Fibromyalgia is an often debilitating and isolating condition involving soft tissue pain and stiffness, particularly in localised tender points; unrelenting fatigue; cognitive impairment; and other symptoms that vary between patients. Once dismissed by mainstream medicine, fibromyalgia is now known as a disorder of central sensitivity. To know that it’s not all in your head brings relief, but after being diagnosed, you may be left wondering, what’s next? What therapies are the most effective? Will things ever be back to normal?Read More
By Quilla Watt, Integrative Naturopath
As someone who has suffered their fair share of period pain, I know how debilitating it can be. I know that feeling of dread in the days leading up to your period as you anticipate the pain.
As a young adult, my period meant missing a day of school or work, curling up in bed with a packet of Nurofen as my companion, and praying for that feeling of relief when the cramping finally stops.
If you have had period pain since adolescence, chances are you have primary dysmenorrhoea. Which means period pain without an underlying pathology. This is the most common type, affecting around 50% of women. For 15% of women, the pain can be severe.
If you have started getting painful periods in your thirties or forties then it’s more likely to be secondary dysmenorrhoea, which is painful periods because of something like endometriosis, fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease, and it’s important to see your GP to investigate these.
In primary dysmenorrhoea, the cramping is caused by inflammatory factors called prostaglandins causing the uterus to spasm excessively.
Women with period pain can produce seven times more prostaglandins that women who don’t get period pain. These prostaglandins are mostly released in the first 48 hours of your period, which is why days one and two are usually the worst.
Period pain is one of the reasons women choose to go on the pill. Between the pill and painkillers, many women get by. But there are many natural strategies that can help manage period pain.
What you can do…
Make sure you eat a minimally processed diet with loads of fresh vegetables and fruit.
A diet low in fruit and veg, with more processed foods and refined sugars is very inflammatory. The worst my period pain ever got was when we were travelling outback Australia and fresh fruit and veg was virtually non-existent! Some women find they do better off dairy and gluten too, as these can both be inflammatory.
Eat fish twice weekly, or take a good fish oil supplement.
The Omega-3 fats in fish and fish oils lower the amount of inflammatory prostaglandins your body produces. What with over fishing and mercury concerns, I suggest you get small local fish from your fish co-op. For a vegan option, algae oil is a great way to get those good fats in.
It’s fantastic for helping to balance hormones, and to ease the cramping. Try 300mg per day throughout your cycle, and increase to 600mg during your period if cramping is bad.
Especially in the week before your period. It’s not going to be the cause of your pain, but it can certainly make it worse.
De-stress with exercise, yoga, and mindfulness
Stress has a major impact on your hormones. Stress can make many things worse, and period pain is one of them.
What your naturopath can do…
While there’s a lot you can do at home, seeing a naturopath about your period pain can be a big help.
Your naturopath can check for hormonal imbalances. The classic things I see in period pain are high oestrogen, low progesterone, or both. We then work towards bringing hormone levels back to balance, while helping the period pain with some symptomatic management. This is where herbs come in. Some of my favourite for period pain are black cohosh, cramp bark, wild yam and ginger. I get women to start taking them about 5 days before their period, and to continue until their period has finished.
If oestrogen is high, you may need some liver support. The liver is so important for making sure you are eliminating excess oestrogen. Broccoli sprout powder is fantastic to help support the liver in eliminating oestrogen.
While I think diet is the cornerstone of every prescription, sometimes it is helpful to bring in anti-inflammatory supplements in the short term. Things like turmeric, ginger and fish oils are fantastic to help get the prostaglandin levels under control.
What to expect…
Don’t give up to soon. Hormonal things are slow to change. You may need to follow three months of an anti-inflammatory diet and using herbal strategies before you notice real results.
By Quilla Watt, Integrative Naturopath
With every major event in life, you do a certain level of preparation and planning
whether it’s travelling, building a house, getting married, or choosing a career path. Similarly, conception and pregnancy require a certain level of preparation.
Many people understand the importance of good health during pregnancy. What may be less obvious is the importance of good health before pregnancy. This is where preconception care comes in.
Your preconception health is the sum of your general health, diet, lifestyle, and environment in the four months leading up to conception. By the time an egg is released at ovulation, it has gone through a maturation process of 100 days.
By the time a sperm meets that egg for fertilisation, the sperm has been through a maturation process of approximately 76 days. During this time both the egg and sperm are vulnerable to toxin exposure, nutritional deficiencies, and illness. The health of the sperm and egg at the time of fertilisation is a snapshot of the health of the couple over the past three to four months.
Preconception care is definitely a couples activity- the health of the male and his sperm is just as important as the health of the female and her egg. That is why I recommend a preconception period of four months, so that at the time of fertilisation, the healthiest egg meets the healthiest sperm for the best outcome.
Seven steps to good preconception care
1. Ensure good nutrition
I could go on forever about diet, but the essence of a good preconception diet is to eat a wide variety of whole, unprocessed foods.
Try to limit processed foods, fast foods and take away foods as much as possible. Choosing organic and local produce where possible is preferable to avoid pesticide residues. It is not always financially realistic to eat completely organic, but I recommend choosing organic and free range animal products, and to ensure you choose organic when eating any of the fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list, which singles out produce with the highest pesticide loads.
2. Achieve a healthy body weight
The preconception period is an excellent time to ensure you are at a healthy body weight. Being under or overweight can both contribute to difficulties with conception and pregnancy. Low body weight can affect hormone levels and ovulation.
It can also compromise the mother’s nutrient levels, and as a result, the nutrient levels of the baby. Obesity is certainly one of our biggest health problems, and poses a number of problems in pregnancy, including increased risk of miscarriage, pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, and stillbirth. Maternal obesity also increases the risk of the offspring being overweight in adulthood.
3. Regular exercise
Exercise is an important part of any phase of life, and the preconception period is no exception. Exercise can help achieve a healthy body weight and build fitness and muscle tone. However, high levels of exercise (such as marathon running) can be stressful on the body, and may be a risk for a decrease in fertility. It's just a matter of finding a balance.
4. Avoid smoking
Chemicals and metals in cigarette smoke interfere with the production of sex hormones in women, and has been associated with a decrease in ovarian function. In men, smoking has been associated with decreased total sperm count, density, motility, normal morphology, and semen volume, and increased sperm DNA damage.
5. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol is associated with decreased fertility in women. Alcohol inhibits ovulation, decreases hormone levels and affects egg quality. In men, alcohol increases the clearance of testosterone and increases the conversion of testosterone in oestrogen. Alcohol consumption has been linked with decreased libido, decreased sperm count, and poor morphology and motility.
6. Avoid caffeine
Several studies have shown caffeine to negatively affect fertility by increasing the time to pregnancy. The negative effects that are emphasized in recent research are miscarriage, spontaneous abortion, foetal death and still birth. The amount of caffeine appears to matter, with low to moderate doses of caffeine being less of a problem. However, during preconception, conception and pregnancy, I tend to err on the side of caution and recommend no caffeine intake, especially if you have a history of fertility problems.
7. Decrease stress
Stress can affect the reproductive systems of both men and women. In men, stress may result in low testosterone and decreased sperm production. In women, stress can inhibit the production of important hormones including LH, oestrogen and progesterone. Identifying and reducing stress, good self-care, and regular mindfulness practices are all great ways to decrease stress.
Approximately 10 to 15% of couples are impacted by infertility. More and more, we are realising the important role lifestyle factors play in infertility. By modifying our lifestyle, we can remove possible roadblocks to both conception, and general wellbeing.