Period Cramps Are Totally Optional, Says a Hormone Expert
And that drives Alisa Vitti crazy. "It doesn’t have to be that way," the women's hormone expert (whose track record has earned her the nickname "hormone whisperer") explains. " If your period is problematic, or you're struggling with fertility, energy, and sex drive, the thing to do is to address the root causes of why that is. And you do that only through food and lifestyle."
How does she know? She sleuthed a solution to her own issues (weight gain, painful cystic acne, depression, exhaustion, and extremely irregular periods) as a 20-year-old at Johns Hopkins University after her gynecologist failed to do so. (Check out her TEDx talk for the whole fascinating story.) Flash forward a few years, and as a functional nutritionist, Vitti founded a women's hormone center, New York City's FLO Living, dedicated to treating the issues that most women are told will not improve without the pill or IVF.
"This is the biggest piece of mythology holding you back from your optimal health as a woman—the belief that you’re meant to suffer with symptoms and the best you can hope for is to manage things with drugs that don’t actually cure your conditions," she says.
"The truth is that your body is designed to be healthy and you can absolutely balance your hormones naturally with food. But you can’t take care of your body properly as a woman if you don’t know what your hormones are doing. If you’re not feeding them properly they will tell you, with symptoms," So, where do yours stand?
Here are five clues that your hormones may be out of balance and affecting your health, according to "hormone whisperer" Alisa Vitti.
You're super hungry—and crashing a lot.
"If your blood sugar’s off because you’re skipping meals, waiting too long for meals, not eating enough, or eating things that don’t work for your body, it will throw off your blood sugar levels and destabilize your levels of a critical hormone—insulin," Vitti explains. "And it can go the other way as well; other hormones being off can throw off your insulin levels. So it’s a twofer."
You're both tired and wired.
Exhaustion—coupled with anxiety and insomnia—can be an indication of hormonal weirdness. "That has to do with cortisol levels being off," Vitti says. "That causes the symptoms, but cortisol levels being out of balance will also affect a lot of other things: your fertility, your menstrual cycle, and your sex drive. So you may see these things all coming up at once."
You're bloated and breaking out cyclically.
"A little thing like not fitting into your jeans once a month and breaking out around your jaw and chin monthly may be a bigger deal than you think," Vitti says. "When there’s acne and bloating, it means your microbiome is off. You have a special bacteria dedicated to breaking down estrogen in your gut, called the estrobolome. If you’re taking the pill, antibiotics, or other regular medications—and you’re eating foods that are disturbing your gut health—you will end up with an unbalanced microbiome, bloating, acne, micronutrient deficiencies, even chronic [urinary tract infections], [bacterial vaginosis], and yeasty beasties."
Your period is weird.
Is your period really heavy? With really bad cramps? Or is it missing altogether or erratic? Or really light and short—or even brown? "If your period is not 28–30 days, bright cranberry red blood, no clots, no cramps, no PMS, then your hormones are out of balance," says Vitti, who says monthly misery is not normal at all, despite what Midol commercials would have you believe. The good news is you can change that a lot with diet tweaks, optimizing your gut health, and more, she says. (Btw, more expert advice on this topic is coming soon from Vitti, who is joining our Wellness Council. Send her your toughest questions: email@example.com.)
Your mood is—and this is saying it nicely—unpredictable.
Do you feel like you are literally a different person one half of the month versus the other? You’re not crazy: Your brain chemistry is affected by levels of estrogen increasing and decreasing across your cycle. It shouldn’t be Jekyll and Hyde, though. You can smooth out the transitions by getting things balanced.
Where to begin? Vitti's offers up tons of information in her book WomanCode (think of it like a user's manual for the female body, AKA the information you never got in health class) and through a free e-book that's part of FLO Living's four-day hormone detox, which includes everything from an evaluation to grocery lists to recipes.
But the most important start: treating hormonal issues as something worth addressing as a regular part of a healthy lifestyle. Your periods are not a "curse," and you are not permanently cursed with whatever current issues you're having, Vitti says: "Your hormones are not a liability—lack of information about how they work is a liability."
Any of these sound familiar? We're psyched to announce that Alisa is joining our Wellness Council and will offer up ways to bring things back to balance, through food and lifestyle choices, starting next month. Send your most vexing hormone-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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