Having Endometriosis sucks as it is. But when mother nature comes knocking, it can get much worse. Over the years of researching and trial and error, I have learned a few things to make that time of the month a little more tolerable, if not completely tolerable.
Earlier this week I had my IUD removed. I only had it for almost 2 years, but the last 6 months I have had spotting or full-blown periods halfway through my cycle. When I first had my IUD put in after my youngest was born, I went for the 3 week ultrasound to make sure it was sitting properly. It was halfway out of my uterus and I was told that was normal when it was still contracting after having a baby. So that one was taken out, and in went a new one. The new one was fine at the 3 week mark so I never worried about it.
A few of months ago I was having some issues, so they wanted to check my IUD by ultrasound. I went in, and it was still sitting where it was supposed to. So again, didn’t worry about it and just kept going on with life. When I had it taken out a few days ago, the doctor said that it was halfway out again and that was probably the reason for my cramping and spotting/periods halfway through my cycle. Makes sense, but my biggest worry was that we don’t want more kids at this time, so what if I didn’t get it taken out.
Ha, that would have been something, hey?
That wasn’t the only reason I had it taken out. I wanted to have it removed so that I can start the process of balancing out my hormones. As Dr. Cook talks about in his book, hormonal imbalances can play a huge role in the amount of inflammation women can have. If you can balance out all of your hormones, you can experience less pain and flare ups. So, to me, it is worth a shot.
There are many more factors besides hormones that can affect endometriosis and how bad our periods are. I want to take a quick look at some of the top ones and talk about them a bit. If you put all of these together, it can make managing your symptoms so much easier. I get most of my info from the book “Endometriosis Health and Diet Program“, which contains much more information than I have time to dive in to.
Factors that can affect your period when living with Endometriosis
There are a number of factors that all play a part in how painful our periods can be. Some include:
- What we eat
- Level of activity
- Environmental toxins
- Quality and quantity of sleep
All of these factors play a huge role in how much or how little pain a women has when fighting Endometriosis. And as we all know, pain can come anytime, not just during our period. For the purposes of this post, I am going to talk about how we can make our periods easier to get through. It all has to do with what we do to our bodies during the month leading up to our periods.
I have noticed that if I eat a lot of foods that I shouldn’t be eating, my periods are much worse and almost unbearable. But, when I eat the right foods, exercise and take my supplements, I am able to make it through my periods with little to no pain.
What we eat and how it affects us
First off, if you eat a diet that is high in sugars (natural or added), you will probably experience a lot more pain that if you didn’t. I know that for me, if I eat sugar even a few times throughout the month, I will still experience pain with my periods. Cutting out all the added sugars, and keeping natural sugars low will ultimately help you to control the pain that happens during your period. Cravings will be tough to get through, but after about three or four days your cravings should subside. I find making homemade chocolate with all natural items helps me to curb that “sweet tooth” that pops up from time to time.
Other side-effects of eating too much sugar
- Memory loss
- Poor circulation
- Fatigued and painful muscles
- Stiff, painful joints
- Gray hair
- Declining eyesight
- Sensitivity to noise
- Frequent illness/infection
As you can see, when we are already dealing with a disease, there isn’t much room for other issues. Especially when they are very unavoidable. Sugar comes under many names so make sure to read all labels and if you don’t know what something is, don’t eat it. The less ingredients you have in a food item, the better it is going to be for you.
Some other foods that affect Endometriosis pain are trans fatty acids (hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, fried foods, margarine, shortening and all products containing these ingredients), high amounts of carbohydrates, soy, gluten, dairy and genetically modified foods. There are many more than this, but these are some of the main ones that can affect inflammation.
Making sure to limit your intake of these foods can significantly reduce your symptoms and make your periods much more manageable. Another recommendation is to make sure that that you have a balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. If you can’t get this from your diet, make sure you are supplementing until you can figure out how to get these through foods.
Hormone imbalances and how the affect Endometriosis
Balance among our hormones is absolutely vital to our chance of having a pain free existence. Our sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone), adrenal hormones (cortisol and DHEA) and thyroid hormones all work together. If one of these is out, the others will not function properly. Some ways of balancing our hormones is to focus on enhancing detoxification, using dietary strategies, stress reduction, incorporating exercise and movement, using herbs and nutrients, and on occasion hormone replacement.
Of all the hormones, estrogen is the most toxic when you have an overload in your body. When we have too much estrogen in our bodies, we cannot expel it fast enough. This leads to the thickening of the uterus as well as the endometriosis outside of the uterus. Estrogen is the one hormone you want to make sure never gets to high when you are battling endometriosis. To top it all off, the implants and endometriomas have the ability to produce their own estrogen, so watching what we put in and on our bodies is absolutely vital.
These are just a few of the facts of hormones and endometriosis, but I could go on and on about all of it. The best way to get the best information is to do some research.
The stress monster and why we need to tame it
Stress weakens our immune response and increases the inflammatory process, alters blood sugar regulation, contributes to infertility and menstrual cycle irregularities, impairs gastrointestinal function and alters the delicate microbial balance in the gut. There are three main types of stress; acute, episodic acute and chronic.
- Acute stress: This is short lived. It is triggered by an event or situation where our safety or ego is threatened. Stress levels will go back down quickly.
- Episodic acute stress: These are also short lived, but happen much more frequently. Common causes are having too many obligations, poor time management, lateness and an overall slew of self-inflicted demands and pressures competing for your attention.
- Chronic stress: This is the never-ending stress. Common causes are poverty, a dysfunctional home life, an unhappy marriage and job dissatisfaction.
The stress response has 6 steps:
- A stressful event occurs.
- The hypothalamus is activated.
- The hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by way of the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands release epinephrine and norepinephrine.
- The hypothalamus then activates the HPA axis, which is what hold the “gas pedal” down and will continue to until the brain decides the body is safe again.
- The adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulates the adrenal glands to release glucocorticoids such as cortisol. The cortisol levels stay elevated until the threat passes.
- Once the brain believes the threat has passed, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated which is what calms us down.
When we are in a state of chronic stress, our bodies do not have time to slow down and rest. This is why reducing our stress levels is so important for reducing the amount of pain and inflammation we deal with. So, how can we reduce our stress levels?
First, you need to make a commitment to yourself to take stress reduction seriously. This is a biggest gift your can give yourself. Commit to practicing whatever technique you choose, every single day. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day, or multiple days. Don’t be hard on yourself if you let stress slip back in. Just take the steps to get rid of it.
Some of the suggestions in the book include:
- Deep belly breathing
- 4-7-8 breathing
- Guided imagery
Some more that I have found from personal experience that have helped me are:
- Stepping away from the stressors
How much or how little do you move everyday?
The amount of physical activity you get in a day also plays a huge role in how bad your periods can be. Even if you can’t do a full workout, you can still go for a walk or do a little yoga to help get your body flowing. When doing any sort of exercise, always remember that it should never hurt or make your symptoms worse.
There is a difference between physical activity and exercise. Physical activity includes all body movements and can be things like cleaning, taking the stairs, walking more. Exercise is planned, structured and repetitive with the purpose of improving physical fitness.
Here are some ways that exercise and physical activity will help:
- Helps decrease blood sugar by using glucose and free fatty acids to fuel the body.
- Helps detoxify the body through sweating, pumping the lymphatic system and increasing production of important protective proteins and antioxidants
- Metabolizes estrogen by increasing glutathione production which is needed to expel estrogen from the body.
- Helps to boost your mood, reduce stress and aid in better sleep by increase the production of endorphins (the feel-good hormone).
Some recommended types of exercise for endometriosis are:
- Resistance training
- Walking and hiking
What are environmental toxins and how do they affect us?
Environmental toxins are any toxin that is found is items such as food, beauty products, health products, containers, etc. The amount of toxins we are exposed to is greatly increasing as the years go on. Researchers now believe that this is why we are seeing more and more young girls experiencing periods and endometriosis symptoms and much younger ages.
Some of the top toxins you will want to keep an eye out for and avoid like the plague include:
- Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds – these are linked to the development of cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, immune system damage and hormone disruption.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) – this is used in coolants and lubricants for electrical equipment. These chemicals were banned in 1977 due to their resistance to breaking down easily in the environment. They still persist in our environment today and have accumulated in our food chain. The most heavily contaminated foods are meat and fish.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) – this is a toxin found in plastics. It has been associated with damage to our reproductive and developmental health, and contribute to higher rates of endometriosis. BPA also behaves like estrogen and the body has a harder time metabolizing it.
There are many more out there and doing proper research to learn what you are putting in your body is vital to managing your endometriosis and having easier periods.
Sleep and why it is so important
Lack of sleep or a poor quality of sleep can negatively impact your pain, weaken your immune system and alter hormones. This is why sleep is so important to our recovery.
There are 2 main types of sleep:
- Non-REM sleep
- REM sleep
In the Non-REM type, there are 4 sub-types:
- N1 – This is when you first start to fall asleep. You are not yet asleep, but not fully awake.
- N2 – This is where your eyes, heart rate and breathing rates slow. About half of your night is spent in this phase.
- N3 & N4 – These are your deep sleep stages. This is where much of your bodily repair occurs. About 20% of you night is spent in these stages
REM sleep is when your brain is active. During this stage, your temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing increase back to daytime levels. This is the stage needed for brain restoration. It occurs about three to five times a night lasting about 90 minutes at a time.
So why does a lack of sleep contribute to pain? As you can see from what I said above, this is the time our bodies need to heal and restore ourselves. Without aqueduct rest, our bodies cannot do this and as a result, we will be in more pain. During our periods, we probably need to make sure that we are resting even more as we are not only losing blood, but bleeding internally. Our bodies will need to help and repair the damage occurring inside of us as well.
We must make sure that we are taking the necessary steps to optimize the sleep we are getting and work towards getting more if that is needed. Some lifestyle tips for helping are:
- Preparing your body for sleep – avoid doing any activities that can upset you or make you feel more awake. Make sure to get anything done during the day that might stress you out at night if it isn’t complete.
- Avoid napping – this can alter your sleep wake cycles making it harder to fall asleep at night.
- Get daily movement and exercise – make sure to do vigorous forms of exercise earlier in the day. Gentle exercise such as yoga and stretching may be done in the evening.
- Avoid eating large meals within 2 hours of going to bed – having a light snack before bed can help with night-time hungriness.
- Stick to your sleep schedule – having a set time to go to bed and wake up will make it easier to get the amount of sleep your body needs.
Some foods that can help you sleep better are:
- Complex carbohydrates
- Proteins with high tryptophan
- Veggies with calcium and magnesium
- Foods high is B6
- Bone broth and gelatin
I hope that this information helps you even a little bit. Please remember that not all of these changes will be easy, and there will be slip-ups. Pay attention to how it makes you feel when you are making the changes as to when you have a slip-up. When you notice the difference, it will be a lot easier over time to stick with everything.
There is so much more information in the book that I have talked about, and I highly recommend reading it. It has already been a massive life-changer for me. If you have anything to add, or any stories of your own, please feel free to share below.
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