs to make sure it’s right for them, each individual’s body is different, however, it’s a very common supplement, that’s generally very safe. It can also really help with menstrual cramping and pain around our periods.
Equally, getting outside letting the sunlight touch your skin and your eyes and allowing our circadian rhythm to reset and work with nature can really help. Getting the vitamin D that’s really easy for our bodies to make and use from the sun is really helpful.
Additionally, food wise to help with all of this, dandelion tea is super lovely, especially when we're trying to help our body deal with the balance between the oestrogen and the progesterone. It can help our bodies detoxify and move out that excess oestrogen. It also supports our liver function and our kidneys, It's a really great option, especially again in our luteal phase when we’re trying to help our progesterone have a fighting chance.
Vitamin C is also great for the body, especially in a whole food version. There's a powder called camu camu berry powder, you can get it from health food stores and you can get it from www.well.ca It can help to break down the stress hormones in your body which is huge, it also supports progesterone production and that helps with all of the PMS and cyclic headaches and sore tender breasts & all of those symptoms. You can add it to your smoothies, your breakfast yoghurt or in your tea.
Lastly, we asked Carly
what is your opinion on hormonal contraception?
I do think it has been an important thing for women to have access to, of course and every woman and cyclic person has the right to make that decision if it's right for them in their life.
That said, we have our periods for a reason and our menstrual cycle doesn't just determine our reproductive health, it determines our entire body health.
We have those hormone receptors in every single part of our body and so when you're on hormonal contraception there are side effects and again for some people the benefits out-weigh the side effects.
However, those side effects impact our gut function, they impact our thyroid and metabolic function, and they deplete nutrients from our bodies that are necessary for our hormonal and fertile health, for our neurotransmitter and our nervous system health. So as women and those of us who bleed we need this cycle for our on-going overall health and our mood.
So, if you can, learn your cycle, learn when your fertile window is and work with your cycle instead to prevent pregnancy. With hormonal contraceptives there is a smaller chance of getting pregnant, but you can still get pregnant if you’re not knowing your body.
The best thing we can do is learn our cycles and learn our bodies and learn our female power and we can advocate for ourselves, while taking care of our overall health. You can track your temperature and your cycle and once you learn, it is very accurate if you know how to do it and once you do, it’s a superpower!
Some women have a more consistent cycle and is easier to track, however if you can work with your cycle, it is really powerful. To figure out how your body works and how all of it balances together – that’s power!
The hard part is when we’re using contraceptives to fix our cycles, often to eliminate cramping or mood instability. It's often just a band aid and can help for symptom management, but it’s not dealing with the root cause and when you come off the contraceptives the problems are still there and can be worse.
Thank you, Carly, it’s been great to chat with you & this is all amazing information to have and understand, and be able to work with our bodies and our cycles more and more!
For more reading about your cycle & hormones you can also check out our additional blog posts on What causes PMS? & What to eat during your period?
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