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I get more hormone and fertility related questions than any other topic, and my post on nine ways to balance hormones naturally has been my most visited post every single day for the last several months!
Hormones have a much bigger impact that many people realize, and women who struggle from hormone related pain and other symptoms realize this acutely. I’ve gotten an especially large influx of questions about PMS, PMDD and menstrual issues like cramps lately, and figured this was an important issue to address. I used to struggle with horrible PMS and cramps myself, and can certainly sympathize with how frustrating these things can be.
What Causes PMS and Menstrual Problems?
PMS, by definition, refers to a wide range of symptoms that start during the second half fo the cycle and which can include headache, dizziness, cramps, irritability, bloating, breast tenderness, nausea, vomiting, food cravings or aversions, weight gain, irritability, depression, anxiety and fatigue. These symptoms usually occur before menses begins and subside gradually at the onset of the period. Other menstrual symptoms like abdominal cramping and heavy bleeding can occur during menses.
While a variety of factors can influence a woman’s symptoms during this time (including genetics, nutrition, medications, etc), it is largely controlled by hormones, and getting hormones in proper balance can go a long way toward reducing symptoms. The monthly fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone (and other hormones like FSH and LH) largely controls a woman’s cycle and there are theories that these hormones can interact with certain brain chemicals, creating real symptoms during these times.
Optimally, these hormones are in balance and working correctly, and this interaction might cause little to no discomfort or symptoms, but if these hormones are out of balance, a variety of symptoms can occur.
In my own life and in working with others, I have seen how dietary and supplement changes can greatly impact the estrogen/progesterone balance and alleviate many of these symptoms. The effectiveness of each of these individual methods will vary by individual, but a comprehensive plan can often greatly alleviate symptoms across the board.
1. Avoid Polyunsaturated Omega-6 fats in Large Amounts
“I’ve talked about this before, but the body is simply not meant to consume these man-made fats found in vegetable oils. From that article:
About 97% of the fat in the human body is saturated and monounsaturated fat, with only 3 % Polyunsaturated fats. Half of that three percent is Omega-3 fats, (the other half is Omega-6 fats) and that balance needs to be there. Vegetable oils contain very high levels of polyunsaturated fats, and these oils have replaced many of the saturated fats in our diets since the 1950s.
The body needs fats for rebuilding cells and hormone production, but it has to use the building blocks we give it. When we give it a high concentration of polyunsaturated fats instead of the ratios it needs, it has no choice but to incorporate these fats into our cells during cell repair and creation.
The problem is that polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and oxidize easily in the body (if they haven’t already oxidized during processing or by light exposure while sitting on the grocery store shelf). These oxidized fats cause inflammation and mutation in cells.
In arterial cells, these mutations cause inflammation that can clog arteries. When these fats are incorporated into skin cells, their mutation causes skin cancer. (This is why people often get the most dangerous forms of skin cancer in places where they are never exposed to the sun, but that is a topic for another day!)
When these oils are incorporated into cells in reproductive tissue, some evidence suggests that this can spur problems like endometriosis and PCOS. In short, the body is made up of saturated and monounsaturated fats, and it needs these for optimal health.”
Bottom line: Don’t eat fats like Vegetable oil, peanut oil, canola oil, soybean oil, margarine, shortening or other chemically altered fats. Choose fats like coconut oil, real butter, olive oil and animal fats (tallow, lard) from healthy sources instead and eat lots of high Omega-3 fish.”
2. Avoid Chemicals in Food and Household
“Toxins found in processed foods, pesticides, plastics, household chemicals and even mattresses can contain hormone disrupting chemicals that mimic hormones in the body and keep the body from producing real hormones. Things like hormonal birth control can (obviously) do the same thing.
If you have hormone imbalance or are struggling to get pregnant, avoiding these toxins is very important! Cook in glass or non-coated metal pans (no non-stick or teflon!) and avoid heating or storing foods in plastic. Find organic produce and meat whenever possible and don’t use chemical pesticides or cleaners. There are recipes for natural cleaners on this page.”
3. Eat enough of the right kinds of fats:
Eating fats like quality organic meats, butter, tallow, coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, etc can help boost proper hormone production. While the wrong kinds of fats (see above) can interfere with hormone production, eating enough of the proper fats can really help!
“Coconut Oil is amazing for hormone health. It provides the necessary building blocks for hormone production, can assist weight loss, reduce inflammation, and even has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.
If you really need hormone help, aim to consume 1/4 cup of added coconut oil a day. My favorite way is to blend into coffee or tea. This is the highest quality one I’ve found.
4. Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Foods like grains, dairy and vegetable oils can create inflammation in the body and can exacerbate hormonal problems. The degree that these foods will affect the body varies by person, but I have seen several cases where severe hormonal symptoms were resolved by just adopting a grain free and dairy free diet.
Especially for the first few months, focusing on foods like homemade bone broths, soups, grass fed meats, and healthy fats (butter, coconut oil, tallow, ghee, etc) will help the body rebuild and reduce inflammation. Check out the recipe index for some simple meal ideas.
Helpful Supplements for PMS
“In a perfect world, we would be rising and sleeping with the sun, getting Vitamin D from the sun and Magnesium from the ocean while relaxing and exercising in great balance each day in a stress-free world. Since I doubt that describes any of us currently, supplements can fill in the gaps. I’ve talked about the basic supplements that I take before, but there are some specific ones that are helpful for hormone support.
- Maca– A tuber in the radish family that has a history of boosting hormone production and libido. Many women notice less PMS, increased fertility, and improved skin while men notice increased sperm production, libido and better sleep. Maca is also high in minerals and essential fatty acids, making it great for hormones. It is available in powder form you can add into a drink (least expensive option). Maca should be discontinued during pregnancy. The effects of Maca are somewhat cumulative, so the best results are seen after 3-5 weeks of taking Maca regularly.
- Magnesium– Magnesium supports hundreds of reactions in the body and often contributes to better sleep (which is great for hormones!). There are several effective forms of Magnesium: In powder form with a product like Natural Calm so that you can vary your dose and work up slowly, ionic liquid form can be added to food and drinks and dose can be worked up slowly,or transdermal form by using Magnesium oil applied to skin. This is often the most effective option for those with damaged digestive tract or severe deficiency. Magnesium often greatly helps both PMS symptoms and menstrual cramping.
- Vitamin D– A pre-hormone is supportive of hormone function. Best obtained from the sun if possible, or from a D3 supplement or Fermented Cod Liver Oil (what I do in the winter). Make sure not to get too much, and optimally, get Serum Vitamin D levels checked to monitor levels.
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil– Provides many of the necessary building blocks for hormone production including Vitamins A, D, and K. It also is a great source of Omega-3s and beneficial fats.
- Gelatin is a great source of calcium, magnesium and phosphate. It supports hormone production and digestive health and helps sooth inflammation, especially in joints.
- Vitex/Chaste Tree Berry– Nourishes the pituitary gland and helps lengthen the luteal phase. It lowers prolactin and raises progesterone. For some women, this alone will improve symptoms.
- Natural Progesterone Cream– PMS and menstrual troubles are often linked to specific hormone imbalances. Especially for those with short cycles or short second phase of their cycle (ovulation through start of menses), progesterone can be the issue. I’ve seen people add only natural progesterone cream and see symptoms greatly reduce. If you do use progesterone cream, do you own research, make sure you have a good brand that is soy-free and only use for the second half of your cycle (ovulation through menses).
- Red Raspberry Leaf– A well know fertility herb that is also helpful in reducing PMS and cramping. It has a high nutrient profile and is especially high in calcium and is a uterine tonic. It is available in capsule form, but makes an excellent hot or cold tea.
NOTE: Make sure to check with your doctor or health care professional before taking any new supplements, especially if you are on medications or contraceptives.
I Can’t emphasize this one enough! If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your hormones will not be balanced. Period.
Use these tips to help improve your sleep and just do it! This can singlehandedly improve hormones and is even linked to longer life, less chance of disease and optimizing weight.
2. Natural Menstrual Options
I’ve written about it in detail before, but switching to natural feminine hygiene options like cloth pads or the Diva Cup may really help reduce cramping in some women. Some women do not react well to the chemicals in tampons and pads and these natural options provide a chemical free solution. There is also no risk of Toxic shock syndrome with these options.
If you have hormone imbalance, intense extended exercise can actually make the problem worse in the short term. Sleep is actually more important, at least during the balancing phase, so focus on relaxing exercises like walking or swimming and avoid the extended running, cardio and exercise videos, for now….
Due to its blood sugar balancing and lymph stimulating effects, the T-Tapp system is helpful for some women and is a low-impact exercise that can be very effective.
Have you ever struggled with hormone related symptoms? Were there any things that helped you? Share below!
Discussion (103 Comments)
I bought the vitex by itself, would this still work without the chase tree berry? Are all the products you recommend the cleanest out there? Thanks for your post, I love your website!!!
“Vitex agnus-castus” is the botanical name for chaste tree or chasteberry, Vitex for short! It should be sold as the same thing.
Chaste tree increases my depression about two days after taking it. The first day I feel great but then I crash a day or two later and it’s horrible. Do you recommend anything else natural I can take for PMS?
I started getting terrible PMS cramps and would even throw up because of the pain. Yarrow tea has been a tremendous help for me. It’s probably the one herb that has helped me the most in that area of health. I’ll have to try the maca, though. That’s sounds interesting.
Hi I love your website and it has inspired me in so many ways of taking charge of my health, so a big thank you!
I am really interested in trying the maca powder and and wanted to know how much do you take?
I typically take about a teaspoon a day…
Thank you so much for this information! My hormones are out of wack and I’m looking for some natural advice to help align them again. Quick question: is taking Maca and Vitex together okay? Or do you recommend doing one or the other?
They can be but usually vitex is good on its own
Thanks for the article! I have always had horrendous cramps and very long, super heavy periods. It’s hereditary actually – my mom had such bad cramps as a teenager that her doc put her on codeine, and her mother had it so bad she had a hysterectomy! At age 23 I ended up having to have surgery to remove lesions & scar tissue from endometriosis. The pain is SO much better now. I still have really bad cramps & all that but they’re *cramps*, not a roll of razor-sharp barbed wire being dragged thru my gut 😉
I always eat really healthy, don’t use chemicals, etc because of some other health challenges. I discovered raspberry leaf a year or so ago (thank you Mtn Rose Herbs!) and make tea with it the day before & first 3 or 4 days of my period. I’m not a tea lover but with a little raw honey it’s easy to get down. If I have a bad headache too, I’ll add some wood betony in with the raspberry. I do take magnesium regularly but I didn’t know it was also good for cramps! I found a plain mag citrate powder that’s just like Natural Calm, just without any flavoring (I mix it with juice). I also like mag baths. I use magnesium chloride flakes (same as the oil). I get both mag products from Swanson Vitamins.
My wonderful integrative MD just told me my hormones are outta balance so I’m definitely going to bring your article on balancing to my next appt!
I have tried everything on this article and nothing seems to work for me, including magnesium baths, teas, ginger, exercise (except during that week because that is impossible with all the pain). 🙁 Anyone have any other suggestions, other than a hysterectomy. I am unable to use the diva cup…it does not fit my compact body for some reason and the leakage is not tolerable, as I have to work.
Meri, Have you tried vitex or cooked Maca? (Never take a crucifous or goitrogen raw). Look for chronic mold or dust mites in your house. If you live in a newer apartment/building or got a new mattress/couch? Those are full of phytoestrogens.
Try homemade JUN tea with shredded fresh ginger and lemon/lime juice.
Also avoid foods high in dioxides and AVOID THE MICROWAVE. Radiation kills ovarian function. So does birth control.
If you haven’t found nontoxic period products I found great “chlorine free” pads at healthfood stores-no diva cup for me! What’s meant to come out must come out (Many bacterias never die from boiling, bleaching or otherwise.)
Air freshener causes pms and you may be getting some at work. Many buildings including my local wal mart and the hospitals in Phoenix have bleaching air filtration systems. I know a few Starbucks in Phoenix area have pesticides spraying through the air ducting system.
American wheat (and some other grains-organic and otherwise) are sprayed with fertility inhibiting chemichals before ripening then sprayed with other chemichals when the farmers want to harvest to make them all ripen at once. I have to get my pasta and flour from Italy.
Also, your work may be spraying for bugs.
Avoid moldy food anything that has preservatives (“citric acid” is created from mold-not citrus). Molds and preservatives kill kidney function by killing your mitochondria and kidneys are necessary for flushing out bad or excess hormones.
The regular dairy cows essentially have what humans call a disease (PCOS) to keep them lactating cheaply. I would try to avoid A1/A1 pasteurized milk at all cost not to mention most milk has bleach dumped into it by the dairy ppl to “kill stuff from sick cows”). The antibiotics and vaccinations the cows pass into the milk pale in comparison.
Hopefully you find something on here useful.
Deborah De Block
Chaste Tree was the biggest relief for me! I suffered for so long, thinking birth control was my only option to ease my cycles. I was basically tired all the time, unable to achieve focus each day and depressed because my body was failing me. I learned from my chiropractor first that the birth control pills were only suppressing my cycle instead of regulating it and solving the true issues. I also began avoiding hormone disruptors in my environment and soon I was having much more energy and life come back!!
Magnesium, exercise, and cutting out sugar has been a lifesaving combination for me! I used to get horrible cramps – I’m talking so bad that my face would pale, and I would feel nauseous. Although I always look for natural ways to alleviate pain, I was skeptical if I could find something natural would be powerful enough to reduce such an intense pain. I started taking 400mg of magnesium 2x/day, running (not weight lifting or any other types of exercise I usually do – hard cardio helps the most), and have cut sugar out of my diet. I am a completely different woman! As I’m continually reminded, if you treat your body right, it will treat you right in return!
Hi Sadie, reg. the exercise you mentioned, did you had to cut down the whole body strengthening exercises? I understand cardio def. helps, but I do strengthening exercises too (full body) twice a week, not sure if that is impacting me with these severe PMS symptoms(nausea, cramps etc)
I started to make fresh ginger tea and drink that after my evening meals every night. I buy a fresh ginger stem weekly. To make the tea, I cut two or three slivers of the ginger, trim the skin/husk off, add water to the cup to cover and microwave for about 3 minutes. I squeeze a small amount of honey and some fresh lemon juice. It helps with my digestion and during my cycles, it started helping with the cramps too. I try to drink it daily and I think it’s healthier than buying processed ginger tea. Plus, it’s nice to have something warm after a meal.
Oh good stuff except do not microwave anything, it kills anything beneficial! Put it in a pot of hot wter on the stove to steep!!
Actually it has been prooved that microwaving leaves most vitamins untouched, but I think steaming tastes better and it leaves most vitamins undamaged. If you want as many of the vitamins to stay as possible, avoid cooking and stir frying them, but the best is still to eat them rae
I use traditional Chinese herbs like those found in PMS Relief Herb Pack. Herbs like dang gui and chuangxiong work so well I have virtually no cramps except for the first hour of my period before I drink this tea. Truly a life saver. Chinese medicinal herbs are amazing, no wonder they have been used for thousands of years.
Hi cathy. do you stay in canada?where do you buy those herbs?
“Herbs like dang gui and chuangxiong work so well.”
“Dang guy and chewing wrong” made me laugh
The Diva cup has been a life-saver (and migraine-banisher)! I’ve used it consistently for one year, and I swear by it. I got my period at work a few days ago and had to use a tampon. Within an hour, I felt terrible. It was further proof that there is no placebo effect involved with the Diva Cup and doing away with chemicals.
Agreed! I’ve been using the Diva cup for a little over a year now and I will never go back. Headaches and severe cramps are gone, traveling is a breeze (packing a box of tampons is a pain and changing tampons in icky gas station bathrooms always skeeved me out!) and I feel much better about not adding to the landfills each month. It took me a couple of cycles to get the positioning just right to avoid leaks, but it is so, so worth it!