When I first began eating a real food diet over 2 years ago I was trying to address a few serious health issues, one being Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). I have shared my story in my personal healing journey.
At the time, the main parts of my diet that had changed was adding in lots of saturated fats and eating red meat again. At first, I did not restrict anything in my diet. My menstrual cycles almost immediately went to a 35 day cycle, with my period lasting 6-7 days instead of 2 months!!
When I started to eat a paleo/primal diet, I did not restrict carbohydrates at all. I was eating sweet potatoes, white rice occasionally, including wholesome sweeteners like maple syrup and drinking lots of raw goat milk. I was not terribly restrictive either as I made “cheats” or exceptions often.
I had also started taking approximately one tablespoon of cod liver oil per day to help with my asthma. After one year on the paleo diet, I decided I needed to go on the GAPS diet because I still had health issues that were lingering. I thought at least a brief period on the diet would help to get rid of most of my health problems once and for all.
After strictly adhering to the GAPS diet for about 4 months, the severe cramping, bloating and PMS symptoms like nausea, headaches, weakness and dizziness started to return on the first couple days of my cycle. It was horrible to go through that period of time because it was like I was incapacitated.
At least 2 of my cycles I was at work when it would happen and I could not even truly relax because I was trying to be professional. I felt like crying and curling up in a ball. I had tried pain relievers such as Aleve before, but they did not help me at all. The second time this happened while I was at work, I decided I needed to address the root cause. I wasn’t sure why this was happening on the GAPS diet because it was supposed to make my menstrual cycles more normal, not worse.
1. Homeopathy/Chinese Herbs
I began researching some natural remedies to address my symptoms. For immediate relief of pain, Veratrum Album and Belladonna are two homeopathic remedies that helped. Veratrum Album helps to treat vomiting and diarrhea and Belladonna with fevers and inflammations. Cramp Bark, or modified Tong Jing Wan is an herbal supplement that also helped to treat the pain.
I took Vitex (Vitex Agnus-Castus) to help balance my hormones, but the mistake I made was only taking it when I started getting symptoms. I also started drinking red raspberry leaf tea and vitex/chasteberry tea on a regular basis. Red raspberry leaf is used to treat painful and heavy periods. It is also commonly consumed during pregnancy to prevent miscarriage, prevent morning sickness and to have an easy labor and delivery. Vitex/chasteberry is used to treat PMS, PMDD, menopause and menstrual cycle irregularities in general.
A hot bath/shower or a heating pad can help relieve cramps immediately. However, it is best to use a non-electric heating pad as an electric heating pad generates electromagnetic fields (EMFs). A study has indicated:
“Exposure to low-level magnetic fields emitted by such appliances as hairdryers, electric blankets and electric razors can damage DNA in brain cells. The data come from a study in rats at the University of Washington, which found DNA damage in animals exposed to a 60 hertz field for 24 hours; more damage was found after 48 hours. Henry Lai, Ph.D., the study leader, said that data from this and a previous study suggest that the effects of exposure are cumulative and may build up in humans over time as a result of repeated brief use of common plug-in appliances.”
It is best to limit our exposure to EMFs, so I will no longer be using my electric heating pad.
Taking magnesium is another way of treating PMS. Magnesium helps our muscles to contract and relax. Adequate levels of magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium, or electrolytes in our bodies protect us against cramping. Try to avoid alcohol during your period because just one drink can lower your magnesium levels.
If you do not have a dairy allergy or intolerance, try drinking raw milk and consuming raw dairy products on a regular basis. Most people who are lactose intolerant have no symptoms when consuming raw dairy. Some people who cannot tolerate raw cow’s milk can tolerate raw goat’s milk without a problem. If you cannot tolerate any form of dairy, try to get adequate calcium intake from homemade bone broth, greens cooked in lots of fat and powdered egg shells that have been sanitized.
Even though I was trying to treat my symptoms naturally through homeopathy and home remedies, the PMS persisted. I went to my GAPS practitioner who suggested I was not eating enough fat. I definitely was consuming lots of fat with every meal and snack.
On my last month of the GAPS diet, I started taking one tablespoon of maca powder every day. I had researched and found that it is a South American tuber that is great at regulating hormones for men and women. In my next cycle, almost all of my symptoms disappeared! I still had a little pain, but not debilitating pain.
That same month I began transitioning off the GAPS diet and adding A LOT of carbohydrates back in. I gave into my cravings and ate all the ice cream, potatoes, raw milk, maple syrup and other foods I had desired for many months. I did this in a whole foods manner, making potatoes at home with lots of fat, making homemade ice cream with raw cream and maple syrup, drinking raw milk without fermenting it and fermenting grains like quinoa and buckwheat at home. I eventually added traditional sourdough bread in too and I did not have any issues eating these foods.
5. Balanced Diet
After eating a good balance of macronutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrates) at every meal along with taking maca powder as a supplement every day, my PMS symptoms completely disappeared in my next cycle. Maca powder brings equilibrium to the endocrine system by stimulating the pituitary and hypothalamus gland.
These are the only changes I made and I felt normal very quickly. I was truly amazed and thankful that God had guided me. He showed me how to eat real food a couple years ago, but I took it to the extreme with certain diets. I do think that grains and legumes can be safely consumed by humans if we take care to prepare them the way our ancestors did: by soaking, sprouting and fermenting.
Some people have to take a break from these foods to promote gut healing, but a low carbohydrate diet is not always the answer. This is the mistake I made. Lauren Geertsen writes in Quit PMS:
“Consuming fats and proteins out of balance, or in the absence of, carbohydrates takes a toll on blood sugar and only serves to exacerbate hormonal problems. Low-carbing has also been shown to reduce thyroid hormones.”
Dieting is no longer for me; it doesn’t matter if I am not trying to lose weight and just trying to treat a health issue. Dieting takes your body out of balance and can cause other unwanted health issues.
6. Cod Liver Oil
Large doses of cod liver oil have been shown to reduce menorrhagia (heavy bleeding). Read about one woman’s testimony here. She took 3 tablespoons of cod liver oil (60,000 IU of Vitamin A) for 3 days. Her bleeding was cut in half on the first day and by the third day, her bleeding had completely disappeared!
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, it is safe to take upwards of 90,000 IU of Vitamin A when treating a serious illness or after surgery. This is not synthetic Vitamin A, but Vitamin A from cod liver oil, which is a natural source. I do not take this much cod liver oil on a regular basis, but if I was trying to overcome an illness or recover I would increase the dosage for a short period of time until my symptoms disappeared.
Exercise can provide some immediate, but temporary relief of symptoms of PMS. I would advise doing low impact exercise such as swimming, dancing, walking and yoga. I have personally found relief with walking, stretching, and yoga. The stretching and yoga help to relax your muscles and walking gets your body moving and your blood circulating. My friend Ritta has some great workout videos here.
Sleep was made a priority for me, even while I was traveling. I tried to aim for at least 8-9 hours of sleep every night. Try to rest as much as you can. This will allow you to relax your muscles and relieve your cramping.
It is important to get enough sleep all the time, not just during your period. Sleep helps to balance your hormones. If your hormones are balanced, your PMS symptoms will eventually disappear. Continual loss of sleep lowers the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). When your thyroid hormones are regulated, PMS symptoms will gradually fade away.
I trust that my experiences and research will be helpful to other women struggling with PCOS, endometriosis or menstrual irregularities. I know firsthand how unbearable painful periods can be. I am continuing to find out new information. I would love to hear about your experiences and any helpful new information.
Photo credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATension-headache.jpg
By Shanghai killer whale (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons