12 Tools for Finding Hormonal Balance

A Guide to Period Pains and their Demise

Oh my word is this an enormous topic! Hormones require so much deep understanding and a lot of time. So I’m not even going to pretend to be giving you a full low down on the topic. If you want to study up and fully nerd out on how your hormones work and how we can make them work better for us (which I highly recommend doing), I really encourage you to check out ‘Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life’  by one of my teachers, Dr Claudia Welch. She is an Ayurvedic Practitioner, a Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioner, a Western Medical Doctor, a woman, and a hilarious, easy to understand source of vital information.
Anyway... back to my point. This post is for all those women out there who think having period pains is a normal part of the process. It’s not. Don’t put up with it! Having said that, if this is you, know you are far from being alone. Amongst my female clients, I’d approximate that 65% of them complain of menstrual pains, to varying degrees.  
Now whether you are totally crippled on a monthly basis and find yourself passing out and vomiting, or whether you always keep paracetamol in your bag so you are prepared - this is a sign of unhappy hormones. Because if all was well in there, we wouldn’t be requiring any intervention.   This doesn’t mean life goes on completely as normal during this period (although for some women it might). It is natural that during menstruation our energy is drawn much more inwards. We perhaps require more rest and need a little space. This is fine, but as soon as actual pain comes into the picture, it’s not okay anymore.  So here I am sharing with you my guide to defeating period pains by restoring internal balance, in a natural, ayurvedic manner.

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I started my period pretty late. I was 17. I went straight into using tampons, and never had a problem with pains or PMS. It was great. Life went on as usual. When I turned 21, I started to notice that the evening before my period came, I could definitely feel something at work. But it was never anything that a single paracetamol couldn’t handle. And then, suddenly, last year (when I was 22), I found myself in Period Hell. I was living in an ashram in Australia at the time. I was in the temple early for morning prayers when I got hit with one of the most excrutiating pains I’ve ever experienced. I ran back to my room in search of pain relief but instead was sick and completely immobile for nearly an hour. This was 2 days before my bleed even started. I was in bed for 4 days, nauseous and bent double from the pain. And this continued month after month. It was the same in India and the same when I returned home to England. I went for ultrasounds, blood tests, urine samples etc etc. And everything came back “normal”.
I have been treating patients for 2 years and had encountered many a period pain in these sessions. So I had done a lot of research and thought that I’d be able to heal myself no problem. Well... easier said than done. It has taken a year of trial and error and soooooo much work and a lot of research and an inability to go out of a 10m range of Dr Welch’s book - but (fingers crossed) I think I’ve done it! I have just gone 4 months without any significant pain. But trust me it was a process so I’m excited to share with you what worked for me. It is important to note however, that every body is different, and the nature of each imbalance is unique, so there is no guarentee that these will fix you. However, they worked for me, and as natural and harmless treatments, it’s worth a try at least. Good luck!!

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Gunas (Qualities)

The first thing to do when attempting to treat any ailment is to establish the nature of the imbalance. A good way to do this is to make a list of words that describe how you feel. For example, is the pain dull or sharp? Is there heat? Inflammation?  Do you feel sluggish or aggrivated? Etc.
Once you have made your list, you have a fairly good picture of what you are working with. One of the fundamental keys to restoring internal harmony is that opposites balance. So, for example, if there is heat and tension you need to promote coolness and softness to restore balance. Not rocket science hey?  The ways in which to do this are through diet and lifestyle practices, and in certain instances you may wish to use herbs.

The build up

 My main preparation for my period takes place a week before I estimate it will start. I mark in my diary the day I should start my preparations and then I do the following:

1. The Elixir

Every evening before bed I will prepare a combination of red raspberry leaf and nettle (sometimes I’ll add some other tea, like fennel, lemon balm, or chamomile, but always the raspberry and nettle) in a big pot of boiling water (approx 1ltr). I leave this to sit over night and in the morning, before breakfast, I strain the tea and add a little more boiling water (just to warm it) and try to drink the whole thing - its a lot, but its magical.

Red raspberry leaf has been dubbed “the woman’s herb” and has been used for centuries by many different medical tradtions as a  support for women during all stages of the fertility cycle. The raspberry leaf contains fragarine, an alkaloid in raspberries, and tannins, a naturally occurring polyphenol often found in wine, which in combination are known for treating PMS symptoms, particularly cramping, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. The tannins are also believed to strengthen the uterus, mitigating heavy and irregular bleeding.

Nettle is another totally underestimated plant. It is rich in iron and therefore is an excellent blood builder, which is hugely supportive during the menstrual cycle. It is often recommended for those who suffer from very heavy bleeds - it is a lightener. As a natural diuretic, nettle encourags the healthy flow of urine and therefore guards against UTI’s and kidney infections.

2. Maca

Maca root (sometimes referred to as Peruvian Ginseng) has been harnessed by the indigenious peoples of the Andes for it’s medicinal powers for centuries. It has an impressive list of health benefits but i’ll just point out those relevant to the female reproductive system here. Maca is used extensively as a hormone balancer, and has been recognised as an excellent aid in normalising the symptoms of menopause. The natural fatty acids present within the root are supportive to mood and overall brain health, alleviating certain symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, and mood swings. It is an excellent fertility enhancer for women due to its ability to increase serum luteinising hormone in the pituitary gland. Maca is rich in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and protein. These nutrients naturally raise energy levels and support the healthy functioning of internal systems.  
I love maca. I’m often a little funny about powdered superfoods because is feel like anything you need you can get from a whole food diet. However, I swear by maca for my body. I like to have approx 1tbsp of maca everyday the week leading up to and during my period. At breakfast time I will add some to a smoothie or my porridge, or in the evenings I may add some to hot milk.

3. Magnesium

I take magnesium on a daily basis anyway, but I up my dose on the lead up. Magnesium is great for preventing cramping as it relaxes the smooth muscle of the uterus and reduces the prostogladins that cause pains. Magnesium deficiency is also one of the main causes of menstrual headaches. It has been proven to reduce symptoms such as depression, water retention, muscle pain, back pain, and food cravings.

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4. Starflower Oil (Borage seed)

Starflower is a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega 6 fatty acid. GLA has several health benefits for both men and women, including heart function, skin appearance and vision. However, it is thanks to its role as a hormone regulator that starflower oil benefits female-specific health conditions such as PMS and menopause. We loooove GLA because it helps to balance hormone levels by regulating the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like chemical messengers involved in the body's inflammatory processes such as swelling, stiffness and pain.I take 1 tablet daily (usually at night simply because that’s when I remember to) one week before, and throughout my period. However, some peopl benefit from taking this as a daily suppliment all month long. Best to do some research and consult someone about this however.

5. Bath Soaking

I’m always a fan of a salty bath (I am also treating eczema so this works for that too) but I increase my bath time during period preparation. I try to have a salty bath once a week all month long but increase this to about 3 times on the week leading up to my period. I use a lot of salt - usually epsom salts but I sometimes switch this up with Himalayan salts or Dead Sea salts - about 500g (half of the big packets you can buy). I add some essential oils to the bath. Depending on how i’m feeling I will change fragrence but I have a lot of faith in the power of rose, clary sage, lavender and sandalwood. You can do your own research into essential oils - it’s amazing the powers they have! I like to add a couple of drops to my bath and a couple of drops to an oil diffuser. Great for calming the nerves, promoting balance wihtin the hormones and supporting sleep patterns.  Epsom salts support muscle relaxation, which is idealwhen dealing with cramping or menstural tension. Soak for at least 20mins.  

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6. Castor Oil Pack

Depending on the severity of your symptoms you may want to increase or decrease your use of a castor oil pack. Packs can be purchased online or from pharmacies and they will include instructions, but essentially the idea is that you soak a cloth in castor oil  and apply this to the lower belly. Cover the oilly cloth with a towel and place a hot water bottle on top and rest for at least half an hour, allowing the heat and oil to soak in. I do this twice in the week leading up to my period and (when i’m behaving) once a week for the rest of the month. But like I said, the frequency can be adjusted according to your neds.  This will improve the blood flow and circulation to the reproductive organs, helping to shrink and eliminate ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis, and helping to get rid of menstrual cramps.

7. Preventing Inflammation

Pain is a signifier of inflammation, therefore reducing inflammation is a priority during this period. This can be done by eliminating certain elements from the diet on the build up to your period, and by increasing other elements.Now every body is different so different people respond to different foods, however I always find that too much white flour (bread/pasta etc.) causes me inflammation, therefore I try to avoid it during my preparation period. The same applies to caffeine (although I very rarely have caffeine anyway). I try to avoid any processed sugars or heavy pulses.  I also start to increase my consumption of antiinflammatory foods - principally turmeric: I add it to warm milk (dairy or nut) before bed, or add it to porridges, soups, etc. Eating very clean and simply during this period takes a lot of extra stress from the body, so it can better process.

Photo via Sher Castellano

8. Build Up Natural Iron Sources

During your bleed, iron levels will drop significantly and if you run naturally low on iron (like me) this can push you towards symptoms of anemia. Therefore on the week leading up to the bleed I increase my consumption of iron rich greens (spinaches, kales etc.) steamed or in juices or soups, as well as beetroot (which is rich in iron and gives a natural energy boost).  

9. Hot Water Bottles and Extra Rest

It’s simple yet efficient - placing a hotwater bottle over the lower belly helps the muscles to relax and decreases tension. It can really be done any time of day but I particularly like to relax with a hotwater bottle in the evening before bed. Try to get to bed a little earlier than usual and maximise on quiet self-care time - keeping the body really well moisturised and hydrated.

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10. Yoga and Pranayama

I pracitice yoga asana and pranayama everyday, but in the run up to my period my practice becomes softer with a greater intention of grounding and balancing. Gentle or restorative stretches replaces strong flows, and I spend at last 5 mins a day working on an alternate nostril breathe to promote balance and internal harmony.

11. Acupuncture

Not necessarily for everyone, but it has definitely helped me. I am very lucky to have a sweet friend who is a talented acupuncturist and I trust her entirely to help me find balance. It’s a good idea to do a lot of research on acupuncture, consult your doctor and find a practitioner that you really trust before embarking down this road. But definitely worth a try for those seeking to restore balance, body and mind. 

12. Menstrual Cup

Yup, it freaked me out at first too, but after many a youtube tutorial I have finally got it down and it’s a total life saver! Not only is it financially and environmentally beneficial, but it’s better for your health. Not only have you released yourself from the danger or toxic shock syndrome and the terrifying side effects of synthetic hormonal products, but you actually develop a much greater understanding of what is going on down there... which is a bit gross at first, but if you are anything like me, you will quickly come to find this totally fascinating. Personally I also found that it reduced my cramping an enormous amount. However, I do understand if it’s all a bit much at first. But I do ask that if you choose to use tampons, please please please buy organic!! They might be more expencive but trust me, putting regular tampons (that are BLEACHED and have all sorts of other scary chemical thingies going on) inside your body is no good for anyone. It’s definitely worth a bit of extra money to ensure your reproductive health.

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So, these are my 12 tips to preparing for your period in a natural and effective way. But of course, you should always sek professional advise when dealing with very severe pain or symptoms. So consulting a doctor, ayurvedic health councillor, or traditional chinese medical doctor is always a good idea. If you would like to speak to me about this, I do offer consultations over skype or in person - head to the ayurveda page HERE for more info on my consultations. And feel free to get in touch with any questions or comments on this topic.

Wishing you the best of luck on your journey to a balanced reproductive system!