I was 13 when I got my first period. It was pretty normal for the first couple of years. It would come every 28 days like clockwork, I would have some nominal cramping, take a couple doses of ibuprofen and be done. Then, at age 15 it got much worse. The pain I experienced was simply unbearable at times. I remember days spent in bed clutching a hot water bottle to my abdomen and taking as many ibuprofen as was safe and counting down the hours until I could take more again. This pattern continued every month until at age 17 I went to the Doctor about it. She told me that I likely had endometriosis and that I should be put on birth control pills immediately. The birth control pill is commonly prescribed for issues to do with menstruation regardless of whether the patient is actually sexually active or not.
Knowing what I do now, I would have never gone on the pill, but I didn’t know any better, was quite young, and trusted my Doctor knew what was best for me. So I started on the pill and stayed on it for about a decade. That is a very long time to be on continuous birth control, with those synthetic hormones pumping through my body the entire time. The pill did help with alleviating the heaviness and level of pain for my periods, but it had a lot of drawbacks. I am now convinced that it made me emotionally unstable, caused terrible moodiness and even low level depression. I would cry at the drop of the hat, I felt imbalanced all the time and I was prone to dark thoughts.
I went off the pill at age 27 in order to try and get pregnant with our first child. It only took a month going off of it and I was pregnant just like that. Because of the roller coaster of hormones and emotions that pregnancy brings, I didn’t really get the chance to determine how I really felt without BC in my system until after I had given birth and stopped breast-feeding at 18 months.
Once again, just 1 month after weaning my first, we got pregnant with our second child. So after that pregnancy and breastfeeding for 2 years I finally had the chance to feel what a non-birth controlled period would feel like. At this point I hadn’t had a period in about 5 years so I didn’t really know what to expect.
It was bad! So heavy and so painful, worse than I remembered from even the pre- birth control days. I thought that because I had cleaned up my diet and lifestyle so much during my pregnancies and breastfeeding seasons, that it would miraculously heal my monthly issues. Unfortunately that was not the case. I found myself fearful of making any plans to be out and about when I knew my period would be coming. I found it difficult to stand up at times due to the searing pain that would be present from abdomen to ankles. I knew that I had to find answers and that I could not continue on like this but I also knew that going back on birth control pills would not be an option for me.
Over the past 2 and half years I have done a ton of research and have had to work diligently on healing hormonal imbalances and a leaky gut to get my periods to a place where they are manageable without any medication whatsoever, not even ibuprofen. I am so happy to say that now they are half as long as they used to be (from 6 days down to 3 days) and much much less intense in terms of pain and heaviness. I get some mild cramping on day 1 and I sometimes actually forget I’m on my period now, which would have been impossible in the past. I attribute this healing to a couple key things:
- I healed my leaky gut and continue to follow a diet which maintains a balance of healthy gut flora. This required following the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol and reintroduction phases as well as supplementing with such things as Magnesium, Zinc, L-Glutamine, Pro-biotics and Collagen. See more about this in my post “Healing my Leaky Gut and Giving Up Coffee”.
- I support the heck out of my liver. Seeing as the liver is the powerhouse organ which helps to break down hormones, it needs to be well supported especially if you have any kind of hormonal imbalance going on. I support my liver by limiting coffee and alcohol, drinking dandelion root tea, and eating wild edibles like dandelion leaves and plantain (the weed, not the banana-like fruit) leaves. I also supplement with desiccated liver capsules and DIM (diindolylmethane) which is derived from food sources in the brassicas family such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. DIM is effective because it modulates how the hormone estrogen is metabolized by the liver. I can attest to the fact that it has helped to lessen my previous PMS symptoms to a nonexistent status at present.
Putting these things into practice have literally changed my cycle from an absolute nightmare to totally manageable. Having intense period pain and heavy bleeding are not normal. I thought it was just part of “being a woman” but I am glad to say now that it doesn’t have to be that way at all. A lot of my findings on this topic came as a result of finding Dr.Lara Briden’s website and hearing her speak. If you have any female health issues, I would highly recommend checking out her work at “Lara Briden’s Healthy Hormone Blog” (larabriden.com)