3 Ways to Prevent Painful Periods By Nourishing the Gut Microbiome
If you’ve experienced menstrual cramps then you are not alone. Luckily, there are several things you can do to make your period more pleasant besides curling up in bed with a heat pack to watch a movie. Through addressing the root cause of inflammation in the gut microbiome you can prevent period pain rather than having to plan around it.
The menstrual cycle is a great source of information about a woman’s whole body wellness. While it’s common to experience cramping, bloating, tiredness, or other symptoms each month, these discomforts may be signs of inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is related to more painful periods. A 2016 research study in the Journal of Women’s Health found that elevated levels of inflammation were associated with increased premenstrual symptoms, menstrual cramping, back pain, bloating, breast pain, and mood changes.
During menstruation, the uterus creates prostaglandins to help it release the inner lining that it has built up during the month. Prostaglandins are inflammatory chemicals created in the body that act like hormones. These hormone-like chemicals are created by the endometrial tissue in the uterus right before a period to stimulate mini-contractions and cause the release of the lining to happen.
Prostaglandins can be made in tissues throughout the body and they have many helpful roles in health, including stimulating ovulation, menstruation, labor, and healing injuries. However, elevated levels of prostaglandins in the body and uterus can cause more pain and discomfort around the time of menstruation.
What Causes Menstrual Cramps?
It’s incredible how many women suffer silently through cramps each cycle. 80% of women experience premenstrual symptoms and about 50% seek medical attention for PMS and pain.
Over 40% of young women report having challenges concentrating in classes due to menstrual cramps, while period pain is so debilitating for 20% of students that they need to take absence days from school or university.
New research published in the BMJ Journal shows that menstrual pain contributes to significant loss of productivity for women at work and in school, leading to an average of 9 days a year lost.
Menstrual health is a normal thing that women have to deal with monthly for decades. The silent struggle with cramps and menstrual symptoms is something that significantly affects the success of girls in education and women in business. Yet, many women are hesitant to discuss their menstrual challenges due to ingrained cultural taboos about periods. It’s an important issue to be researched more fully as it has effects in all areas of a woman’s life.
When cramping and menstrual pain are not due to anything else it’s called primary dysmenorrhea. However, it’s also wise to seek medical care if having severe menstrual pain to rule out other causes, such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or uterine fibroids, in which the menstrual pain is a secondary symptom of a deeper issue.
Medical approaches to treating menstrual cramps and pain associated with primary dysmenorrhea commonly include non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), analgesics, or synthetic hormonal birth control pills.
While pharmaceutical companies are focused on treating dysmenorrhea with drugs, their own market research shows that the primary reason for an increase in menstrual pain is because of changing lifestyles, environmental influences, and food habits.
Since the modern diet is a primary cause of dysmenorrhea than examining what we eat should be the first thing we focus on to address menstrual cramping. Reducing inflammation and prostaglandins through good nutrition can reduce menstrual pain long-term.
The Gut-Hormone Connection
Inflammation in the gut can lead to excess estrogen, and the higher your estrogen levels, the more prostaglandins the uterus creates. Increased estrogen contributes to breast tenderness, menstrual cramping, and heavier bleeding. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for regulating estrogen balance.
Healthy eating habits that nourish our gut microbiome can also reduce inflammation in the uterus to prevent PMS, menstrual cramps, and other uncomfortable cyclical symptoms naturally.
To address painful periods, it’s not just about making healthy food choices during menstruation, it’s about good nutrition throughout the whole month leading up to the period to sustain healthy digestion, support the gut microbiome, and eliminate excess estrogen.
The gut microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria that live in our digestive system and are responsible for helping to maintain balance in our whole bodies.
Research shows that the microbiome influences neurological, electrical, and hormonal activity in the body through the gut-brain axis.
A healthy microbiome supports optimal digestion, regulates our hormones, and enhances whole-body health.
Eating an unhealthy diet filled with processed foods, sugars, and chemicals can disrupt our gut microbiome and lead to immune challenges, allergies, increased pain and discomfort, hormonal imbalance, and inflammation.
The microbiome is now considered to be a master endocrine organ of its own, and responsible for regulating hormonal levels throughout the whole body.
Nourishing the gut microbiome through daily healthy eating is essential for long-term health, increased energy, balanced hormones, and pain-free periods.
Fiber, fats, and ferments are essential to nourish the gut microbiome to support healthy hormone balance and prevent inflammation in the body. Remembering to eat the 3 F’s every day will help to prevent painful periods.
The 3F’s: Fiber, Fat & Ferments
#1: Eat More Fiber
An important component of a wellness diet is feeding the microbiome with lots of plant-based fiber to support digestion. Fiber is essential to reduce excess estrogen levels in our bodies.
Estrogen is processed by the liver before being released into the intestines, where fiber acts like a sponge and attaches itself to the free-floating estrogen which is then eliminated.
Today people are exposed to high levels of xenoestrogens, synthetic chemicals that act like estrogen and attach to our estrogen receptors in our bodies. Xenoestrogens are hormone disruptors that are prevalent in our food, water, homes, office spaces, store, and environment due to plastics, pesticides, herbicides, fragrances, and over 80,000 synthetic chemicals used in modern industry today.
Eating abundant fiber from a plant-based diet with lots of raw and cooked vegetables, greens, and fruits is vital to support the body’s primary way of preventing excess estrogen and balancing hormones.
#2: Eat Healthy Fats
Eating good fats helps to support healthy hormone production and reduce inflammation. Our bodies need cholesterol to create new hormones, and healthy fats from wild fish, wild sardines, pastured eggs, and fermented fish oil are all excellent sources. In addition to eggs and fish, vegetarian foods that are rich in omega 3’s include nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados.
Healthy saturated fats contain long-chain Omega 3’s which calm inflammation, reduce your appetite, and support hormonal balance.
Eating the right kind of fat gives your body the cholesterol it needs to create estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
The levels of cholesterol and estrogen both rise during the first half of the menstrual cycle, peaking at ovulation and then dropping suddenly. Eating healthy fats during your period, and avoiding trans-fats, can help set you up for optimal hormone synthesis during your whole cycle.
#3: Eat Fermented Foods
A healthy gut microbiome thrives with plenty of pre and probiotic foods to nourish the good bacteria and maintain optimal digestion. Eating fermented foods is the primary way people can support the health of the gut microbiome to prevent inflammation.
Fermented foods are the way humans have gotten their probiotics for thousands of years. While today we can find a multitude of probiotic supplements anywhere vitamins are sold, eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, or grass-fed yogurt is the traditional way of nourishing the microbiome.
Making fermented foods is an ancient culinary practice that developed to keep food stable without refrigeration, and is found in cultures around the world. In traditional cultures, fermented foods and drinks made up 5 to 40% of the bulk of the diet in some groups.
Fermentation also boosts flavor, enhances nutrition, and supports a diverse intestinal microbiota. There is a wide array of foods that can be fermented from vegetables, fruits, dairy, grains, fish, and meat.
Eating healthy makes a massive impact on reducing inflammation levels in the body and managing menstrual discomforts.
Nourishing the gut microbiome with healthy fiber, fats, and fermented foods can support hormonal balance and a healthy menstrual cycle.
An anti-inflammatory diet and wellness lifestyle will naturally reduce prostaglandins and support menstrual health.
Through holistic self-care to reduce gut inflammation, women can prevent and ease PMS, menstrual cramps, and other period problems naturally.