An Overview of Menstrual Cycles
The female reproductive cycle follows the rhythm of the moon. An average of 28 days in length, a normal cycle is heralded by ovulation mid-cycle and a period at the end, but this delicate balance is easily disrupted.
What Causes Menstrual Imbalance?
Sometimes pinpointing the causes of menstrual imbalance is challenging. What is considered a normal menstrual cycle is highly variable. One thing is for certain, however, poor health habits are often associated with menstrual imbalance and uncomfortable periods.
- A high carbohydrate, processed foods diet
- Chronic emotional stress with elevated cortisol levels
- Lack of sleep and poor sleep habits
- Hormonally active toxins from food and other sources
- Rapid weight loss or weight gain
- Change in contraception method
- Hormonal fluctuations associated with perimenopause/menopause
Common Symptoms of Menstrual Imbalance
- Irritability and mood swings
- Uncomfortable periods
- Cramping with periods
- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain
Healthy Tips from Dr. Rawls
- Restore normal balance with good health practices
- Avoiding any processed or fast foods
- Regular exercise increases endorphins and reduces symptoms
- Yoga is calming and increases natural endorphins
- Swap soft drinks and other heavily caffeinated beverages for green tea or herbal teas instead
- Allow plenty of time for sleep
Natural Options for Supporting Menstrual Balance
Vitex agnus castus (chaste tree berry) – Vitex is one of the most reliable natural therapies for balancing the menstrual cycle. Through feedback mechanisms to the hypothalamus, it increases natural progesterone secretion and balances ovarian function. Vitex has been used for this purpose for thousands of years and has an excellent safety profile.
It should be noted that Vitex is not a contraceptive; in fact, it is known to improve fertility. Be patient, it sometimes takes several cycles before Vitex provides full benefit.
Vitamin B6 – Vitamin B6 helps provide calm during a disrupted menstrual cycle. It is felt to increase synthesis of key neurotransmitters in the brain including serotonin and dopamine, both of which are typically depressed with menstrual imbalance.
Ashwagandha – If chronic stress is an issue complicating menstrual imbalance, ashwagandha is herb that can be taken with Vitex to gain additional benefit. Ashwagandha normalizes “stress hormones” and improves stress tolerance. It also promotes normal sleep at night without sedation during the day. Ashwagandha has also been shown to improve cognitive function and mental focus.
Ashwagandha has been the subject of numerous scientific studies and has a well-defined safety record. There are no known adverse consequences with using ashwagandha long-term.
L-theanine – L-theanine is a natural amino acid found in small amounts in green tea and certain mushrooms. As a supplement, it crosses into the brain and competes with exciting neurotransmitters. This has the effect of promoting calm and improving mental focus. Because l-theanine is metabolized by the same pathways as other amino acids in the body, it has no drug-like effects. .
Relora Chinese Tree Bark – Proprietary combination of two herbs clinically proven to normalize levels of cortisol and DHEA, two hormones that help handle the symptoms our bodies experience due to excessive stress, and to quiet the HPA axis without causing drowsiness.
When to See a Doctor
Most every woman experiences menstrual dysfunction at some point during life, but sometimes things can get out of hand. Heavy or prolonged bleeding, severe cramping, severe mood changes, anxiety, depression, or any other severe symptoms should be reported to a qualified healthcare provider.
If the need for contraception is an issue, low dose oral contraceptives are a safe option for both managing hormonal fluctuations and reducing symptoms associated with extreme menstrual dysfunction. Oral contraceptives are generally very well tolerated by most individuals and have a favorable safety profile. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are interested in this option.
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