Periods are never fun.
Aside from some perks – sometimes slightly bigger breasts, and confirmation that you’re not involuntarily pregnant – there is no shortage of downsides.
From cramps to mood swings to break-outs to exhaustion, most women dread the menstrual and luteal (pre-menstrual stress) phases of their cycle.
But there is no period more painful and arduous than the one that comes in January, according to Alisa Vitti, a nutritionist and hormone specialist.
‘It’s a pattern I’ve observed over the past two decades,’ Vitti, founder of hormone advice center Flo Living, explained to Daily Mail Online.
‘Over the holidays, there are so many things which disrupt our endocrine system, leading up to that January period.
‘Many of us are traveling, you have disrupted sleep because of all the parties and family events, you’re also trying to finish things up at work which is stressful.
‘On top of that you’re eating a lot of sugar and carbs, which are endocrine-disruptive.
‘All of that is depleting the levels of essential micronutrients you need in your body to balance your hormes.
‘By the time you reach January, your hormone system is way more off-balance than usual, which means PMS and cramps are much worse.’
Vitti added: ‘This is precisely the time that you want to start the year fresh and when you’re feeling this way it’s really hard.
‘You shouldn’t expect garden variety PMS, expect it to be worse in January.’
THE 4 PERIOD PHASES
Phase one: menstruation
Once menstruation starts, most women feel a sense of relief.
In the days before, it is common to feel tense, irritable, and bloated, with pelvic pain, bad skin and sore breasts.
This hormonal shift typically makes women feel tired.
Phase two: follicular
This is the stage when women tend to feel fantastic.
As estrogen levels rise, so too does a woman’s libido and energy.
For about 10 days (time length varies from person to person), women tend to feel particularly attractive and strong.
It is called the ‘follicular phase’ because it is when the follicles in a woman’s ovaries get the eggs ready for release.
This happens because the pituitary gland releases Follicle Stimulating Hormones (FSH), which stimulates the follicles to mature.
Phase three: ovulation
Ovulation happens in the middle of your cycle – 14 days before your period starts.
It can happen anywhere between day 12 and day 16 of a woman’s cycle.
This stage is when mature eggs are released and pushed down the fallopian tube to be fertilized by sperm.
The egg is available for fertilization for about 12 to 24 hours. Sperm can survive in the uterus for up to five days.
Women are at their most active in this stage – and their sex drive is at its peak.
Phase four: luteal
This phase is long. The first two days will feel good. The rest is the hardest bit of the entire cycle.
Essentially, your uterus is being prepared for a possible pregnancy and the lining of your uterus becomes thicker.
Estrogen and testosterone levels plummet, and the body produces more progesterone, an anti-anxiety hormone that will make you feel calm and tranquil, as if you want to rest.
Then is the tough stage.
Pre-menstrual stress (PMS), cramps, headaches, break-outs, pain, lethargy, anger, tender breasts, weak legs, intense hunger – it all happens at this point.
BRACE YOURSELVES FOR THE NEW YEAR
Vitti explains the January pain all stems from two main issues:
1) Holiday stress and exhaustion
All the travel and activities naturally drive your body to produce more cortisol, the stress hormone.
If a woman is particularly stressed, the body many ‘steal’ supplies of progesterone (a sex hormone) to make more cortisol, since the two are molecularly similar.
However, progesterone is what you need in abundance to offset the spike in estrogen.
Estrogen dominance is the root cause of all the worst things about a period: weight gain, pre-menstrual stress, cramps, exhaustion, bad skin, breast-swelling, and crushed libido.
This can suppress ovulation and delay your luteal phase (which comes before menstruating), often worsening symptoms and delaying your period, which adds more stress.
2) Change in diet
‘Typically the holidays, food-wise, are endocrine-disruptive,’ Vitti explains.
‘In order for your endocrine system to perform properly it needs the building blocks to do its job: those building blocks are micronutrients.
‘These are all drained by alcoholic beverages or cakes or refined carbs – which we eat more of over the course of multiple days.
‘You excrete more micronutrients when you drink caffeine. The same thing happens with alcohol and sugar and poor sleep. They cause blood sugar fluctuations, which impact your cycle and make us more micronutrient deficient.
‘Ultimately, all of the activities and dinners over the holidays drain your micronutrient source and can make the deficiency much worse – so by the time you hit the January luteal phrase, you’re going to really feel it.’
IT’S WORSE FOR THESE WOMEN
1) Women with uterine conditions
Uterine conditions are surprisingly common – though under-diagnosed.
These include endometriosis (when the womb lining breaks off and attaches to other organs), polycystic ovary sydrome (or PCOS, which involves enlarged ovaries covered in small cysts), and fibroids (non-cancerous growths in the uterus).
All three of those conditions already aggravate period symptoms.
As a result, Vitti warns, paying attention to the gluttony and stress of the holidays is key.
‘If you have any of those, then this is definitely something you want to pay attention to because this is going to impact you more dramatically,’ Vitti explains.
‘It’s going to take you months to dig yourself out of this hormonal imbalance.’
2) Women on hormonal birth control
‘If you’re on the Pill or any other kind of synthetic birth control, all of these are already depleting your micronutrients,’ Vitti said.
‘Every single day that you take that medication depletes your micronutrients.
‘That’s why you need to take extra care to be getting extra micronutrients so that you’re not consistently deficient.’
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
Vitti, who has launched her own line of daily hormone-replenishing supplements, urges women to take five daily pills to refill their body with the depleted micronutrients it needs.
She also urges women to look at their diet – something which helped her personally as she battled PCOS years ago.
‘For you to live at your most vibrant level at any stage, you have to feed yourself the things that nurture and protect what makes you uniquely female — your hormones’ she writes on her site.
Yoga and light exercise also help to crush cortisol levels to alleviate cramps and stress during the luteal and menstrual phases.