Tuesday 4 October 2022

Healing the cycle.

It's fantastic that it is menopause awareness month. We absolutely should be talking about the discomfort that many of us experience at this time of life. However, I strongly feel that the discussion needs to be extended to include painful periods, particularly for teens. 

Let's go back to where I believe it all began for me. I had horrific periods. I was 15 when I started to menstruate and suffered monthly until I was misguidedly put on the pill at around 16 years of age. I would pass out in pain, blue lipped, tightly gripped. At a loss as to how to help me, my Mum, as was normal, put her faith in our family doctor. Trained in Western allopathic practice, he sought not the root cause of this abnormal pain, but instead snuffed out the symptoms which were screaming of imbalance with pharmaceuticals in the form of the contraceptive pill.

The pill can be helpful in improving period pain because it thins the womb lining and reduces the levels of inflammatory prostaglandins (hormone-like compounds which have many jobs, one of which is stimulating muscle contractions). This means that your body needs to work less hard to shed the womb lining - ie fewer cramps. However, the pill is problematic for many. In 1985, as is still common today, it was made of synthetic components which mimic oestrogen and progesterone. They sit on the same cell receptor sites as our own endogenous hormones, but since they do not have the same chemical structure, they are not broken down with the same efficacy, or down the same healthy pathways.Synthetic oestrogen is many times more potent than natural and can stay in the body for weeks vs the few hours that it takes to metabolise body-made hormones. This creates or exacerbates a state of oestrogen dominance, which can, when taken to it's unnatural conclusion, cause hormone sensitive cancers. These synthetic compounds also block vitamins B, C and E, zinc, selenium and magnesium; all vital in supporting the roles of detoxification, fertility, gut and immune health. And cancer prevention. The pill can negatively impact the liver (causing impeded detoxification, high cholesterol and systemic inflammation), the thyroid (oestrogen dominance can hinder the necessary conversion of thyroid hormones in the liver, whilst encouraging too many thyroid binding proteins, preventing thyroid hormones from getting into the cell) and the brain (studies have shown that the pill can cause significant structural changes in areas of the brain associated with memory and emotional processing). Beyond this the contraceptive pill can alter the delicate microbial balance of the gut, specifically the oestrobolome: the subset of beneficial bacteria which helps to metabolise and balance our systemic oestrogen. All drugs cause some level of side effects because they interfere with the intricate communication and feedback loops in our incredible bodies. But few drugs are taken so hastily and for such a long time as the contraceptive pill.

The pill stopped my pain, sure. But at what cost? I stayed on it for around 17 years, terrified of those agonising periods which stopped my world on a monthly basis. It was only truly in childbirth that I understood how abnormal my suffering was. I cruised to 7 cm dilation, abnormally comfortable at the intensity of that pain; my periods were like mini monthly labours. 

After I had had my babies, the pain returned. Crippling pain that stopped me driving, or moving, and a flow that stopped me sitting on other people's pale sofas during my period. It was only after my cancer diagnosis, when I began to explore the role of hormones in my illness, that I understood that I had suffered from oestrogen dominance my entire life. I learned that I have slow MTHFR and COMT genes. Essentially this translates to having an increased need for bio-available B vitamins to complete certain biological functions. I break oestrogen down slowly, leading to an imbalance in the 'grow' hormone compared to it's counter 'slow' progesterone.

I firmly believe, that even with my genetic propensity to break oestrogen down slowly, I would not have experienced crippling period pain had I been born in a different era. The burden from xeno-oestrogens (prevalent in make-up, self care products and household chemicals) would have been significantly less. Magnesium levels (needed for optimal muscle contraction) would have been higher in my diet due to greater amounts available in the soil that my food was grown in. Food would have contained less refined sugar and 'bad' oils, and I would have had less exposure to plastic - a potent hormone mimicker and disruptor.

There are natural ways to reduce pain, and in my practice these are all based on removing the root cause and supporting the natural balance of the body. One of the real issues I see in practice is that painful periods are often familial - that is to say that if you suffer from pain, your mother likely suffered, and your child may also suffer, normalising the experience. And so to my message. If you are a young person experiencing debilitating monthly pain when you menstruate, or if you are the parent of a young person who suffers, know this: this is your body conversing with you in all of its wisdom. It is telling you that there is toxicity (too much of something) or deficiency (too little of what the body needs). Learn the language of your symptoms. What is the message? 

I believe, because I have seen, that it is entirely possible to experience gentle periods. Often it is simply a case of changing the diet, taking some gentle, natural supplements, supporting the liver and becoming more aware of environmental toxins. Sugar and 'bad' fats for example, increase our production of those inflammatory prostaglandins. Stress burns through our magnesium stores. If we show our children how to support and heed their bodies, there is every chance that they will sail through menopause when their time comes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment