How to Heal Difficult Periods: Treat the Root Cause -

How to Heal Difficult Periods: Treat the Root Cause


Treating the cause, not the symptom is the bedrock of naturopathic medicine. Instead of asking “what drug or medication do we use?”, we ask, “what caused these symptoms in the first place?”. Causes are few and symptoms many. Good medicine seeks to look at the common denominator that unites disparate symptoms to streamline, simplify and direct a treatment plan.

In my experience as a holistic health practitioner, the menstrual cycle is vulnerable to these environmental influences. Taking a root cause approach is what I have seen to be effective at making lasting change.

The five root causes are:

  1. Chronic stress
  2. Gut imbalances
  3. Food triggers and nutrient insufficiencies
  4. Detoxification
  5. Immunity and inflammation


Menstruation is a Health Guide

Isolating menstrual cycle issues in a silo, unconnected to these other areas of health, is lazy medicine and leads to temporary symptom control. A regular, symptom-free menstrual cycle is a byproduct of good health. Cycle challenges are a signal that something deeper is going on and requires your attention.

It takes 100 days for a follicle in the ovary to mature into an egg, ready to be ovulated. Cycle healing is a long game!
Thinking about healing our body in seasonal time (a.k.a three-month chunks) opposed to short term thinking, is how we can get ourselves aligned to the mindset needed to re-correct hormonal imbalances. This longer timeline allows your menstrual cycle to reflect how your health is progressing. Seen in this way, your menstrual cycle is a faithful barometer of your overall health.


Root Cause Medicine Works With the Healing Power of Nature

Trusting in the healing power of nature and your body is a force that requires respect and trust. The idea is to remove obstacles to health, add in the missing elements and allow nature to do the rest. Let’s take a tour of the root causes and how they can impact your menstrual cycle.

Chronic Stress

Our stress response is connected to our survival system. Humans are wired to respond to danger. This wiring is why our species has been successful at populating the world.

Stress occurs in both our nervous system and hormone system. Our nervous system uses a centre in the brain called the amygdala, which picks up on dangers in our environment fast. The amygdala communicates with two hormone glands called the hypothalamus and the pituitary. These glands communicate with all the hormone glands in the body to swing into action and release stress hormones.

Our modern lives are filled with triggers that can chronically activate this stress system. The stress response is not only activated by mental and emotional stress but also from hidden stressors, such as underlying infections, microbiome imbalances, food triggers, inflammation and different toxins our bodies are exposed to through our environment.

If we are chronically activated in a stress response without adequate time to rest, chronic stress signs are the result. These signs include insomnia, especially waking between 2- 3 am, fatigue, anxiety, depression, irritability, overwhelm, sugar and carbohydrate cravings, over and under-eating.

In the menstrual cycle, chronic stress can show up as exacerbation of all menstrual symptoms, especially premenstrual mood swings, irregular cycles, delayed ovulation, no periods, light periods, fatigue, difficulty shifting weight, holding weight on the belly and brain fog.

Toxin Overload

Your detoxification system involves your liver and organs of elimination, which include breath from the lungs, sweat through the skin, urine through the bladder and poop through the digestive system. All your hormones are processed through the liver, and if overburdened, can lead to hormones not being able to be processed and eliminated efficiently.

Signs of toxin overload include:

  • Sensitivity to cleaning products, perfumes and other chemical odours
  • An intolerance to caffeine or alcohol.
  • Multiple food intolerances or allergies
  • Experiencing brain fog or chronic fatigue.

In the menstrual cycle, toxin overload can lead to many symptoms that involve high estrogen, symptoms including:

  • Early puberty in young girls
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (also known as an anovulatory androgen excess)
  • Subfertility
  • Irregular cycles
  • Fibroids
  • Cyclic breast tenderness
  • Premenstrual syndrome.
  • Heavy periods
  • Endometriosis

Gut Imbalances

The impact of gut health is profound. Digestion is the centre of your health, and it’s essential for the functioning of our mood and mental wellbeing and ability to absorb nutrients. Several bacterial species in the gut flora, known as the microbiome, handle processing and detoxifying estrogen (among thousands of other actions!).

Printable moon map and fertility chart by Clara Bitcon Bailey Naturopath

Signs of digestive imbalances include bloating, chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea, gas and dark circles under your eyes. In the menstrual cycle, gut imbalances can show up as all signs of hormonal imbalance due to the central role the microbiome plays in hormonal handling. Additionally, if you’re unable to absorb nutrients due to gut imbalance, you’ll likely have a nutrient deficiency at play also.

Food Triggers and Nutrient Imbalances

Food is information for your body; it’s what you encode your health with. In the West, it’s common for folks to be low in

  • vitamin D
  • iodine
  • magnesium
  • zinc
  • B vitamins
  • and essential fatty acids.

What’s fascinating about these common deficiencies is that all these nutrients are essential for the proper functioning of the hormones involved in the female reproductive system.

Why are these common deficiencies? Because our soils have been depleted in these nutrients due to modern agricultural practices. We typically don’t eat a lot of sea vegetables nor small fish. We don’t spend much time outdoors in the sun like our ancestors once did. And (you’ll see how all these root causes start connecting) us humans are experiencing higher stress lives, which leads to higher nutrient demands.

Symptoms in the menstrual cycle that may indicate that you have food triggers is any of the digestive symptoms in addition to menstrual cramps, irregular cycles or hormonal acne.

Root Cause Medicine tip. Following an elimination food plan and gut restoration process is an effective way to identify food triggers and restore your digestive function so that you can get the most out of your diet moving forward. Once restored, eating a colourful balanced diet with lots of healthy fats and bringing in a couple of high-quality supplements, including a multivitamin, magnesium, vitamin D, and kelp can fill in many nutritional gaps.

Immunity and Inflammation

Immunity is your body’s defence system. Its function is to identify threats, stage a defence response to protect you and store the memory of that threat to stage a faster response next time you’re exposed to that threat.

Your total ecology influences the strength of your immune system over your lifetime. All the other root causes influence immunity. Immune imbalances and excess inflammatory signs include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Recurring viral infections such as glandular fever, Cytomegalovirus or herpes viruses
  • Getting sick of all the time
  • Recurring UTIs
  • Recurring bacterial vaginosis
  • Painful periods (more specifically linked to inflammation).
  • Endometriosis (a whole-body inflammatory and immune disease)


Tending To Your Cycle with Root Cause Medicine

As you can see, taking a root cause approach is an elegant way to take care of your health and your menstrual cycle. It’s an approach that can catalyse profound shifts and lasting change. I hope post can help you focus your energy and attention in the right direction.

If you’d like to learn about your cycle, and it’s different phases, make sure you download my free eBook “Menstrual Cycle Masterclass” over here.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

On Sensible Approaches to Estrogen Excess
Cycles in the Time of COVID
Efficacy of Non-Hormone Based Birth Control Options
Vitalism, Menstruation and Balancing with Opposites


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Resources & References:

Bland, J. (2015). Functional Medicine: An Operating System for Integrative Medicine. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 14(5), 18–20.

Bland, J. S. (1995). Psychoneuro-nutritional medicine: An advancing paradigm. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 1(2), 22–27.

Bland, J. S., Minich, D. M., & Eck, B. M. (2017). A Systems Medicine Approach: Translating Emerging Science into Individualized Wellness. Advances in Medicine, 2017, 1718957.

Iwata, M., Ota, K. T., & Duman, R. S. (2013). The inflammasome: Pathways linking psychological stress, depression, and systemic illnesses. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 31, 105–114.

Minich, D. M., & Bland, J. S. (2013). Personalized lifestyle medicine: Relevance for nutrition and lifestyle recommendations. TheScientificWorldJournal, 2013, 129841.

Pizzorno, J. (1996). Total Wellness: Improve Your Health by Understanding the Body’s Healing Systems (First Edition edition). Prima Lifestyles.

Romm, A. (2009). Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, 1e (1 edition). Churchill Livingstone.

Trickey, R. (2004). Women, Hormones & the Menstrual Cycle: Herbal & Medical Solutions from Adolescence to Menopause (Fully revised and updated edition edition). Allen & Unwin.

Women's Health Issues & Conditions

August 25, 2021

  1. […] first place to begin is to take a deeper, more intentional look at your body and wellness. I have a health inventory process that looks at all the body’s major systems and highlights a… This way, you know where to focus your energy. Combine this with some preconception bloodwork […]

  2. You’re amazing. Thank you for all your beautiful, generous, informative, wholistic, healing advice.
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