Riding the Monthly Wave

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If you are a female, chances are the majority of your thoughts, actions, your physical and emotional sensations, are under the reins of your hormones.  However, the control we give our hormones depends on a variety of things: what we eat and drink, how we discharge nervous/stuck energy, or how we bring our creativity and expressions out into the world.  There isn’t one specific thing that determines the quality or duration of the pre-menstrual period.

Specifically, I want to talk about cravings; why it is that some women are only satisfied when chewing on carbohydrate-dense, insulin-spiking foods like bread or sweet things in the week(s) before menstruation.  The body is smart and adaptive, when it believes something is lacking, it attempts to fill the void.  The body’s way to quickly manage the low levels of serotonin (this happens pre-menstrually with estrogen and progesterone imbalance) is to satisfy sugar and starch cravings.  Serotonin is what keeps you happy, calm, satiated, sleeping well, and pain-free.  It’s the “feel good” neurotransmitter. Without enough serotonin, the result is an anxious, moody, sugar-craving, and irritable you.  There are many ways to navigate hormone imbalances that can cause pre-menstrual tension and cravings.

  • Avoid substances that disrupt the endocrine system.
    • Certain dairy products contain hormones. Unless it says “rBGH free” the cows were likely injected with genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, which is a potential risk factor for  hormone-related cancers.
    • Read labels. Choose organic, or grass-fed meats.
    • If possible, avoid consuming or drinking from plastic containers and bottles and minimize exposure to pesticides.
  • Sunshine is nature’s serotonin booster.
    • Try to spend  at least 30 minutes outdoors, bare arms and legs, in the early morning or late afternoon whenever the sun is not too intense.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
    • Many people tend to consume the same foods everyday, out of habit, preference, or because of some outside influence.  Eating the same things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, ultimately lead to nutrient deficiencies and will reflect in imbalances elsewhere.
  • Take care of your liver and bowels.
    • The liver is the organ in charge of breaking down and removing stuff we don’t need, like extra hormones, heavy metals, medications, drugs and alcohol.  A lifestyle that includes an excess of the above mentioned, a diet high in poor-quality fats (vegetable oils, cottonseed oil and all other refined oils), and deficient in fiber will inhibit the liver’s ability to cleanse, which can create hormonal imbalance.
    • Good elimination patterns are essential too, otherwise the bowels are just reabsorbing all that needs to come out!  You can have the healthiest diet in the universe and take the highest quality supplements but if you’re constipated, it does little good for your body.
  • Take Chinese herbs.
    • Certain Chinese formulas like, Xiao Yao San, have been designed specifically for the treatment of hormone-related female complaints, such as temperature, behavior, and appetite changes.  It is also thought this formula can increase serotonin levels if used with the appropriate patient.
    • Herbs like chai hu and xiang fu, can calm, remove irritation, and address emotional depression because of their ability to clean out a congested liver.
    • Rhodiola, a Chinese adaptogenic tonic herb, helps the body better adapt to stress, physical and otherwise.  It can also help speed muscle recovery and balance immune function. An animal study reported that Rhodiola can enhance the transport of serotonin precursors to the brain, which is why this herb may be an excellent choice to help deal with the physical and emotional challenges during PMS.
  • Try massage and acupuncture.
    • Both of these complementary therapies can improve serotonin levels.  This is one reason why people generally leave with that noticeable feeling of well-being, which can last for several days post-treatment.

The best plan is to address the imbalance before it shows up by receiving regular treatments leading up to the pre-menstrual period.  There is a saying I love, “Waiting until you’re sick before seeking treatment is like starting to dig a well when you’re already thirsty.

Carla Vidor, L.Ac., D.A.O.M., FABORM

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