Too many women and teen girls suffer from it each month: Agonizing menstrual cramps and equally debilitating PMS, depression, and anxiety.
It’s just standard monthly female stuff, right? Not really.
Although hormonal irregularity is normal in the early years and to varying degrees throughout life, excessive pain is not. It signals underlying causes of hormonal imbalance that could be helped through diet and lifestyle changes.
Of course, each woman must also consider the possibility of serious medical disorders, such as uterine fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, or, most commonly, endometriosis. These disorders tend to be overlooked in teen girls in early menses.
Going beyond pain pills and birth control pills for cramps
The conventional approach to address severe cramps and PMS is the use of over-the-counter pain medication and low-dose birth control pills.
Birth control pills are synthetic hormones that interfere with the body’s natural hormonal feedback loops and disrupt the balance of intestinal flora, not to mention raising the risk of serious medical complications such as migraines, stroke, and even cancer.
Although oral contraceptives can bring relief, it’s important to ask why your hormones are imbalanced in the first place, causing so much misery. Birth control pills may resolve symptoms but they don’t address the root cause.
Underlying diet and lifestyle causes of cramps and PMS
Women have a complex hormonal system that is easily toppled by many aspects of modern life. For teen girls, add a tendency towards poor diet, too much sugar, and sleep deprivation, and you’ve got cramps so bad a girl has to stay home from school or a woman from work to white-knuckle it through savage cramps.
Here are some common factors we see when looking at menstrual cramps and PMS with a functional medicine perspective:
Unstable blood sugar unbalancing hormones. This is a common underlying factor of hormonal imbalance in women and particularly in teens. Skipping meals, excess sugar, too many overly sweet coffee drinks and energy drinks, processed carbohydrates, junk food, and other staples of the American diet can disrupt the balance of female hormones, causing symptoms.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) occurs quite often when blood sugar is always out of balance, causing cramping and PMS. Other PCOS symptoms include depression, acne, irregular periods, and ovarian cysts (with pain).
Eliminating sugar, minimizing caffeine, regulating carbohydrate consumption, and eating plenty of produce and healthy proteins and fats can help bring cramps and PMS under control.
Adrenal imbalances. The adrenal glands are two walnut-sized glands that sit atop each kidney and produce adrenal hormones. Too little sleep, skipping meals, and eating too much sugar all tax adrenal function. Adrenal imbalances can deplete progesterone, the “calming” hormone that helps prevent PMS.
Too much screen time. Hormone regulation is tightly linked to the cycles of day and night. The brain interprets the blue light emitted from smart phones, tablets, and TVs as sunlight. Being on your computer or phone late into the night confuses the brain, disrupts hormone balance, and causes insomnia.
These are just a few ways in which modern habits can result in severe menstrual cramps and PMS for women and teen girls. For more information on how to balance hormones and alleviate cramps and PMS using functional medicine, please contact my office.
Dr. David B. Tuchinsky, D.C., PLLC
St. Augustine Functional Medicine Practitioner, Speaker and Author
Direct any questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org