If I could wave a magic wand and give one gift to all women everywhere, it would be period relief (well, and equal pay, reproductive rights, and ending all sexual harassment to name a few big ones, but that’s another article for another day). Most people who have periods have dealt with issues that take over their lives: debilitating cramps, depressing mood swings, hormonal breakouts, nonexistent sex drive, uncomfortable bloat, or diagnoses like endometriosis or PCOS. According to the Office on Women’s Health, over 90% of women have premenstrual symptoms. Even worse, we’ve been told that it’s totally normal, we’re being dramatic, or to just shut up and take a “magic” pill that will put a Band-Aid on the problem. *Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by your cycle.*
Enter: Alisa Vitti. Vitti is a women’s hormone expert, bestselling author, and creator of an empire centered on helping women heal period symptoms and improve issues like fertility, sex drive, and more. In other words, she’s the hormone queen and your new best friend. She teaches the approach that while period symptoms are common, they are not normal—you can (and should!) heal your body so you’re not suffering every month. “You can take charge of your hormonal health and reduce symptoms naturally so they are not ruining your life anymore,” she said.
For someone like me who stayed home from junior high and high school every month due to unbearable cramps, has been told for over a decade by health care professionals that I just had to “deal with it,” and has tried various prescriptions from every type of birth control to prescription pain killers that just made me disconnected from my body, finding Vitti’s work felt like divine intervention. To learn more about cycle syncing and healing your own period symptoms, read her bestselling book WomanCode, download the MyFlo app, watch her TED Talk, and read on for all the tips I got from Vitti when I grilled her about how to heal your period problems once and for all.
Alisa Vitti, HHC, AADP
Hormone Expert and Founder of FLO Living
Alisa Vitti is a functional nutritionist and womens hormone expert, the founder of modern hormone health care company FLO Living, bestselling author of WomanCode, and creator of MyFLO, the #1 paid period app on iTunes. She has made expert appearances on The Dr. Oz Show, Women’s Health, MindBodyGreen, and The Huffington Post.
What causes period symptoms?
So you already know that any cycle-related symptoms are not normal, even if they are common. But why do we experience bloat, cramps, and PMS in the first place? Vitti explained that all symptoms—including hormonal acne, breast tenderness, food cravings, mood swings, fatigue, irregular periods, low libido, PCOS, and infertility—are all signs of a hormonal imbalance, which is caused by diet and lifestyle factors. “Period symptoms are caused by diet choices, micronutrient deficiencies, eating bad fats, restricting calories, and/or doing the same workout every day,” Vitti said. In other words, we can look to our cycles for insight on what’s going on with our bodies.
In fact, Vitti considers the menstrual cycle as the fifth vital sign. “It’s just as important as taking your temperature or blood pressure and just as serious when you have abnormal readings,” she said. Therefore, the point of paying attention to cycle-related symptoms is not just to feel better on your period but also because your cycle is communicating important information about the health of your body. I used to detest my period, but now I see my cycle as my greatest superpower: I get critical insight and information that can help me keep my body as healthy as possible when I know how to listen to it. Read on for how Vitti recommends healing your body (once and for all!) and improving cycle symptoms.
5 ways to heal period symptoms:
1. Get your hormones checked
Of course, the first step is to know what you’re working with and gain insight. Vitti recommended asking your doctor for blood work to evaluate hormones, thyroid levels, and vitamin D3 levels, which can all give important insights into hormonal imbalances and can help guide a specific plan moving forward. For example, heavy periods, bloating, and decreased sex drive might be coming from estrogen dominance, or excess testosterone can cause hormonal acne and symptoms of PCOS. When you balance the hormones, you are solving the symptom at the root cause instead of trying to mask it. Start with knowing what needs to be balanced in the first place.
2. Pay attention to your sex drive
If the menstrual cycle is your fifth vital sign, your sex drive is like your fifth vital sign 2.0. While there’s no “perfect” libido or ideal level of sex drive for everyone, feeling “in the mood” is an important tool we can look at to keep the body healthy. In other words, it’s time we stop thinking about sex as something we do for a relationship—it’s a crucial part of our wellness and overall physical health. Vitti explained that your sex drive is cyclical, meaning it varies based on which phase of the cycle you’re in; it’s normal to go through weeks where your sex drive is high and weeks where your sex drive is low. But if you’re experiencing low libido most of the time, it’s probably a hormonal imbalance due to stress, micronutrient depletion, or being on birth control.
3. Sync your lifestyle to your cycle
For women with a period, your hormones may be imbalanced simply because your diet, exercise, and lifestyle are not in sync with your natural infradian rhythm (AKA most of us—there’s a widespread cultural norm that we are supposed to repeat the same rituals every 24 hours, like the same workday schedule or the same workout). But good news: This means you can also balance your hormones by syncing to your cycle.
“Your infradian rhythm, which we experience over our monthly cycle, causes changes in our metabolism, brain, stress, and other systems. If you are not supporting it properly, you’ll be disrupting your period, and it will also increase stress levels, disrupt blood sugar, and make weight management extremely difficult,” Vitti explained. The Cycle Syncing Method acknowledges that the body is not the same through every four phases of our menstrual cycle; we have different caloric, nutrient, and fitness needs, depending on which phase we’re in.
For example, if you’re trying to force your body into an extreme HIIT workout while in the menstrual or luteal phase, the body may respond with hormonal imbalance because it needs gentle movement like light yoga, walks, and stretching. Likewise, if you’re not getting enough calories because the body needs more than in the previous phase (according to Vitti, we need approximately 279 more calories per day in the luteal phase), the body can respond with hormonal imbalance as well. As for more of what the body needs differently during each phase, check out the Cycle Syncing Method. As for a key takeaway, start rethinking your workout routine, diet, and even daily schedule. We should be syncing our routines to our bodies, not the other way around.
4. Work on gut health
Your gut health is intrinsically linked to the reproductive system. As Vitti explained, bowel movements are how the body gets rid of the estrogen it doesn’t need to keep the hormones of the body balanced. If you’re not having consistent bowel movements or you have certain microbiome imbalances that are affecting gut health, the body may have a difficult time getting rid of excess estrogen, causing an estrogen dominance and hormonal imbalance in the body. “Microbiome imbalances can lead to excess estrogen that can make heavy bleeding and other symptoms worse,” Vitti explained. Consistently work on gut health by getting enough high-fiber foods (fruits, veggies, legumes, etc.), taking a probiotic or eating probiotic-rich foods, and talking to your doctor if you have gut-related symptoms like chronic constipation, IBS, or chronic bloat.
5. Talk to your doctor about your birth control plan
Only you know what’s best for your body, but picking the birth control that’s right for you can be confusing, isolating, and frustrating. If you’re like me and wondering how to sync your cycle while you’re on a method that gives you an artificial or non-existent period (like the pill), bad news: You can’t. “You cannot sync with your cycle if you are on a birth control pill, as it shuts off your ability to have a cycle,” Vitti explained.
If you’re on the pill to manage cramps, irregularity, or acne, just know it’s like putting a Band-Aid over the problem and might even be preventing you from fixing the problem since it’s stopping your natural cycle. “Birth control does not fix your period problems, so it’s important to learn about all of your options before committing to a course of treatment,” Vitti recommended. Between NuvaRing, shots, IUDs, the patch, and pills, the method that’s best for you is extremely personal—what’s right for your best friend, or even your gynecologist, may not be right for you. Talk to your doctor about a birth control plan and symptom-management plan that fit with your lifestyle, health goals, and reproductive planning.