When it comes to gender equality, should we be normalising period pain?

A couple of months ago I was scrolling through my newsfeed and stumbled upon a video of a news segment where they were discussing the idea of work leave for period pain. The woman proposing the change mentioned how common it is for women to have to use their sick leave for period pain and then not have enough left over for when they actually get sick.

Personally, I agree that it isn’t fair that women are taking sick leave in order to deal with pain associated with their period every month. But also, the discussion brought up a few thoughts that I’d like to share with you, because I believe there is a different way that we could be approaching this situation.

While I think is totally essential to normalise periods (and challenge people who get grossed-out by the sheer mention of a period on a regular basis) it deeply concerns me that we’re moving towards accepting things like debilitating period pain as a totally normal thing.

092495546efd2a994a2b8cfa64570fde.jpgNow, this isn’t me dismissing these symptoms, or anyone who experiences this pain. If fact, I believe that if you are experiencing pain once every month that has you bed-ridden, has you taking hard-core pain medications, has you doubled over in pain, gives you migraines that make you vomit and have to retreat to a dark room, or you experience irregular periods (varying one week to months apart), experiencing spotting, never-ending acne, very heavy or very light periods, breast tenderness or in some cases, find yourself suicidal in the lead up to your period;

NONE of that is normal.

And you deserve so much better than to be told to accept these symptoms as ‘normal’ every single month.

We are doing ourselves a complete disservice as women and as people, if we encourage the complete acceptance of any of this occurring on a regular basis to half of our population.

Just because something is common, does not make it normal or healthy.

In all honesty, it breaks my heart and makes me furious.

Here’s the thing, most women experiencing these symptoms go to their doctor and aren’t given the full duty of care when it comes to this area of their health, as far as I’m concerned. Often, when taking a hormonal blood test, their doctor doesn’t even so much as tell them to pay attention to what day in their cycle the blood test is taken, which greatly inhibits the ability to examine the data properly, meaning the results are often misread (we see this all the time). Hormones normally will fluctuate in different times of the cycle, so getting this test done with no idea where in your cycle you took the test is useless.

Then, instead of understanding why these symptoms are occurring (and often without so much as a hormone test) these women are given contraceptive prescriptions that not only mask the problem, they often make it much worse. Contraceptive prescriptions increase levels of oestrogen and/or progesterone in the body, putting anyone who takes them at risk for infertility, and oestrogen-related cancers, as well as intensifying their menopausal symptoms later in life, and often giving them a long list of other new symptoms. The oral contraceptive pill (OCP) also depletes a woman’s folate levels, so by the time she tries to conceive, the vitamin that is crucial for DNA synthesis and replication, and that protects a baby from birth defects such as spina bifida and cleft palate is already depleted.

And I get it.

Our medical system is overburdened. Often, GPs don’t have the time to look into all of this, but also, they often don’t really understand the mechanisms as to how these hormone levels get too high or too low, or even what to do about it.

We owe it to ourselves and the other women in our lives to recognise these symptoms as signs from the body that something isn’t right, and to treat their cause, rather than dismiss them as a normal “that-time-of-the-month” thing. Accepting our friends and family members being debilitated every single month by an imbalanced but completely normal function of the body is to dismiss the value of that person, and robs them of the ability to prevent further complications, and enjoy their life.

So what are some things that you can do if you experience these symptoms? Well, for starters, I always recommend that you get your hormones tested, which is a service that we offer here in the Sun and Earth Organic Healthcare Clinic. The benefit of this is that you get an expert interpretation of the results and something tangible to help you reduce your symptoms.

Other things to consider:

  • Eat plenty of healthy fats – our hormones are made of fats, and they also help to balance our blood sugar, meaning we’re less likely to get ‘hangry’. Avocadoes, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, coconut, butter, ghee and oily fish are oil lovely sources of healthy fats to include in your diet every day
  • Avoid plastics (especially plastics that are heated) – plastics contain phthalates and bisphenols (famously bisphenol-A or BPA) which interrupt hormonal signalling and introduce substances that mimic oestrogen, overloading the liver and worsening oestrogen-related symptoms and risk factors. Apart from the obvious plastic sources, such as reheating your lunch in a plastic container, these substances are also found in the lining and lids of take-away coffee cups, in the Teflon coating of pots and pans, the lining of cans (especially those that contain acidic foods like tomatoes and pineapples – the acidity causes even more plastic to be released into the food)
  • Embrace green leafy vegetables – high in minerals and antioxidants that help detoxify the body, reduce inflammation and regulate mood, and a potent source of the OCP-depleting folate. Chuck some silverbeet in a casserole, saute kale with garlic, roast Brussel sprouts, put a handful of spinach into your smoothie, steam up some broccoli, chop a bunch of parsley for the base of your salad. Greens are so versatile and tasty, so experiment and aim to get them in every day.
  • Eat lots of anti-inflammatory and warming herbs and spices – herbs that warm the body are great for when you are experiencing period pain, but also decrease the incidence if you have them in your diet every day. Some herbs and spices that help include ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, rosemary, lavender, holy basil (tulsi), peppermint and licorice
  • Get your body moving every day – just 20 minutes a day of movement helps stimulate liver detoxification and promotes bloodflow, which means the nutrients you eat get to your tissues, and the toxins are brought back to be detoxified and excreted. It also helps to break down the stress hormone, cortisol and brings sugar from the blood into your cells to be used for energy and to help balance the blood sugar. Moving doesn’t have to be an intense activity; walking, yoga, swimming, pilates, netball, whatever you enjoy are all beneficial and can help to reduce symptoms of hormonal imbalance
If there’s only one thing you take away from all of this, it’s that listening to your body is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself. Understanding that these symptoms are your body telling you that something isn’t right is a powerful tool and may help prevent serious complications for you in the future.

To me, being a feminist is all about listening to your own instincts, so if you think that something isn’t quite right, investigate it, don’t let one doctor who hasn’t really spent that much time with you undermine that innate intuition that you have.

You know yourself better than anyone else, and more than anything, you deserve better.
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