Tackling Period Pain Naturally

lavender girl lge.jpeg

By Quilla Watt, Integrative Naturopath

As someone who has suffered their fair share of period pain, I know how debilitating it can be. I know that feeling of dread in the days leading up to your period as you anticipate the pain.

As a young adult, my period meant missing a day of school or work, curling up in bed with a packet of Nurofen as my companion, and praying for that feeling of relief when the cramping finally stops.

If you have had period pain since adolescence, chances are you have primary dysmenorrhoea. Which means period pain without an underlying pathology. This is the most common type, affecting around 50% of women. For 15% of women, the pain can be severe.

If you have started getting painful periods in your thirties or forties then it’s more likely to be secondary dysmenorrhoea, which is painful periods because of something like endometriosis, fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease, and it’s important to see your GP to investigate these.

In primary dysmenorrhoea, the cramping is caused by inflammatory factors called prostaglandins causing the uterus to spasm excessively.

Women with period pain can produce seven times more prostaglandins that women who don’t get period pain. These prostaglandins are mostly released in the first 48 hours of your period, which is why days one and two are usually the worst.

Period pain is one of the reasons women choose to go on the pill. Between the pill and painkillers, many women get by. But there are many natural strategies that can help manage period pain.

What you can do…

Make sure you eat a minimally processed diet with loads of fresh vegetables and fruit.

A diet low in fruit and veg, with more processed foods and refined sugars is very inflammatory. The worst my period pain ever got was when we were travelling outback Australia and fresh fruit and veg was virtually non-existent! Some women find they do better off dairy and gluten too, as these can both be inflammatory.

Eat fish twice weekly, or take a good fish oil supplement.

The Omega-3 fats in fish and fish oils lower the amount of inflammatory prostaglandins your body produces. What with over fishing and mercury concerns, I suggest you get small local fish from your fish co-op. For a vegan option, algae oil is a great way to get those good fats in.

Take Magnesium

It’s fantastic for helping to balance hormones, and to ease the cramping. Try 300mg per day throughout your cycle, and increase to 600mg during your period if cramping is bad.

Stop caffeine

Especially in the week before your period. It’s not going to be the cause of your pain, but it can certainly make it worse.

De-stress with exercise, yoga, and mindfulness

Stress has a major impact on your hormones. Stress can make many things worse, and period pain is one of them.

What your naturopath can do…

While there’s a lot you can do at home, seeing a naturopath about your period pain can be a big help.

Your naturopath can check for hormonal imbalances. The classic things I see in period pain are high oestrogen, low progesterone, or both. We then work towards bringing hormone levels back to balance, while helping the period pain with some symptomatic management. This is where herbs come in. Some of my favourite for period pain are black cohosh, cramp bark, wild yam and ginger. I get women to start taking them about 5 days before their period, and to continue until their period has finished.

If oestrogen is high, you may need some liver support. The liver is so important for making sure you are eliminating excess oestrogen. Broccoli sprout powder is fantastic to help support the liver in eliminating oestrogen.

While I think diet is the cornerstone of every prescription, sometimes it is helpful to bring in anti-inflammatory supplements in the short term. Things like turmeric, ginger and fish oils are fantastic to help get the prostaglandin levels under control.

What to expect…

Don’t give up to soon. Hormonal things are slow to change. You may need to follow three months of an anti-inflammatory diet and using herbal strategies before you notice real results.

7 Steps to Good Preconception Care

By Quilla Watt, Integrative Naturopath

 

With every major event in life, you do a certain level of preparation and planning

whether it’s travelling, building a house, getting married, or choosing a career path. Similarly, conception and pregnancy require a certain level of preparation.

Many people understand the importance of good health during pregnancy. What may be less obvious is the importance of good health before pregnancy. This is where preconception care comes in.

Your preconception health is the sum of your general health, diet, lifestyle, and environment in the four months leading up to conception. By the time an egg is released at ovulation, it has gone through a maturation process of 100 days.

By the time a sperm meets that egg for fertilisation, the sperm has been through a maturation process of approximately 76 days. During this time both the egg and sperm are vulnerable to toxin exposure, nutritional deficiencies, and illness. The health of the sperm and egg at the time of fertilisation is a snapshot of the health of the couple over the past three to four months.

Preconception care is definitely a couples activity- the health of the male and his sperm is just as important as the health of the female and her egg. That is why I recommend a preconception period of four months, so that at the time of fertilisation, the healthiest egg meets the healthiest sperm for the best outcome.

 

Seven steps to good preconception care

1. Ensure good nutrition

I could go on forever about diet, but the essence of a good preconception diet is to eat a wide variety of whole, unprocessed foods.

Try to limit processed foods, fast foods and take away foods as much as possible. Choosing organic and local produce where possible is preferable to avoid pesticide residues. It is not always financially realistic to eat completely organic, but I recommend choosing organic and free range animal products, and to ensure you choose organic when eating any of the fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list, which singles out produce with the highest pesticide loads.

2. Achieve a healthy body weight

The preconception period is an excellent time to ensure you are at a healthy body weight. Being under or overweight can both contribute to difficulties with conception and pregnancy. Low body weight can affect hormone levels and ovulation.

It can also compromise the mother’s nutrient levels, and as a result, the nutrient levels of the baby. Obesity is certainly one of our biggest health problems, and poses a number of problems in pregnancy, including increased risk of miscarriage, pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, and stillbirth. Maternal obesity also increases the risk of the offspring being overweight in adulthood.

3. Regular exercise

Exercise is an important part of any phase of life, and the preconception period is no exception. Exercise can help achieve a healthy body weight and build fitness and muscle tone. However, high levels of exercise (such as marathon running) can be stressful on the body, and may be a risk for a decrease in fertility. It's just a matter of finding a balance.

4. Avoid smoking

Chemicals and metals in cigarette smoke interfere with the production of sex hormones in women, and has been associated with a decrease in ovarian function. In men, smoking has been associated with decreased total sperm count, density, motility, normal morphology, and semen volume, and increased sperm DNA damage.

5. Avoid alcohol

Alcohol is associated with decreased fertility in women. Alcohol inhibits ovulation, decreases hormone levels and affects egg quality. In men, alcohol increases the clearance of testosterone and increases the conversion of testosterone in oestrogen. Alcohol consumption has been linked with decreased libido, decreased sperm count, and poor morphology and motility.

6. Avoid caffeine

Several studies have shown caffeine to negatively affect fertility by increasing the time to pregnancy. The negative effects that are emphasized in recent research are miscarriage, spontaneous abortion, foetal death and still birth. The amount of caffeine appears to matter, with low to moderate doses of caffeine being less of a problem. However, during preconception, conception and pregnancy, I tend to err on the side of caution and recommend no caffeine intake, especially if you have a history of fertility problems.

7. Decrease stress

Stress can affect the reproductive systems of both men and women. In men, stress may result in low testosterone and decreased sperm production. In women, stress can inhibit the production of important hormones including LH, oestrogen and progesterone. Identifying and reducing stress, good self-care, and regular mindfulness practices are all great ways to decrease stress.

 

Approximately 10 to 15% of couples are impacted by infertility. More and more, we are realising the important role lifestyle factors play in infertility. By modifying our lifestyle, we can remove possible roadblocks to both conception, and general wellbeing.

 

To find out more, or book an appointment call The Health Lodge on 02 6685 6445

Fibromyalgia - An integrative approach

By Quilla Watt, Integrative Naturopath

Fibromyalgia is a complex and confusing condition. If you have it, chances are you have gotten a few blank looks when you have told other people. In writing about it, I’m reminded exactly how much we still don’t understand about this condition. So let’s cover some basics.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder, characterised by long-term widespread musculoskeletal pain. It may involve your joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissue.

Causes of fibromyalgia

Unfortunately, the cause of fibromyalgia remains unknown. A number of factors are thought to be possible triggers, and its likely that multiple triggers work together. These may include genetics, infections, physical or emotional trauma, chronic sleep disturbances, and abnormal pain responses.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

The three main features of fibromyalgia are widespread musculoskeletal pain, sleep disturbances, and fatigue. Other symptoms and comorbidities commonly associated with fibromyalgia include depression, anxiety, poor concentration, headaches, shortness of breath, irritable bowel syndrome, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, and hypersensitivity to bright lights and noise.

The symptoms of fibromyalgia can be very similar to sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression. It is important that a correct diagnosis is made to ensure correct treatment.

Fibromyalgia treatment

Treatment of fibromyalgia is largely focused on managing pain and other symptoms. Early intervention is very important in management of fibromyalgia. Many people with fibromyalgia use both conventional medicine and complementary therapies in managing their condition. At The Health Lodge, we recommend a multidisciplinary program that integrates the best of medical and complementary therapies to address pain management, psychological wellbeing, sleep quality, and management of other symptoms.

Naturopathic approach to fibromyalgia

I’m going to talk about some of the naturopathic approaches to management of fibromyalgia. Please consult your health care provider before considering commencing any of these therapies.

Food allergies and intolerances I always consider food allergies and intolerances in chronic pain issues, and fibromyalgia is no exception. This can be a tricky path to navigate by yourself, so I recommend you seek advice from a health professional.

Diet

Whilst there is no specific diet for fibromyalgia, a nutritious diet can maintain energy levels, improve mood, and decrease aches and pains. Here are some simple principles of nutritious eating that are extremely beneficial: • Eat a variety of foods including fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, and nuts and seeds. • Include high-fibre foods. These include vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains. • Try to limit refined sugar. • Avoid rancid and trans fats. While very small amount of trans fats are naturally found in animal meat and dairy, the largest amounts of trans fats are found in processed snack food, commercial baked goods, fast food, and fried food. • Aim to drink two litres of water per day.

Lifestyle

Stress management techniques and relaxation activities including yoga, meditation, and gentle massage, may be used to help manage stress levels and improve mood.

Aerobic exercise may be particularly beneficial in managing fibromyalgia. Aerobic exercise has been found to reduce pain and fatigue, and improve mood, health-related quality of life, and physical fitness. These improvements are seen when slight to moderate intensity aerobic exercises are practiced two to three times per week for at least four weeks. Regular exercise is needed to maintain these benefits, and so we recommend an ongoing exercise programme. Exercise intolerance is common in fibromyalgia, and so it is important to work within your limits, and consult your health care provider before commencing new exercise programmes.

Specific nutrients

Magnesium Serum and red blood cell magnesium levels have been found to be lower in fibromyalgia patients. Supplementation with magnesium citrate may decrease both the number of tender points on your body, and the amount of pain experienced at the points. There is some evidence to suggest combination supplementation of magnesium with malic acid may further decrease the amount of pain experienced at tender points.

Boosting serotonin SAMe and B6 help boost levels of an important chemical messenger called serotonin. Serotonin helps to regulate mood, sleep, and pain perception. Dysfunction of the serotonin pathway may lead to depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and heightened pain perception, all of which are commonly present in fibromyalgia. As a result, serotonin deficiency has been implicated in many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. SAMe should not be taken in conjunction with SSRI antidepressants, and it is very important to consult you health care provider before considering taking any supplements.

Your integrative team of health care specialists

At The Health Lodge, we believe a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals is essential in managing all the aspects of fibromyalgia. Your multidisciplinary team may include general practitioners, naturopaths, acupuncturists, chiropractors, kinesiologists, and psychologists. This comprehensive and holistic approach is designed to suit your individual needs, and support your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.