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5 Tips for Boosting Productivity During PMS

Breast tenderness, bloating, and cramps make functioning at work difficult enough. Throw in cravings, low energy, mental fog, and mood swings, and you’ve got the recipe for feeling like an unproductive sludge. If you’re reading this right now, and you happen to be a female who menstruates/has previously menstruated, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Most of us have experienced these episodes before yet, know exactly how it can affect daily motivation. If this sounds like you, stay on with me as we uncover how to boost productivity during PMS.  First, let’s talk about what PMS is and then some at-home remedies you can do to improve your productivity (especially during that week before your flow).


What is PMS:

Premenstrual syndrome, experienced by most women of reproductive age, has symptoms of irritability, mood swings, weight gain, water retention, breast tenderness, bloating, cravings, difficulty sleeping, and fatigue. Discomfort is characterized during the luteal phase (second half of the cycle. How (and how long) women experience PMS varies where some may have a few symptoms for a couple of days before their period to others who have increased discomfort that substantially affects their daily lives.

What is PMDD

Some women experience significant physical, mental, and emotional distress in the last few days to weeks before their period, known as Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder. Symptoms consist of marked depression, low mood, anxiety, tension or feeling on edge, moodiness, tearfulness, irritability, easily fatigued, low interested in usual activities, distinct changes in appetite and sleep patterns.

PMS (and/or) PMDD kick in during the luteal stage; some women may even experience symptoms or discomfort as early as 2 weeks before their expected periods. Mood swings, irritability, bloating, and fatigue can really derail the productivity train if a significant chunk of the month is spent feeling moody and unmotivated. Over my years in practice working with women with PMS and PMDD I discovered that rather than working against the symptoms, it’s easier to recognize the patterns of PMS and take steps to prevent life from drowning in symptoms. Here are my top 5 tips for improving motivation and productivity during PMS.

5 tips to reducing symptoms + improve productivity during the luteal days

  1. EXERCISE! – Move that awesome, strong body of yours, girl! If you’re new to physical activity, or lack motivation, start with a 5 min walk break. Move around the room if you have to, get that blood flowing! Consistent aerobic exercise 3 times a week for 8 weeks reduces the severity of the physical symptoms of PMS. If aerobic exercise isn’t always your jam, yoga for 40 min a day 3 times a week for a month is another effective strategy to reduce symptoms of PMS.
  2. CUT THE SUGARS: Specifically, maltose. A recent study suggests that increased consumption of maltose (formed when two glucose molecules come together) is associated with the risk of developing PMS. Maltose is naturally produced in plants and seeds but high amounts can be found in bread, cereals, burgers, pizzas, pies, and more. Sweet potato also has maltose but one can argue that the nutritional benefits of a sweet potato outweigh its risk. Another study found that western diet patterns consisting of processed fast foods and soft drinks were associated with PMS compared to diets that had more nuts, fruits, and low processed foods did.
  3. VITAMIN D: Higher doses of vitamin D significantly reduced PMS in women as well as symptoms of dysmenorrhea like backache. **Note: Always talk to your naturopath or trusted health care provider before taking high doses of vitamin D! You can read more about vitamin D and hormones in my last article here!
  4. MINDFULNESS: Mindfulness-based practices like mediation (and yoga!) is associated with the reduction of anxiety and depression experienced by women with PMS. Try journaling your feelings, emotions, and thoughts that come up for you during your luteal phase and note if any patterns surface. Check-in with yourself daily and remember to speak to yourself kindly – you deserve it!
  5. SCHEDULE: But make it super easy and not hectic at all! Write out your top 3 priorities (or less) to complete in the day and break your day into small chunks of uninterrupted time, remembering to take breaks (to move around!) in between. Keeping your to-do list on the lighter side can offset some of the unmotivating effects of PMS (like fatigue, low energy, and irritability). Take naps when you need them because resting is okay! Try to schedule your busiest days for the first half of your cycle where you have the energy to effortlessly tackle your tasks.

PMS is experienced by many premenopausal women and symptoms range in severity as each woman endures a unique collection of symptoms. Being a woman doesn’t require that we put our lives and productivity on hold each month; re-inventing our schedules that support our health needs, eating well and consistent exercise helps us to be a productive badass woman! Try these tips yourself and when you notice improvement, share the article with other boss women in your life!

 


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Women with PCOS should get their vitamin D levels checked ASAP

(What is vitamin D?) Vitamin D or cholecalciferol is the active form of vitamin D (D3) in the body. The conversion of UVB rays from the sun with a form of cholesterol in the skin, form a precursor to active D3 in the body. Cholecalciferol (active vitamin D), is formed after some changes are made to the precursor vitamin D in both the liver and kidneys.

Vitamin D has many functions in the body; commonly known for its immune-supporting properties and ability to balance calcium in the blood (contributing to bone health), vitamin D levels have also been linked to women’s health and PCOS outcomes.

 

How does vitamin D levels in the body affect PCOS outcomes?

The short story is, the hormonal imbalances in PCOS contribute to the development of a lot of inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Vitamin D helps to decrease this inflammation with its anti-oxidant effects.

A study demonstrated that, when compared to controls, women with PCOS had lower serum vitamin D. Lower levels of vitamin D are associated with higher HOMA-IR (a marker that denotes insulin resistance in the body), and less favourable lipid levels in the blood. Women with both PCOS and who were deficient in vitamin D are more likely to have glucose dysregulation, increased levels of fasting blood sugar, thus, poor insulin resistance outcomes.

Another study found that supplementing vitamin D in women with PCOS, improved their hs-CRP (a marker for inflammation) and TAC (total antioxidant capacity).

Supplementing with vitamin D can improve insulin sensitivity, antioxidant capacity, and decrease inflammation, in women with hormonal imbalance and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Women with PCOS should get their vitamin D tested ASAP!

Now especially, as we head into the winter months, there is a lot less sun exposure (in the northern hemisphere) with the days becoming shorter. Individuals with high pigmentation in their skin produce less vitamin D and are prone to have decreased serum levels especially in the winter months. Women with PCOS, particularly those who live in climates with less sun exposure, should have their levels tested as soon as possible in the upcoming season. Knowing their patient’s serum levels helps the clinician adequately dose vitamin D such that a woman with PCOS may benefit from improved blood sugar control, less inflammation, and improved immune health.

Special considerations: A note on the dangers of overdosing:

Yes, it is totally possible to overdose on vitamin D. It is a fat-soluble hormone: it is stored in the body’s fat cells. (Unlike B-vitamins which are water-soluble and produce the most vibrant pee, one ever did see). Vitamin D toxicity (hypervitaminosis): the presence of vitamin D in serum is to increase the levels of calcium in the blood. Increased levels of vitamin D can lead to higher amounts of blood calcium which may cause symptoms of nausea, vomiting, urination, and weakness. It may also lead to kidney problems. This is usually rare but can be caused by significantly increased supplementation.

For the women who come see me in my practice, I run tests to assess their serum vitamin D levels prior to supplementing with higher doses (often when doing vitamin D injections). Knowing your levels is crucial in creating a treatment plan to replenish your stores, reduce your symptoms of PCOS, and improve your body’s insulin response.

 

Are vitamin D injections may be right for you? Book a virtual discovery session with me today!

 

 


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You’ve just been (or about to be) diagnosed with PCOS for your irregular periods, now what?

Why is lab work important in understanding the progression and underlying causes of PCOS and its symptoms?

Treating symptoms alone is a band-aid solution to correcting a problem. Treating symptoms without the necessary investigation is like blindly applying a band-aid to a boo-boo and hoping you get it in the right spot. Why would you do that?

Likewise, why blindly put a band-aid on your health? I see a lot of women in my practice who either have a PCOS diagnosis or symptoms of PCOS, with very basic or little to no investigative lab work. These ladies have irregular cycles, intense carb cravings, a mighty hard time to lose weight, hair loss, and acne, and a whole lot of feeling pretty low about their appearance, health, and self-esteem.

Though these signs can be a flaming red sign pointing to PCOS, there are other root causes worth exploring. Why? PCOS is more than just irregular periods; insulin, thyroid hormones, and inflammation all contribute to the pattern of symptoms present.

As a naturopathic doctor, I encourage the awesome ladies I treat in my practice to consider a COMPLETE hormone investigation. This takes out the guesswork in piecing together which hormones are triggering your PCOS symptoms (i.e.: is it adrenal or insulin triggered?) while also giving us a baseline to build their specific treatment plans on.

Here is a snippet of the hormone-related labs I like to run in my patients.

  1. HbA1C: Marker for measuring how your blood sugar has been in the past 3 months. HbA1C value between 6.0%-6.4% indicates pre-diabetes. How well your body is at processing blood sugar reveals the risk of developing/already having insulin resistance; a key player in the worsening of PCOS symptoms, weight gain, and inflammation.
  2. SHGB: Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (try saying that 10 times fast!) Produced in the liver, SHBG has a high binding affinity for DHT (the hormone that causes male-type symptoms) and Testosterone. SHBG is like a sponge soaking up all that excess testosterone, keeping it from floating around in the blood.
  3. Androstenedione: Produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands, this steroid hormone marker is overproduced by the ovaries in PCOS.
  4. DHT: Dihydrotestosterone is produced by the conversion of testosterone by 5-a-reductase (an enzyme). DHT binds much strongly to testosterone receptors, and high levels have been attributed to male pattern balding in men and women.
  5. Ferritin: The storage form of iron. Some symptoms of low iron include fatigue, low mood, feeling cold, weakness, and hair loss*.
  6. TSH: Thyroid Stimulating Hormone acts on the thyroid gland to tell it to produce thyroid hormones (T3 and T4). We Measure TSH, T3 and T4 to rule out thyroid issues that may be contributing to irregular periods, hair loss, weight gain (i.e. hypothyroidism can present with hair loss, weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles, coldness, fatigue).

Notice how many PCOS symptoms are also present in other conditions or are affected by several hormones? Testing estrogen, LH, and FSH aren’t enough to help us understand the full hormonal picture. Yes, the symptoms look a heck of a lot like PCOS and you may even have a polycystic ovarian syndrome diagnosis, but until we understand the root cause and other hormonal and organ involvements, management and treatments are just a shot in the dark or conventional birth control pills.

 

Think you have PCOS and want to know how your specific hormonal pattern is affecting your periods? Connect with me here and let’s talk about finally improving your hormones so you can finally have a happy period!


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Hormones and other factors that impact libido 

Girl. Female. Low libido, hormone imbalance, decreased sex drive. Naturopathic medicine helps to naturally support hormones in order to regain sex driveFemale Sexual Dysfunction affects an overwhelming number of women globally. Some studies estimate about 41% of premenopausal women experience some form of sexual dysfunction (1).

Female Sexual Dysfunction or FSD is defined as persistent or chronic problems with sexual activity including arousal, orgasm, or pain experienced by women. The causes are multifactorial and include chronic stress, side effects of medications including antidepressants or birth control, hormonal imbalances and (natural decreases in estrogen) menopause, and other health conditions such as depression, diabetes, hypothyroidism. How unsexy – but it doesn’t have to be!

This article will focus on some of the common causes of low libido in women, hormone testing for women, and naturopathic approaches to improving sexual desire.

 

What is arousal?

A physiological state where there are changes in muscular tension, organ size, heart rate, breathing, that create conditions for copulation. Aspects of arousal are defined by physiological responses such as increases in blood pressure and rate of breathing and a decrease in the activity of the digestive system. While primary arousal is mainly governed by the sympathetic nervous system (aka fight-or-flight nervous system), responses of the parasympathetic nervous system (aka rest-and-digest nervous system) also contribute to the patterns of arousal. Physiologically, arousal patterns are not limited to sexual activity and sympathetic (fight-or-flight) reactions are also present in periods of stress and danger.

How sexual arousal works:

There are 4 stages of arousal: Desire, Arousal, Orgasm, and Resolution.

  1. Desire: General physiological characteristics of the first phase include increased muscular tension, a quickening heart rate and accelerated pattern of breathing. The skin may become flushed and the nipples are erect. Genital blood flow increases and vaginal lubrication begins. Women may also experience swelling of the breasts and vaginal walls, as well as hardening of the nipples.
  2. Arousal: Characteristics of this phase are similar and more intense than the previous stage. Muscle spasms may begin as well as an increase in sensitivity to the erogenous zones.
  3. Orgasm: This phase lasts anywhere between 1-50 seconds in women and consists of involuntary vaginal muscular contractions, and sudden release of tension. A flush may appear over the body.
  4. Resolution: The final phase of arousal where the body slowly returns to its normal level of functioning and swelling of the breasts and vaginal walls reduce to pre-arousal size and colour.

Stress and libido:

In the literature, chronic psychosocial stress is defined as either a “major life event that induces an extended period of stress such as a death in the family” (2) or “the accumulation of small stressors that are frequently present, such as on-going deadlines, traffic, financial troubles” (2).

Steroid Hormone Pathway – Increased production of cortisol leads in a decreased production of sex hormones

Researchers noted that it was these smaller stressors, “daily hassles,” that had a profound negative effect on health as compared to a severely traumatic or stressful life incident. Daily hassles like being in traffic or deadlines that never seem to reach completion are related to sexual difficulties amongst individuals. A survey found that women with higher levels of chronic daily stress experienced increased amounts of sexual dysfunction and lower levels of sexual satisfaction; this was represented in a study measuring levels of genital arousal in women who experienced chronic stress (2). In the same population, women who experienced daily stressors had higher levels of salivary cortisol (the stress hormone). Sex drive in females is affected negatively by the presence of daily chronic stressors.

 

Medication and libido:

Nearly 60% of individuals globally reported sexual dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressant use (3). SSRI’s (a commonly prescribed class of antidepressant) have been linked to significantly decreased libido, arousal, duration and intensity of orgasm (3)

On the other hand, the use of oral contraceptives has mixed side effects, where many experience a decrease in libido. There are some women who do experience an increase in sexual desire (4)

Other conditions and libido:

Sexual dysfunction also presents in a variety of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, alcoholism, hormonal imbalances, thyroid disease, and as a symptom of depression; approximately 50% of women reported decreased sexual interest prior to treatment of depression (5).

The Naturopathic Approach

A naturopath will first conduct a thorough history and case taking in order to identify some lead causes that may be impacting a woman’s sex drive. Further investigation into hormone levels via blood, saliva, and urinary testing may be ordered when evaluating the root cause of sexual dysfunction. For instance, monitoring changes and imbalance in sex hormones (estradiol, testosterone, DHEA) and stress hormone (cortisol) illustrates that in the presence of chronically elevated cortisol, the sex hormones that are generally elevated during sexual stimulation/desire are lessened.

A naturopathic doctor will investigate all potential causes for low libido (hormonal, stress-related, side effect of a medication), and work with you to create an individualized treatment plan to gently stimulate your body’s natural arousal mechanisms.

Decreased or absent sex drives are frustrating and generally a symptom of a deeper problem.

Though every case is unique, it is important to note that there are no quick fixes and as with any health goal, lasting changes develop over time.

What can you do today to improve factors that negatively impact your libido?

  1. Start with stress! Kick your libido out of neutral and into drive! Practice a beginner’s breathing exercise. Our absolute favourite technique is 7-4-8 breathing. Start by sitting or lying comfortably without distraction and with your eyes closed. Inhale for 7 seconds through your nose. Pause for 4 seconds. Exhale through pursed lips for 8 seconds. Repeat.
  2. Create boundaries between yourself and daily stressors by not bringing them into the bedroom. This means, no work, no screens, no fighting – the bedroom is for sleep and sex only!
  3. Opt for whole foods that support the libido like maca, and limit heavily processed foods and sugars. Fun fact: Maca root consumption in postmenopausal women with sexual dysfunction caused by SSRI antidepressants, ALLEVIATED symptoms!
  4. Have a conversation with your naturopath, doctor, or pharmacist if you feel that your medications might be impacting your sex drive.

Interested in learning more?

Book in with our naturopath, Dr. Anousha Usman ND, at The Wellness Suite to rediscover your sexual wellness!

 

 

  1. Mccool, M. E., Zuelke, A., Theurich, M. A., Knuettel, H., Ricci, C., & Apfelbacher, C. (2016). Prevalence of Female Sexual Dysfunction Among Premenopausal Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Sexual Medicine Reviews,4(3), 197-212.doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2016.03.002
  2. Hamilton, L. D., & Meston, C. M. (2013). Chronic Stress and Sexual Function in Women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine,10(10), 2443-2454.doi:10.1111/jsm.12249
  3. Higgins, A. (2010). Antidepressant-associated sexual dysfunction: Impact, effects, and treatment. Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety,doi:10.2147/dhps.s7634
  4. Higgins, J. A., & Smith, N. K. (2016). The Sexual Acceptability of Contraception: Reviewing the Literature and Building a New Concept. The Journal of Sex Research,53(4-5), 417-456.doi:10.1080/00224499.2015.1134425
  5. Kennedy, S. H., Eisfeld, B. S., Dickens, S. E., Bacchiochi, J. R., & Bagby, R. M. (2000). Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction During Treatment With Moclobemide, Paroxetine, Sertraline, and Venlafaxine. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry,61(4), 276-281.doi:10.4088/jcp.v61n0406

 


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