Women know how horrible periods can be -- oftentimes there is both physical and emotional pain. Fortunately, experts have some tips on how women can improve emotional and mental health during one of the most difficult times of the month.
Alisa Vitti, a holistic health counselor and the founder and CEO of FLO Living LLC (which is an online health center dedicated to providing women solutions and support for issues related to menstruation, fertility, energy and libido) said in an email that changes in the body during a period lead to mental health side effects.
“Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone absolutely affect mood,” Vitti said. “In the first half of the [menstrual] cycle, estrogen stimulates parts of the brain that [has] to do with verbal skills and socialization. Women tend to feel positive and energized. In the second half of the cycle, right after ovulation, when progesterone is secreted from the ovaries and counteracts the effect of estrogen in the brain, a woman's mood can become more sedate, irritable, even depressed.”
She said changing diet and adding supplements can counteract some mental health issues experienced during a period.
“Women who suffer with estrogen dominance, and who feel more manic or really happy during the first half of the cycle, and feel as if they are a different person during the second half of the cycle, can use a few key foods and supplements to ease this process, such as sweet potato for vitamin A to aid the liver in metabolizing estrogen more efficiently, and broccoli and kale for the indole-3 carbinole to help break down estrogen,” Vitti said.
“For women who feel extremely depressed or anxious, they can use a combination of B vitamins to help with the work of the ovary to manufacture progesterone, such as B6, B5 and B12. Women who feel aggressive can use Saw Palmetto to help reduce the effect of testosterone on their mood.”
If women are not sure if they have any of those specific problems during their periods, they can always just make sure their body is balanced in general.
“If you're not sure how your hormones may be affecting you, the best place to start is to support the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis by keeping your blood sugar levels very stable,” Vitti said. “Eat consistently, sleep and wake consistently, and have only complex carbohydrates and only one at a time.”
Even if you do feel moody and irritable, sometimes it can be beneficial to embrace what your body is telling you.
“The other thing my clients find so liberating is looking at their bad mood as a message from their body to their brain that something that they're doing in their life is not working for them,” Vitti said.
“The PMS week in fact is a great time to evaluate key areas of your life: self care, relationships, career, pleasure and see if you need to make any adjustments. It's liberating because it puts us in the creative lead in our lives, as opposed to feeling like we have to write off our mood swings as merely useless hormonal fluctuations. We can instead see all of our hormonal changes as providing valuable insight in to how we can live our lives more successfully and pleasurably.”
Nicole Jardim, a women’s holistic health coach who specializes in hormonal imbalance issues and offers support and programs through her website thehealthyelements.com, said in an email that estrogen and progesterone are two hormones that affect women the most during their periods.
She said that each woman has a certain amount of each hormone, but sometimes they become imbalanced and this can cause issues. For example, if higher amounts of estrogen are present, some mental health issues can result.
“The excess estrogen can irritate the nervous system, causing anxiety, irritability, insomnia and other mental/emotional issues associated with the week or two before our period,” Jardim said.
“Also, in some women, serotonin levels drop after ovulation. Lower levels of serotonin are associated with depression, irritability, anger and carbohydrate/sugar cravings,” she added.
“This could explain why women crave ‘bad carbs and sugar’ between ovulation and menstruation. Ingesting large amounts of carbs is a form of self-medication in that it leads to an increase in serotonin and a temporary improvement in mood. Unfortunately, this always leads to a blood sugar crash and all the symptoms return.”
Here are four tips Jardim has for improving mental health during your period:
1) “There is probably no better way to improve mental health during your period than by eating the right foods for your body throughout your cycle. Women should eat complex carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa and millet, especially after ovulation to curb the cravings for bad carbohydrates and sugar. Sweet vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and squashes, are especially helpful in reducing sugar cravings during this time also.”
2) “Supplementing with a good magnesium/calcium supplement (I recommend Natural Calm) is important because magnesium is a powerful anti-stress mineral, and its deficiency is associated with stress and irritability.”
3) “Women should consider taking up a regular yoga practice to help calm the nervous system during the week leading up to their period and during their period. This will help offset any mental and emotional issues they are experiencing.”
4) “Women should also consider meditating once a day for five to 15 minutes. Meditation combined with deep breathing is very effective at calming the nervous system and reducing any feelings of anxiety, irritability, anger and depression.”
Halona Black, a women’s health coach who specializes in “womb health,” is also an organic chef and offers help, coaching and support through her website garlicandlemonsllc.com. She has some advice for women who are suffering during their periods, especially for those with “abnormally heavy periods” or menorrhagia that can be caused by uterine fibroids:
1) “Back off meat altogether or at least limit it. If they choose to eat meat, they should eat organic with no antibiotics or other chemicals. Meats with antibiotics are pumped with estrogen, which increases the lining of the uterus causing more bleeding.”
2) “Eat more fruits and vegetables, with some dark chocolate on the side for good measure. Fruits and vegetables replenish the body after losing a lot of blood. Dark chocolate increases serotonin levels in the brain. Due to changes in hormones during menstruation, serotonin levels can drop and make some women feel depressed. A good quality chocolate bar with a high percentage of dark chocolate (at least 75 percent or higher) can counteract the depression.”
3) “Face what is eating at you. As a coach, I ask women what are they running from. Are they fearful? Anxious? Feeling like they are living a lie? Finding a health coach who can work with women holistically can help them to face their problems and eventually make their periods less of a problem.”
Dr. Laura Koniver, an “intuitive physician,” wrote a menstrual health e-book (link is below) and suggested that women journal during their periods and then read their thoughts when they’re feeling balanced again.
She also suggested that women connect with the environment through “earthing.” This can involve just laying on the grass for about 15 minutes and feeling like you are one with the Earth, and letting your emotions release into the environment.
Getting enough sunshine is also important, as well as sometimes taking natural supplements like 5-HTP, tryptophan, vitex or chasteberry, and theanine. They can all support your mental health during menstruation, but she suggests trying one at a time and consulting a doctor if you’re taking other medication.
Vitti, Alisa. Email interview. March 28, 2012.
Jardim, Nicole. Email interview. March 28, 2012.
Black, Halona. Email interview. March 27, 2012.
Koniver, Laura. Email interview. March 27, 2012.
http://heartsongfineart.bigcartel.com/product/cycles-of-empowerment-menstruation-ecourse/ (menstrual health e-book)
Reviewed March 29, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith