Supporting Our Feminine Divine: Natural and Nutritional Wellness for Women
BY: Kimberly Cihlar
April 9, 2022
It is important for women of all ages to combine functional medicine with nutrition and mindfulness, to keep their bodies at a lifelong peak performance, from menses past menopause. We must continually strive for hormone health and wellness, no matter where we are within our cycle of life.
Most women, from roughly the ages of 12-49 years old, have the monthly joy of participating in the rites of a reproductive cycle. Unfortunately, once puberty hits, PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome, which involves disruptive changes in mood and emotions, bodily health, and behavior, may occur each month as well. Luckily, many of the more common negative side effects of being a female during our lunar cycle can be lessened with some very simple, natural supplements, foods and healing modalities.
See what resonates with you here, as we showcase the many holistic ways to handle some of the more painful parts of our monthly cycle. Just make sure to speak with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements or adaptogens to manage symptoms, and to ensure that you are endometriosis, growth or fibroid free. Also, some herbs do cause contraindications with certain medications. Ultimately, be safe in the knowledge that so much of the ancient wisdom passed down through generations of female knowledge and power is making a comeback today, from herbal teas and tinctures, to the types of foods and nutrients that can help eradicate negative aspects of any monthly cycle. It’s important to note that herbs should be purchased from a reputable source, since they are not controlled or regulated by the FDA, or any other body of legislation.
Heavy Bleeding and Cramps: Steer clear of salt, red meat, dairy, sugar, refined carbs, caffeine and alcohol, most of which can worsen PMS, causing blood vessels to constrict (especially those sending blood to your uterus) and water to be retained, exacerbating cramps. Coffee, or highly caffeinated teas, can also increase irritability, just one more thing you don’t need to contend with. Remember that alcohol can inhibit hormonal regulation, intensifying cramping, PMS and even bloating.
There are good foods to put on the menu. DO eat avocados (the good fat!) and dark chocolate, which will help curb cravings and release serotonins. A really great idea? Combine the two for a deliciously decadent avo-cacao mousse that’s a breeze to make and a treat to eat! More foods for thought: papaya, brown rice with Vitamin B6, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds rich in manganese, broccoli, olive oil for Vit E, leafy greens for iron, flaxseed for omega-3s (rich antioxidant properties that reduce inflammation), boron (a mineral that helps you absorb calcium), and phosphorous that reduces cramps, found in avocados, peanut butter, prunes, chickpeas and bananas. Warm, or lemon-infused hot water increases hydration, along with water-positive foods like cucumbers, watermelon, berries, lettuce and celery.
Cramp Bark and ginger tea are great pain relievers, and don’t forget the importance of HEAT! Always have on hand a hot water bottle, or a microwaveable warm compress. Perhaps combine that beautiful sensation of being warmly held, with liberal inhalations of essential oils. Use rose, fennel, lavender or peppermint as you give yourself a gentle, warm oil belly massage, or Abhyanga massage for relaxation, releasing pain and cramps. Try a session in an infrared sauna spa or book a professional massage.
An easy remedy: self-acupressure on the Large Intestine 4 point in the webbing of your first finger and thumb, as well as Liver 3, in between the first and second toe bones, at the top of the foot closer to the ankle. These four points are known as the Four Gates. Softly press or massage Conception Vessel 6, roughly two finger-widths below the navel. Known as the “Sea of Energy”, this is considered one of the best points for relieving pain from period cramps. Add in some gentle Stomach Meridian pathway abdominal massage, and relaxing pressure points of the Gallbladder Meridian (like the tops of the shoulder) to dissipate stress.
Sex is also a great, natural healer! Studies show that orgasms – vaginal orgasms, in particular — release neurotransmitters, and trigger the brain to release oxytocin and endorphins, both of which decrease pain perception.
Other types of exercise are recommended, too. Yoga works well, from cat-cow to child’s pose, plank and cobra; and full frontal body stretches, like the camel, can bring relief to lower abdominal cramps.
Mood Swings: Lots of vitamins, supplements and adaptogens can help regulate hormones. Vitamin B6, Vitamin D, DHEA and St. John’s Wort (considered as an herbal alternative solution to MD-prescribed antidepressants) all affect neurotransmitters, like serotonin and norepinephrine, and both affect mood. Eat foods like chickpeas, fish (including salmon/tuna), and starchy veggies (think yummy comfort foods like sweet potatoes). Help regulate hormonal fluctuations by concentrating on low-glycemic index foods, with a focus on enough protein. Put the kibosh on processed foods, and amp up your intake of leafy green veggies, berries, nuts and fatty fish.
Some helpful supplements: astragalus root, holy basil or tulsi, schisandra, ginkgo biloba, and adaptogens, like ashwagandha, maca, black cohosh and flax seeds. All can impart beneficial readjustments to mood and emotion.
Schedule lots of loving time in nature as a divine form of self-care. Take walks or hikes, journal outside for fresh air and Vitamin D in the form of sunlight, practice mild stretching and yoga, using self-acupressure on heart and pericardium points at the center of the breastplate, and in the middle of the palms. A mere ten minutes of meditation can ground and center you, easing PMS symptoms.
Enhance the self-care routine with a Reiki appointment (virtual or in-person) to promote hormonal balance, and include at least 10 minutes of meditation, perhaps using a mantra or chanting to bring a focused mindfulness to all your daily routines.
PMS-Aggravated Bloating, Breast Pain, Headaches: Perhaps some of the best natural remedies for breast pain, and PMS symptoms like cramps, are chasteberry, calcium and magnesium. Many can be taken as a tea or supplement, but focus on natural elements found in green, leafy veggies, almonds and peanuts. Sprinkle in those essential EFAs – the Essential Fatty Acids, like gamma-linoleic acid, alpha-linoleic acid (found in evening primrose oil), and you’ll be feeling increasingly like your natural-self.
As with some of the other PMS symptoms, avoid alcohol, carbonated beverages, caffeine, salty and fatty foods. Drink caffeine-free ginger or mint teas, hot water infused with lemon and chamomile tea. Maybe sprinkle in a few fennel seeds, with a pinch of cinnamon to reduce bleeding, pain, nausea and vomiting. Ginger tea is shown to be just as effective for pain relief as ibuprofen. If you can find it, French maritime pine bark extract is a wonderful pain reducer, and the most common of herbs, dill, eases cramps! Of course, the workhorse of our spice cabinets, curcumin, the natural chemical in turmeric, may help ease PMS symptoms; don’t forget to add this healthy wellness element to dishes as you cook. Gingko can combat bloating, fatigue, and insomnia, and is thought to reduce prostaglandins in the body, increasing the release of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Weight Gain with Bloating: The fix is with diuretic foods like parsley, asparagus and watermelon. Take supplements, like Panax ginseng and Vitamin B6; and remember that exercise, like yoga and walking, will keep your metabolism kicked-up and weight gain at a minimum.
As you age, from the onset of your cycle to the end with menopause, make sure to give yourself the love you need and deserve every day, not just during your monthly cycle. These beautiful holistic habits will then fast-become a self-care routine that lasts a lifetime, for healthy, womanly wellness.