by Britni Vincent, RD, LD
I’m a registered dietitian at NutriKey’s sister company, Nutritional Weight & Wellness, and I have a special interest in hormone health. Oftentimes I hear this question from clients, “Is that normal?” They’re often telling me about hormonal symptoms they are experiencing such as menstrual cramps, PMS, acne, headaches or irregular cycles. Often, they’ve heard, and you can probably relate, that these are just a normal part of being a woman. Maybe a practitioner has suggested a medication or birth control pills to “fix” it. Or maybe you’ve always had PMS or acne around your period, so you assume that’s just the way it’s going to be.
I’m here to say, as I tell my clients, that you don’t have to suffer. Eating real food and sometimes adding key supplements can make a huge difference in your menstrual symptoms. Hormones are complicated and every woman is different, but let’s talk about some hormone- related symptoms that often go ignored simply because we’ve been told it’s normal and aren’t aware how powerful our hormones can be! And of course, I’ll share how you may be able to get rid of them for good!
Severe Menstrual Cramps
Most women have experienced these at some point in their lives, and it’s normal to have menstrual cramps here or there. What’s not normal is having to pop Midol or Ibuprofen just to get through the day or even worse having to call in sick to work or miss school. Severe menstrual cramps can be a sign of magnesium deficiency and/or estrogen dominance.
What you can do: Start taking magnesium glycinate if you’re not already; I recommend 200-300 mg extra magnesium glycinate a few days leading up to your period and during your period. Take 200-600 mg as a base between periods.
PMS + Lots of Mood Swings
Countless women have told me that before and/or during their cycle they feel like they can’t control their emotions and feel like they’re another person. This can manifest as rage, irritability or weepiness. This lasts for half of the month for some women and can obviously have a large negative impact on your life. When I hear this, my first thought is this is a sign of estrogen dominance. Through changing their diet (more on this below) and proper supplementation I have helped women get rid of mood swings associated with their period, and it’s been life changing for them.
What you can do: Actively work to address your estrogen dominance; see the whole bottom half of this post for how to do that.
There can be many contributing factors to acne, but thankfully our body gives us clues when we know what to look for. These are all signs of hormonal acne: acne on your chin and jawline, acne breakout around your period or one that gets worse around your period, and acne that tends to be cystic (deep and painful pimples). I have personally experienced this, and it’s so frustrating and embarrassing, especially as an adult!
What you can do: Try eliminating dairy. The hormones that naturally occur in dairy from cows can exacerbate your hormone imbalance and contribute to acne. Check out this article about acne for more ideas.
Headaches and/or Migraines Associated with Period
Hormones are just one of the many causes of headaches and migraines. If you haven’t already, track your headaches/migraines with your period and ovulation to see if there’s a connection. For many women, the change in hormones that happens around ovulation and their period can trigger headaches or migraines. Think back to when your headaches/migraines started; did they come on around puberty? In some women the hormonal shifts during perimenopause and menopause can also initiate headaches/migraines. All of the above instances can be a sign of estrogen dominance. I’m pleased to say I’ve had clients that have been able to completely get rid of their debilitating hormonal headaches and migraines.
What you can do: Actively work to address your estrogen dominance, see the whole bottom half of this post for how to do that.
Irregular Menstrual Cycle
A healthy menstrual cycle is 21-35 days. Anything shorter or longer may indicate an anovulatory period, meaning that you didn’t ovulate. Anovulatory periods are common with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS.) We have many articles and podcasts on PCOS, but you can read this one to determine if this may be your cause of irregular cycles. Something I hope everyone takes away from this post is that the answer to irregular cycles is not birth control. Birth control simply masks the issue and creates more of a hormone imbalance. Many women with irregular cycles have low progesterone (we need adequate progesterone to stimulate ovulation) and estrogen dominance. If you have irregular cycles (though keep in mind that’s a normal sign of perimenopause) it’s important to know that through diet and supplements you can have a healthy, regular cycle where you do ovulate.
What you can do: Really focus on incorporating healthy fats (olives, olive oil, coconut milk, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado) into your diet. You need fat for progesterone production.
How to Rebalance Your Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance can be the cause of all the above hormone-related symptoms. Simply put, estrogen dominance is too much estrogen in comparison to progesterone. (You can learn more about estrogen dominance by reading these articles or listening to these podcasts.)
Unfortunately, this is very common in women of all ages, and sometimes even men. This can be due to low progesterone production and/or too much of the bad kind of estrogen, xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are chemicals in our environment that (all too well) mimic estrogen in the body. These most definitely contribute to estrogen dominance for many, and the good news is that we can control our exposure! Xenoestrogens are found in many tampons, makeup, plastic, pesticides, and the list goes on and on. These accumulate in your body throughout your life unless you have actively tried to detox them.
Here are some ways you can reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens:
If you have any of the above symptoms, I encourage you to make some diet changes, mainly reduce sugar and processed carbohydrates. Sugar and carbs promote inflammation and cause imbalanced blood sugar; in turn, this can promote an imbalance in hormones.
If any of these symptoms resonate with you, I recommend that you start by making dietary changes because that is always the first step in healing the body. Certain supplements can often be helpful to get rid of estrogen dominance and eliminate your symptoms for good. NutriKey has a selection of high-quality supplements that work great for balancing hormones and we’ve seen success with many of our clients.
Since hormones and personal health history make every case unique, I highly recommend that you make a one-on-one appointment (via phone or Zoom) with me or one of the other nutritionists on our team at Nutritional Weight & Wellness to determine what would be best for you. I know from personal experience hormones are complicated and it’s overwhelming to try to figure it out on your own, so let us help you when you are ready.