How to Solve Period Issues without the Pill
It’s no secret that hormonal contraceptives like the Pill, patch, ring, IUD, or implant are prescribed for myriad reasons beyond birth control. They’re also highly prescribed by doctors who hear their patients have acne, migraines, cramps, regulating mood, regulating periods, and even cold sores.
According to Dr. John T. Littell, “Physicians in training during the past thirty years or so have been taught to find any reason to put women on some form of contraception—without mentioning any possible risk associated with these methods.”
The period symptoms that often lead to a prescription result from fluctuating hormones in the course of a woman’s cycle and sometimes from hormonal imbalances. Hormonal birth control works by manipulating and suppressing these natural hormone functions. On first glance, this supposed solution may seem reasonable: if hormones are out of whack, control the hormones and the symptoms will (hopefully) go away.
Except that controlling those hormones can lead to a whole lot of other well-documented problems: blood clots, depression, loss of libido, and weight gain, to name a few. The birth control side effects are so uncomfortable for some that it leads them to get off hormonal contraceptives altogether.
A Better Solution, for Today and Tomorrow
There are good reasons why introducing synthetic drugs into an already unbalanced system isn’t a prudent long-term solution. The truth, which more and more women are coming to find, is that there are root causes to their period symptoms, and they would do better to treat these causes than to mask the symptoms—and potentially incur even more troublesome side effects.
Natural, effective solutions to period issues that are commonly treated with the Pill do exist—solutions that honor the woman’s body, rather than incurring further damage. Many of them can make a positive impact beyond healing the symptom, which may be even more important down the line, if a woman later hopes to conceive. Any of these recommendations should be discussed with your healthcare provider and/or nutritionist before commencing.
Skin problems can result from an internal imbalance, often in the gut. Reevaluating your diet and adding in a high-quality probiotic and other supplements can help heal your skin, as well as potentially related digestive issues. Some women find help in eliminating gluten, dairy, and sugar from their diets for a time. Don’t expect to see results overnight, but with some patience and discipline, you can expect to soon feel better overall and remain that way for the long term.
Half of women who suffer from migraines are deficient in magnesium. Taking a supplement can help “relax blood vessels that constrict during a migraine attack,” bringing significant relief, according to Dr. Brian Grosberg, co-director of the Montefiore Headache Center in New York City. Reducing stress and having a plan to get adequate sleep can also mitigate menstrual migraines.
It’s possible that your tampons and pads—seemingly necessary items that time of the month—could be causing your cramps. Some women’s bodies react to the chemicals in these products and are better suited to a menstrual cup or cloth pads. Reusable products are ultimately more economical than disposable ones, and they’re better for the environment as well.
Vitamin D can also help with period pain, as it can lessen inflammation. Try a supplement, or turn to foods with natural vitamin D (fish liver oils, salmon, tuna) or those that have been fortified (milk, orange juice, and yogurt).
Examine your soy intake, and consider adding soy nuts, tofu, and miso soup to your diet in the days leading up to moodiness. If the reason for your moodiness is an estrogen imbalance, it’s possible that the isoflavones or phytoestrogen (plant estrogens) in soy products could help get you back on track, hormonally and emotionally.
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)—a common reason for a Pill prescription—have found success with a unique diet, moderate exercise, and use of a progesterone cream. The cream is bio-identical, that is, an “exact chemical replica of the hormone created in the human body.” It can help regulate the hormones during the woman’s cycle, and thus establish more regular ovulation, with virtually no side effects, because the product is a replica of what the body produces on its own.
Once it’s in your system, the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) lies dormant in a cluster of nerves near your ear until it’s triggered by something, such as your menstrual cycle, that causes more stress on your system. You can manage cold sores, and may even prevent them, by ensuring you get enough sleep and drink enough water; applying an over-the-counter cream or diluted tea tree oil; and adding supplements of lysine, zinc and vitamin C to your regimen.
We hope that implementing these steps, with the guidance of a sympathetic and willing healthcare provider, will help you to feel empowered to combat your period symptoms without filling a prescription for birth control. If you’re already on the Pill and are considering getting off, check out these tips from women who have been there, about how to prepare for the transition.