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  • September 2014
  • 7 Posts
Woman having abdominal pain

Menstrual Cramp and Vitamin D

The first phase of menstruation is the follicular phase and begins on day 1 of your bleed, when the reproductive hormones oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest. The most active hormone at this stage is estradiol, the most potent of the three types of oestrogen in the body. If fertilization doesn’t occur, the spiral arteries of the lining close off, stopping blood flow to the surface of the lining. The blood pools into “venous lakes” that burst once they are full and with the endometrial lining form your menstrual flow. Uterine cramping is one of the most common uncomfortable sensations women may have during menstruation.

There are two kinds of cramping:

  • Spasmodic cramping: Resulting from the production of prostaglandins, the hormone-like substances that regulate pain and inflammation in the body by causing either relaxation or constriction of the smooth muscles.
  • Congestive cramping: Resulting from possible food allergies (mainly wheat, dairy, or alcohol), which can increase oestrogen levels, creating pelvic congestion and causing the body to retain fluids and salt.

Menstrual cramping and vitamin D

Vitamin D is not actually a vitamin; it’s an essential fat-soluble hormone made through skin exposure to the sun, hence its nickname: the “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption and deficiency can contribute to rickets and other bone problems, some cancers, and multiple sclerosis and would appear to influence the immune system. The body also makes less vitamin D as you age—typically someone in their 70s makes 75% less vitamin D than someone in their 20s, leading to chronic vitamin D deficiency in the elderly.

Upping your vitamin D intake has been shown to help relieve some of the distress associated with menstrual cramping. That’s because hormone-like substances called prostaglandins trigger the uterus to contract during menstruation as a means of expelling the uterine lining. These substances are associated with inflammation and pain, and high levels are linked to menstrual cramps. Vitamin D helps to decrease both the production of prostaglandins and cytokines, which promote inflammation in your body.

You cannot get adequate vitamin D through dietary sources alone, but upping your consumption of foods fortified with vitamin D, such as cereal flours and milk, and foods naturally containing vitamin D are very helpful. Alfalfa and mushrooms (shiitake and portabella) are good sources of vitamin D2. Free-range egg yolks, beef liver, and wild-caught fatty fishes such as eel, catfish, tuna, salmon, sardines, and mackerel are good sources of vitamin D3, the more important of the two D vitamins. The ideal way to increase vitamin D levels is through safe sun exposure. Take a “sun bath” for 15−20 minutes a day (depending on where you live and the strength of the sun), which should net you 10,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D, a recommended daily dosage to top up vitamin D stores naturally for health. It’s important to expose large areas of your skin to the sun as close to midday as possible in order to receive the correct UV rays for vitamin D production. Limit exposure to just the point when your skin starts to turn pink, then cover up and use your usual sunscreen for the rest of the day to protect the skin. Realistically, it can be very hard to get adequate therapeutic vitamin D from sun exposure in northern latitudes with inadequate sunshine, such as Britain, and modern lifestyles increasingly mean that we are indoors much of the time, so you may well need to take a daily over-the-counter oral vitamin D3 supplement for health. The suggested dosage will depend very much on where you live, your sun exposure, your age, your lifestyle, and the vitamin D levels in your body.

Adapted from Natural Wellness Strategies for the Menstrual Years by Laurel Alexander

Woman in Pain

Managing Breast Pain

Cyclical Breast Pain

Cyclical breast pain is very common and first develops between the ages of 30 and 50 years. In many women the symptoms are mild. However, in around one in ten women the pain can be severe or last up to two weeks before a period. The five days prior to a period are usually the worst. Typically, the pain affects both breasts. Your breasts may also feel more swollen and lumpy than usual. This lumpiness is generalized so does not lead to a single definite lump forming. This swelling and lumpiness decreases soon after your period starts.

If the pain is severe, or for the times when it may flare up worse than usual, treatment options include the following:

  • Support your breasts. Wear a well-supporting bra 24 hours a day for the week before a period. Avoid underwired bras. Wear a sports bra when you exercise. Get yourself measured for the right size bra.
  • Use painkillers and anti-inflammatories e.g. ibuprofen.
  • Use rub-on non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) e.g. topical ibuprofen.
  • HRT or the contraceptive pill may make cyclical breast pain worse. Some antidepressants and some blood pressure drugs increase breast pain. Discuss with your GP.
  • Medicines such as bromocriptine can ease pain by reducing the level, or blocking the effect of, female hormones such as oestrogen. You need to take them regularly (not just when the pain occurs). However, significant side-effects are common with these drugs.
  • Evening primrose oil. Evening primrose oil needs to be taken for up to four months before you can decide if it is helpful or not.
  • Eat more cruciferous veg e.g. cabbage, cauliflower, spring greens, broccoli, kale, sprouts and soy food such as tofu, soya milk or Pure which is a non-dairy soya spread.
  • Lower saturated fat, carbohydrate, dairy, coffee, salt and caffeine.
  • Eat 3 portions a week of oily fish e.g. mackerel, tuna, trout, herring, salmon, sardines (omega 3s). Flaxseeds are also a rich source of omega 3 (you can get this in supplement form or in seed form to be sprinkled on cereal, in soups, on salads or in stir fries).
  • Take natural vitamin E with selenium (Holland & Barrett) (1 capsule a day)
  • Take a vitamin B timed complex.

Non-Cyclical Breast Pain

Non-cyclical breast pain can be present all the time, or come and go in a random way, is not related to periods and more common in women over 40. The pain may be in just one breast, and may be localized to one area in a breast. Sometimes the pain is felt all over one or both breasts. There are various causes:

  • Pain coming from the breast tissue itself in the absence of any lumps, tumours, or other abnormality being detected.
  • Pain coming or radiating from the chest wall under the breast rather than the breast itself. Muscular or bony problems of the chest wall account for some cases.
  • Infection may be a cause.
  • Shingles may cause pain before a rash develops.
  • Breast tumours, cancer and lumps are a very uncommon cause of breast pain.
  • The cause is often not clear.

In many cases the pain goes after a few months without any treatment. Other treatments may be appropriate, depending on whether a cause is found. As there are various causes, it is best to see your GP for assessment.

NOTES: If you are not sure which type of breast pain you have, keep a pain diary for 3 months. Record the days when you have breast pain and see what pattern emerges.
If you have concerns about breast pain or any other breast symptoms, consult your GP.

woman having stomachache

Self-Help For PMS

Supplements and Herbs

  • Calcium levels tend to be lower in the bodies of women with PMS, and supplementation can help reduce bloating, depression, pain, mood swings, and food cravings.
  • Magnesium calms the nervous system and improves mood, helps prevent weight gain, improves blood sugar balance, and can help reduce swelling of the hands and legs, breast tenderness, and abdominal bloating.
  • Vitamin B6 can taken for 10−14 days before your period or if you have general stress symptoms.
  • Chromium GTF may be taken for added help with cravings for sweet foods and general blood sugar imbalance.
  • Hemp seed oil has a good balance of omegas 3, 6, and 9. It has been shown to increase GLA levels in the body significantly, thereby easing PMS.
  • Linseed (flaxseed) oil) is good for dry skin or eczema.
  • Vitamin E is indicated where there is breast tenderness.
  • Vitex agnus castus can reduce PMS symptoms such as irritability, depression, headaches, and breast tenderness by improving progesterone levels in the body. For best results take in the morning before rising for four cycles.
  • Dandelion leaf (capsule or tea) encourages the elimination of excess water, while maintaining potassium levels.
  • Evening primrose oil is an omega-6 EFA involved in the metabolism of prostaglandins, which regulate pain and inflammation in the body. It can be helpful for breast tenderness and needs to be taken for about three months to be effective.

GENERAL NOTE: Avoid hormone-balancing herbs if you are on prescription hormonal medications.


Reduce the following:

  • Table salt aggravates water retention and leads to bloating.
  • Saturated fats and low-quality vegetable oils.
  • Hydrogenated fats found in manufactured margarine and other processed foods.
  • Refined sugar including fructose and artificial sweeteners.
  • Caffeine.
  • Limiting alcohol allows your liver to function more effectively; the liver is responsible for detoxing the body, including clearing excess hormones from the bloodstream. Alcohol consumption also contributes to blood sugar imbalance implicated in PMS.
  • Simple carbohydrates found in sweets and refined foods.

Increase the following:

  • Foods high in complex carbohydrates, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In particular, vegetables from the cabbage family (cruciferous vegetables) can increase the rate at which the liver changes oestrogen into a water soluble form that can then be easily excreted. The cabbage family includes all cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and radicchio.
  • Organic foods, as they contain fewer hormones to interfere with the already turbulent confusion of hormones in your body.
  • Grass-fed meat, dairy, and eggs, as they contain high levels of vitamin D and omega 3 fats.
  • Wild-caught salmon graze on algae, a mineral-rich and easily absorbable protein substance (such as spirulina or chlorella), which helps to correct blood sugar and anaemia.
  • Foods rich in calcium, in the form of milk and other dairy products, such as plain yogurt and cottage cheese.
  • Legumes, including soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, mung beans, and aduki beans, contain important plant-based oestrogens known as phytoestrogens, which help balance the hormonal system.
  • Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as wild salmon and other oily fish, ground linseed, raw nuts, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and fresh cold-pressed oils like extra virgin olive oil and linseed (flaxseed).
  • Water.


Regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling, may help relieve PMS symptoms.

Many women have sleep problems during PMS. You can improve sleep by eliminating distractions in your bedroom (other than a lover!), including phones, computers, and TVs. If you still can’t get a good night’s rest consider taking a quick power nap during the day with a soothing lavender eye bag popped over the eyes.


donna sul letto

Nutrition and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is the name for a group of weakening medical complaints characterized by persistent fatigue and other symptoms that lasts for a minimum of six months.

Tips to Improve Energy

  • Drink at least 1½ litres of water daily plus fresh juices to detoxify the body and reduce muscle pain and fatigue.
  • If stress has played a major part in your life, your adrenal glands may be exhausted. A nutritional therapist can organise a laboratory test to investigate the levels of your stress hormones (cortisol and DHEA). Based on this information, symptoms can be improved with appropriate nutritional therapy.
  • Foods to enjoy: beans and pulses, fresh vegetables, organic white meat, fish, seeds and freshly cracked nuts, organic brown rice and millet, natural yoghurt, yeast-free bread, oat cakes, rice cakes, cold-pressed vegetable oils (for dressings).
  • Protein helps to build and maintain body tissue and balance the fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which could lead to fatigue. Protein can also alleviate pain and muscle weakness. Sources: lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and rice.
  • Many nutritional therapists have found that clients suffering from CFS respond well to an anti-candida diet so it might be worth getting yourself checked out for candida.
  • Some experts suggest that CFS is linked to the immune system which may explain why certain foods could worsen symptoms. A good place to start when trying to identify food sensitivities is to keep a food diary of what you eat and when you experience the worsening of symptoms which could help you spot any patterns.
  • Low blood sugar is common in CFS. Having blood sugar level tests may help eliminate this possibility.
  • Foods to avoid: sugar, yeast, refined grains such as white rice and white flour products, malted products – some cereals and drinks, fermented products (vinegar, soya sauce, alcohol), most milk products, fresh and dried fruit (high in fructose), mushrooms, tea and coffee, artificial sweeteners, soft drinks, fried foods.
  • An inefficient digestive system can result in feeling sluggish. In order to avoid this, whole grains should be included in your diet to insure that the digestive system is kept moving e.g. brown rice, barley, quinoa, oatmeal and whole wheat.

Supplements and Herbs

Supplements that may be helpful in alleviating CFS symptoms:

  • Antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid, vitamin E, vitamin C help protect cells from free radical damage and oxidative stress.
  • Probiotics such as acidophilus and bifido bacteria enhance intestinal colonies of friendly bacteria.
  • Milk thistle encourages detoxification.
  • Siberian ginseng, vitamin B5 and vitamin C support the adrenal glands.
  • Chromium and vitamin B3 have been shown to balance blood sugar.
  • CoQ10 is a fat-soluble coenzyme and involved in the production of adenosine triphosphate, the cellular source of energy. In addition to reducing fatigue, CoQ10 may alleviate muscle weakness and pain and reduce cognitive dysfunction. Its role as a free radical scavenger may lead to improvement in immune responses.
  • Essential fatty acids such as omegas 3 and 6, EPA, DHA, fish oil, flaxseed oil, evening primrose oil and borage seed oil are vital for maintaining the structure and function of cell membranes, particularly in the nervous system and can help reduce fatigue. They can also enhance immune system activity.
  • Magnesium may help reduce fatigue.
  • The herbs ginseng and Echinacea may help improve energy and boost the immune system.

NOTE: Before taking on any nutritional programme or herbal supplements as part of your CFS treatment, consult a qualified nutritionist through the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (www.bant.org.uk) or the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (www.nimh.org.uk).

Nude Couple

What influences a women’s libido?

Libido refers to a person’s sex drive and varies from woman to woman, with no such thing as a “normal” sex drive. Libido is a balance of energies and encompasses physiological factors such as hormones which affect sex drive, health conditions and medication; social factors such as relationships, work and family; and psychological factors such as stress.

Physical Influences and Low Libido

  • Medications known to lower sex drive
  • Antidepressants such as Prozac.
  • Most blood pressure drugs.
  • Sedative medications like diazepam and valium.
  • Antihistamines (also affects lubrication).
  • Antipsychotic, anti-seizure, anti-cancer, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • The oral contraceptive can be liberating for the libido however the ovulation sexual peak is skipped due to the drug and just before your period the pill elevates your levels of sex hormone-binding globulin, which attaches itself to testosterone (responsible for your sex drive) in your body and reduces its effect.

Physical conditions which decrease sex drive

Nutrient deficiencies and chronic dieting can cause hormonal imbalance, with low fat diets in particular lowering the healthy cholesterol and lipids needed to make the testosterone required for a good libido. Being very underweight can cause disruptions in hormonal levels. Unhealthy cholesterol can build up on artery walls including those to the pelvic area and when blood flow to the pelvic area is restricted, there can be less sensation in the genitals making sex less satisfying.

Other physical conditions which may lower libido include:

  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Hysterectomy involving removal of the ovaries (causes low testosterone).
  • Low levels of testosterone in general.
  • Pain due to a health condition or physical injury.
  • Discomfort due to thinning, tightening, dryness, and atrophy (a decrease in muscle mass) in the vulva and vagina as oestrogen lessens.
  • Anaemia (produces low energy).
  • Prolactin, the hormone responsible for lactation can decrease your body’s production of estrogen and testosterone (may lead to vaginal dryness).
  • Fatigue due to hot flushes at night, overwork, insomnia or family demands.
  • Alcohol abuse.

Testosterone, the Menstrual Cycle and Your Libido

Testosterone production in women takes place in both the ovaries and adrenal glands and is fundamental to your sex drive because it influences the cycle of sex e.g. interest, arousal, lubrication and orgasm.
Here’s a journey through your sexual month from a hormone perspective:

Day 1−7: Period starts and you feel increasingly sexual due to rising testosterone.
Day 8−14: Your rampant time, with testosterone peaking around day 13. Your body is getting ready to release another egg, so it is also your most fertile time as oestrogen levels start to rise.
Day 15−21: In the week following ovulation, progesterone levels increase possibly resulting in few orgasms and testosterone decreases, reducing sex drive.
Day 21−28: Oestrogen levels decline as your period approaches. You may have less natural lubrication. Testosterone lowers. Progesterone levels take over.

Did you know that under stress, progesterone, the precursor molecule to testosterone, is converted into stress hormones instead of sex hormones? Over time, this switchover due to chronic stress may result in lower testosterone and reduced libido.


What is Nordic Walking?

Nordic walking (or pole walking) is a total body style of walking that can be enjoyed as a health-promoting activity, is enjoyed by more than 10 million people globally and was originally a summer training regime for cross-country skiers in the 1930s.

Nordic walking combines the accessibility of walking with simultaneous core and upper body conditioning similar to Nordic skiing. Unlike when trekking or rambling, Nordic walking poles are planted behind you in order to propel you along. This engages the upper body and makes you feel lighter on your feet. The result is a moderate-intensity aerobic activity and full body workout, meaning you:

  • can burn 20–40% extra calories by using the poles (helping weight loss)
  • strengthen the large back muscles that pull the shoulder blades down releasing tension in the neck and shoulders
  • lengthen the spine so that body weight is better carried
  • correct postural muscles
  • improve the stability of the spine and pelvis
  • strengthen your back and abdominal muscles
  • could use the poles to support and guide to improve fitness as part of a rehab programme
  • improve balance and co-ordination through the added stability provided by the two poles
  • use 90% of your major muscles so your upper body gets toned as well as your legs and backside
  • improve your posture and gait
  • reduce the impact on the joints

The activity is performed with specially designed walking poles similar to ski poles. With a technique that is similar to the upper body action of classic cross country skiing, it involves applying force to the poles with each stride using your entire body with intensity. The rhythm of the arms, legs and body are similar to those used in vigorous walking. The range of arm movement regulates the length of the stride. The longer the pole thrust, the longer the stride and more powerful the swing of the pelvis and upper torso.

You’ll need a pair of Nordic walking poles which are different to those used for trekking due to how you use the strap and the angle you plant them on the ground, walking shoes and appropriate clothing. The technique and teaching of Nordic Walking are based on three main pillars:

  • Correct walking technique
  • Correct posture
  • Correct use of poles

Nordic walking can be done in any location, urban or rural, but it’s recommended that you learn the technique from a qualified instructor. Find an instructor on the websites of Nordic Walking UK (www.nordicwalking.co.uk) or British Nordic Walking (www.britishnordicwalking.org.uk).

Other benefits of Nordic walking include contributing to rehabilitation from surgery for breast cancer and to improving bone density in relation osteoporosis. International Nordic Walking Association, 2011

With thanks to www.nhs.uk