The debate around women and their hormones has been raging for years. With women’s issues on the rise and equality at the forefront, it’s time to challenge common misconceptions and dispel damaging myths surrounding premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression, and menopause.
These hormonally influenced conditions are often misunderstood and loaded with negative connotations that still associate them with physical and emotional instability. Hormones do not make women incompetent, irrational, unworthy, or unattractive, but the struggle for understanding is real, and it’s time to get this conversation started.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Myth #1: PMS doesn’t exist
PMS exists, and experts claim that up to 90 percent of women suffer from one or more physical and psychological symptoms, of which more than 150 have been described in the literature. Most women have experienced varying degrees of PMS without significant disruption to their daily lives.
Myth #2: PMS is a mental disorder that causes irrational, overemotional behaviour
According to hormonal expert Dr. Cobi Slater of the Essential Health Natural Wellness Clinic, a person’s emotional state and ability to make sound decisions are more strongly determined by individual stress factors than by PMS.
While PMS is prevalent, and usually tolerable, premenstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD), a severe form of the syndrome affecting 3 to 8 percent of women, can significantly affect a woman’s life in the days before menstruation. Although more intense, PMDD treatments are available to minimize long-term physical and emotional effects.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) states that premenstrual dysphoric disorder has 11 symptoms. You must experience one of the first four symptoms regularly, and at least five of the 11, to be diagnosed with PMDD. They include
- markedly depressed mood and feelings of hopelessness, or self-deprecating thoughts
- marked anxiety, tension, feelings of being “keyed up” or “on edge”
- marked affective lability (suddenly sad or tearful)
- persistent or marked anger or irritability, or increased interpersonal conflicts
Myth #3: If you have PMS or PMDD, you’ll just have to live with it
Suffering with symptoms is often unnecessary. Slater explains, “There are 70,000 registered chemicals known as estrogen disruptors, or xenoestrogens, in the environment that wreak havoc on our hormones and magnify symptoms.” According to Slater, doing as much as possible to avoid these may reduce symptoms.
To reduce symptoms of PMS
To keep hormones balanced and to reduce symptoms, Dr. Cobi Slater and Selkirk Naturopathic Clinic’s Dr. Sarah Nyrose recommend the following natural supports.
- Vitamin B6 and magnesium may reverse the effects of estrogen excess and increase concentrations of serotonin, dopamine, and progesterone.
- Evening primrose oil and vitamin E may alleviate breast tenderness.
- Magnesium may help with stress reduction and fluid retention.
- Calcium may help to relieve general symptoms.
Postpartum depression (PPD)
Postpartum depression can be devastating for a new mom when her blissful expectations of motherhood fall short.
Myth #4: PPD is your fault
If you are one of the 13 percent of moms suffering from PPD, it can feel emotionally devastating, but it’s not your fault. PPD is not a result of something you did wrong, and understanding this fact can help new moms seek help faster.
There are a number of psychosocial and biologic factors that put a woman at risk, and studies show that PPD may be related to a particular sensitivity to hormone fluctuations. Seeking treatment early is recommended for a healthy, safe recovery.
Myth #5 You are alone
Asking for help when it comes to PPD can be difficult, and according to Slater, it’s the least talked about hormonal imbalance. The stigma and fear of humiliation leaves many women feeling powerless, but there are many support groups and online communities available, in addition to treatment suggested by your health care practitioner. Lean on friends and family who can play a pivotal role in recovery and may help with early detection.
To reduce symptoms of PPD
Similar to family members that depend on one another for support, hormones are a family of messengers that help the different systems in our bodies communicate.
- Omega-3 fatty acids may help with symptoms of depression.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy may also be an effective tool in dealing with depression.
- Peer and partner support plays an important role in prevention and recovery.
- Acupuncture and massage may help relieve stress, pain, and symptoms of depression.
Myth #6 PPD will go away on its own
Once PPD is identified and under medical supervision, Slater claims that nutrition and lifestyle modifications can play a significant role in your journey to wellness. However, PPD will not disappear on its own or with a few positive changes. PPD is a serious disorder requiring the assistance of a health professional.
According to Dr. Sarah Nyrose of the Selkirk Naturopathic Clinic, negative associations with menopause are often cultural. She believes that menopause should be celebrated and expressed as a shared experience: “Menopause should be viewed as a natural and normal event. It is the beginning of a new chapter in life, with the opportunity for change and growth.”
Myth #7 Menopause is a sudden transition
Menopause does not happen quickly. It develops gradually and is the official end of menstruation, characterized by 12 consecutive months or more without a period. As we age, our ovaries produce less of the menstruating hormones estrogen and progesterone until eventually, usually by our mid-fifties, our periods stop altogether.
Myth #8 Most symptoms of menopause aren’t treatable
Sleep disturbances, hot flashes, weight gain, and libido changes are just some of the symptoms women may experience during menopause. However, Slater reminds us that “suffering from these symptoms is often unnecessary, as there are many effective, natural treatments available.”
To reduce symptoms of menopause
- Reduce exposure to xenoestrogens such as bisphenol A (BPA), polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), and butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP).
- Chasteberry, passion flower, and black cohosh may improve mood and increase progesterone levels.
- Vitamin D with calcium may help guard against the onset of osteoporosis.
- Adrenal supports such as ashwagandha, maca root, and rhodiola may help adrenal glands increase hormone production and balance.
Some natural supplements that may help
- vitamin B6 and magnesium
- evening primrose oil
- limiting exposure to xenoestrogens, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar
- support and friendship groups
- omega-3 fatty acids
- light to moderate exercise
- good nutrition
- time-released melatonin
- black cohosh
- good sleep hygiene
Myth #9: Menopause should be feared
Menopause is not a medical condition; it’s a natural phase of a woman’s life. It doesn’t need to be cured; however, risk for certain medical conditions such as heart disease and osteoporosis increase after its onset.
Nyrose emphasizes that menopause is not to be feared, but is “a great time to reflect on health, lifestyle and goals, and with the help of a natural health care provider, develop a preventive health care plan.”
For many, women’s hormones are mysterious, and negative stigmas often lead to misconceptions surrounding their physical and emotional effects. Through education and a quest for truth, we can dispel these myths and replace them with connection, understanding, and acceptance.
For more information on PMS, PPD, or menopause, contact Dr. Cobi Slater at drcobi.com or Dr. Sarah Nyrose at drsarahnyrose.com.
Did you know?
According to Dr. Cobi Slater, the most important step in balancing hormones is stress management. Create a stress inventory and identify the stressors that can be changed with an action step consisting of how and when it can be changed.
Strategies for all hormone conditions
- Eat well by choosing colourful vegetables and lean sources of protein for increased energy, and reduce refined flours to aid in digestion. Whole, unprocessed foods are best.
- Reduce stress with a stress inventory.
- Practise good sleep hygiene.
- Exercise to help produce natural endorphins and boost serotonin levels.