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Natural Methods to Relieve PMS Symptoms and Cramping

The female body is a marvelous thing; however, despite its wonder and beauty, once a month, it goes through absolute…well, let’s just say it isn’t very fun.  And it isn’t really a once-a-month thing, either.  In actuality, the female body is continuously changing over the course of a month.  Hormone levels are in constant flux.  From day one of her cycle, estrogen levels begin to increase, the uterine walls thicken, and hormone levels increase to prepare for ovulation.  Once ovulation has occurred, and provided no fertilization has occurred, hormone levels drop, the egg breaks apart, and the thickened uterus lining is shed.  Then it starts all over again.  Repeat until menopause, barring any pregnancy-related disruptions.

PMS Symptoms

The fact that our bodies are on this perpetual hormone-related roller coaster means there really is no “normal”. When not experiencing the painful effects of our periods themselves, there is always the pre- and post-hormonal flux to hit us right in the psychoses.

For many, “normal” can include tension, anxiety, depression, crying spells, mood swings, irritability, anger, cravings or loss of appetite, insomnia, social withdrawal, inability to concentrate, joint or muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, wait gain, abdominal bloating, breast tenderness, acne, and even constipation or diarrhea.

Everyone’s body reacts a bit differently and because our hormone levels, physical and mental states are continuously changing, our symptoms can vary from month-to-month.

One thing is certain: PMS and period symptoms can be extremely disruptive and extremely unpleasant, if not physically or mentally painful.

Natural Methods to Manage Symptoms

Fortunately, there are a few strategies that can help you manage your symptoms without having to cram a bunch of chemicals into your body that may also cause a fluctuation of effects.

  1. Acupuncture, Naturopathic Medicine, Massage Therapy, and Herbs Seeking care from complementary health treatments such as acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, and  massage therapy is a highly effective way to help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce stress, influence hormone regulation, and improve blood flow in the reproductive areas. Traditional Chinese Medicine provides an excellent means to manage your health and relieve symptoms of PMS gently and naturally.
  2. Improve your Diet- Your period takes a lot out of your body.  Literally, your body needs extra vitamins and nutrients to get through, which means it can leave you more than a little deficient at the end.  Do you ever wonder why you seem to get sick right around your period?  Ensuring your body is getting the vitamins and nutrients it needs can go a long way towards calming and regulating the monthly horror.  A lot of the time, the most unpleasant of symptoms can actually occur because our bodies are missing key vitamins or nutrients.  A few to watch out for: iron, magnesium, vitamin D, and the Omega oils.  As always, it is best to check with your doctor to find out what your iron levels (etc.) are in case you need to incorporate a supplement into your diet.
    Cutting back on sodium can help a lot, too.  Sodium leads to bloating, which means it can make the monthly bloat a lot more uncomfortable.
  3. Drink Tea- There are a lot of herbal formulations that can help with the symptoms—and even the pain—of PMS and menstruation.  Plus, drinking tea keeps you hydrated and having extra fluids in your body can help ease bloating and replenish your body as it fights to regulate those hormones.
  4. Exercise- Exercise can help balance out some of the mood-altering effects of PMS, but keeping it low-impact is best, especially for bodies that are having a rough time with all those hormone fluctuations.  Go for a walk, boosting vitamin D while exercising to balance blood sugar, etc. can be the best medicine and it can help you sleep at night.  There are also a number of yoga poses and stretches that can help ease your cramps.
  5. Sleep- Finding a way to get regular sleep goes a long way towards regulating your fluctuating hormones.  Take a nice long bath with Epsom salts, drink     a cup of caffeine-free lemon tea, grab a hot water bottle, and catch a few extra hours of sleep until it’s over.

If you have any questions on natural methods to reduce PMS symptoms and are interested in learning more about how acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, and massage therapy can help please do not hesitate to contact us today!

The Natural Path to Chronic Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

If you’re a woman, your chance of getting a urinary tract infection is extremely high and many can lead into chronic infections that are recurrent, sometimes for years. There are two types are UTIs, bladder infections (BIs) and kidney infections (KIs). I will be specifically chatting about BIs, since KIs should be treated promptly with antibiotics.

UTIs are bacterial infections that are not to be taken lightly. If you have had the joy of experiencing one…you know how incredibly debilitating they are. Common symptoms of a UTI are:

  • Frequent and/or intense urge to urinate
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Pain or pressure in the lower back or abdomen
  • Cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange-smelling urine
  • Symptoms of shaky or feeling tired
  • Fever or chills, nausea and vomiting (likely a sign that the infection has gone to the kidneys) 

If you suspect you have a UTI, it is imperative that you head to the medical doctor to get a urine sample to confirm. In younger, sexually active women, sudden onset of painful urination can also be due to chlamydia infection or gonorrhea (rarely), so getting a urine culture as well is beneficial. The majority of UTIs are bacterial in origin so medical doctor’s prescribe antibiotics during an acute episode. Some women who have chronic BIs are given long-term antibiotics for preventative measures. However, frequent antibiotic use, especially in women with chronic BIs, has been shown to alter intestinal and vaginal flora and increase the rate of antibiotic resistance.

Naturopathic approaches should be strongly considered in cases where chronic BIs are still a problem. Naturopathic doctors can treat acute, single episodes of BIs, but you want to be under the supervision of a doctor since these infections can quickly develop into kidney infections, which are very dangerous and can only be treated with antibiotics.

Housekeeping Rules for your lady parts:

  • If you were ever told to wipe from front to back after using the washroom, listen! This is a key factor in preventing recurrent BIs.  Since the urethra (where you pee) is located close to the anus in women, bacteria from the large intestine are in perfect position to escape the anus and invade the urethra. Some women have shorter urethras allowing bacteria to ascend more easily to the bladder, making them more prone to BIs.
  • Another housekeeping tip is to urinate after sex. Having sex can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract, again causing an infection in the urethra.
  • Avoid vaginal hygiene products (ie. douches), which can be irritating to the urethral area and alter the vaginal flora.
  • Research has shown that wearing cotton underwear can reduce the chance of UTIs since it is more breathable.

Dietary recommendations:

  • Increase your intake of water to ensure you are peeing regularly to flush out bacteria and prevent their adherence to the urethra.
  • Add in some UNSWEETENED PURE cranberry juice (not the Welch’s cranberry or any “cranberry cocktail” drinks). It is a known anti-adhesion agent, meaning it can prevent the bacteria from setting up shop in your urethra. It can be found in different forms: juice, tablets or capsules. You want to be drinking about 250-300ml/day, which you can dilute in some water since the pure cranberry juice can be quite tart. Cranberry juice is also safe and effective for the prevention of UTI’s in pregnancy, which is important since they tend to be more common.
  • Your GUT and VAGINAL flora are key players in preventing recurrent BIs, therefore keep your diet low in sugar and high in fiber, specifically from dark leafy greens.
  • To reduce the susceptibility to bladder infections it may be necessary to address and remove food sensitivities.

Supplement Recommendations:

  • Probiotics: can help keep the vaginal and gut flora balanced. You want to make sure the probiotics specifically contain the Lactobacillus species. One of my favorites is the UltraFlora’s Women’s by Metagenics that contains a 50:50 blend of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri, once/day. This targets healthy vaginal flora by increasing the number of beneficial lactobacilli. Lactobacillus generates an acidic vaginal pH and interferes with the adhesion of common urinary bacteria. Vaginal probiotic suppositories have been used weekly and shown to reduce the incidence of UTIs after 12 months.
  • D-Mannose: a simple sugar that acts similarly to cranberry in that is prevents the adherence of bacteria. It can be used for treating acute BIs and for prophylaxis in women prone to recurrent infections. It has been shown to be more or just as effective as antibiotics when used for chronic BIs but with a much lower incidence of side effects. A general dose is around 2 grams of powder/day during an acute infection.
  • A healthy immune system can help the body resist infections. Specific vitamins I recommend are Vitamin C. Studies have shown that it increases the release of nitric oxide in the urine, which acts as a bacterial killing agent against the most common bacteria that causes UTIs, E.Coli. General dose is around 1-2grams/day. Vitamin A and Zinc are other common recommendations for supporting the immune system.

Herbal Recommendations:

  • For acute bladder infections, berberine extracts (found in various plants – Hydrastis Canadensis and Berberis vulgaris) have significant antimicrobial activity. It inhibits the growth of several bacteria, including resistant E.Coli (common in chronic BI patients). Berberine can also act as an antimicrobial to treat dysbiosis (altered bacterial flora in the gut), which can indirectly reduce the occurrence of BIs since dysbiosis can increase the incidence of BIs.
  • Other great anti-septics used in acute cases are: Uva Ursi and Yarrow. Can be done as an infusion/tea so they can be flushed through the urinary tract. The addition of marshmallow root can be added if symptoms of burning are present. These preparations can also be taken in capsule form.
  • If stress is associated with your chronic BI, it is beneficial to incorporate herbs that specifically work at supporting your stress response while ensuring your immune system stays in check.
  • Just a note: recurrent bladder infections are common in postmenopausal women due to the decrease in estrogen and its role in maintaining healthy vaginal flora and mucosa. There are many herbal recommendations that can help support this hormone imbalance and important to address these changes to reduce the reoccurrence of UTIs.

This information given is not to discourage antibiotic use, since in some cases it is absolutely necessary. It is to provide you with more preventative strategies and other naturopathic alternatives for treating chronic UTIs, all of which have much lower side effects compared to long-term antibiotics.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment at Whole Family Health, please contact us today!