I was thirteen when I started my period. I remember it well because it was Christmas day and I was thrilled. Very few girls at my school had begun menstruating, however, most of them were already wearing bras and I was deeply envious. My boobs were non-existent, yet I bullied my mum into buying me a Marks and Spencer’s training bra in the smallest size. It still didn’t fit, the cups like little tents on my skinny chest. So when I began my period, I felt sure that I was now becoming a grown up. How naive I was. It quickly became clear that ‘The Curse’ really was a curse.
Painful, messy and inconvenient, I was soon fed up with my new blossoming womanliness. It was like someone you absolutely loathe coming to stay for a week, causing chaos and disarray, driving you to tears, making you angry, occasionally punching you in the stomach and then leaving. Only to return once a month for the next forty odd years!
Plus there were the spots. Not little delicate spots, but big, angry, sore spots. Having a period was crap.
A few years later I was on the contraceptive pill, which definitely helped, though in my mid thirties, I wanted to start trying for a baby and so came off the pill. My heavy, painful periods came back and when I discovered that I wasn’t going to be a mum, my period became not just a curse, but a pointless insult. I considered asking for a hysterectomy, because I also suffer pelvic pain left over from when I had Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, but it’s a major operation that leads to an early menopause which brings with it its own set of problems.
I decided then to take matters into my own hands and find out about alternative ways of dealing with it. The first thing I discovered is that there are certain herbs you can take which help balance out hormones.
Now herbs can be very potent and it’s imperative that if you’re taking regular prescribed medication, you check for any contraindications. You also have to be patient. Supplements can take up to three months to have an effect and they have to be taken regularly and according to the instructions, e.g., taken on an empty stomach or with food etc.
After lots of research, these are the herbs I decided to try:
Agnus Castus (Chasteberry), also known as Vitex
There is good evidence that this herb helps to relieve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, such as irritability, bloating, menstrual cramps, fluid retention, acne and breast tenderness. It works by helping to increase progesterone by preventing the oestrogen dominance which contributes to PMS. I take 15-20 drops of the liquid tincture in a little water twice a day. You cannot take it if you are on the contraceptive pill or have a coil, or if you are suffering from an oestrogen-sensitive cancer, have suffered from a pituitary disorder or are taking dopamine agonists, or antagonists, oestrogens or anti-oestrogens.
I get mine here*
DIM is an indole phytochemical that is a natural metabolite of components found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage. DIM has been shown to lead to the preferential formation of oestrogen metabolites that are correlated with healthy breast, endometrial, and cervical tissues. It can help regulate your period, help acne, decrease cysts and fibroids, relieve breast pain and help with PCOS. It’s not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are taking immunosuppressive therapies. I take one 100mg tablet daily.
I get mine here*
This herb also targets the hormonal imbalance which is the cause of most PMS problems. The overall benefits include a decrease in cramping, bloating, fatigue, irritability, food cravings and headaches. I take two 500mg tablets daily.
I get mine here*
I take the herbs I’ve mentioned everyday, all year round, not just when I have my period.
Other supplements which can help include vitamin D, E, and B6; as well as calcium, magnesium and iron. I try to get these vitamins from my diet, but you could take a good quality multivitamin.
I also decided to start using natural sanitary towels. Most feminine hygiene products contain harmful chemicals that we absorb through our delicate skin. These ingredients, such as fragrance, can allegedly increase the risk of heart disease, birth defects, cancer, organ damage, infection and reduced immunity. Who knew? The sanitary towels I use can be found here* and here*. Unfortunately the alternatives I’ve found aren’t quite as absorbent as the country’s leading brands and they can be pretty bulky, however, since introducing these steps my period is much lighter so it’s not so much of a problem. In fact, after a few months of implementing these steps, my PMT and acne is practically gone and the cramps are much less painful. Hoorah!
Please let me reiterate that I am not a doctor or health care professional and it is always a good idea to contact your GP before beginning any kind of supplementation. I’m just sharing what’s worked for me after doing quite a bit of research.