Normal vs. Abnormal Shifts Before Your Period

Most of us have been taught that our periods are not a fun time. They are painful, messy, and something to be dreaded. This is definitely the messaging I got as a young girl and something I still see memes about all over the internet today. The reason this messaging is harmful is because while these symptoms may be common, they are not normal.

Period Pain Isn’t Normal

First of all, let’s defineperiod pain. Period pain can be cramping, pelvic pain, low back pain, headaches, and migraines.

  • Headaches and migraines are most often caused by excess estrogen or a lack of progesterone to balance out estrogen (I call this unopposed estrogen). They can also be caused by big shifts in hormones. For example, when we get a headache or migraine right before or during our period it’s usually because our estrogen went from very high to low (our hormones are lowest during our period).
    • Things that can help:
      • Try taking magnesium as soon as you feel a headache/migraine coming on.
      • Increase cruciferous veggies during your luteal phase.
  • Cramps/muscle/pelvic pain are caused by inflammatory prostaglandins. These are inflammatory compounds that increase during your period and lead to more inflammation. More inflammation = more pain. This is a huge reason I focus on reducing inflammation in my clients with endometriosis. Endometriosis is an immune disease so inflammation is going to make symptoms much more.
    • Things that can help:
      • Increasing omega 3 rich foods (wild fish, pasture raised eggs and meat, flaxseeds) or supplement with a quality omega 3 supplement (I like Nordic Naturals) the week leading up to your period.
      • Ginger is one of the best anti-inflammatory and pain reducing herbs. This is my personal go-to. I keep ginger root on hand always (I love whipping up a simple stir fry with it).
      • Increasing magnesium the week before your period helps with cramps as well.
      • Turmeric is anti-inflammatory so taking this regularly can help reduce pain longterm.

If you want more support for a healthy period, here’s my free healthy period guide.

Why Do I Feel Insane Before My Period?

Mood swings before your period are most often due to an imbalance in estrogen and progesterone. In order for things to be smooth sailing, we need these hormones to be at similar levels (see image below).

When estrogen and progesterone are not at similar levels (no matter if individual levels are high or low) it an lead to unwanted symptom. What I see the most frequently is unopposed estrogen. This means progesterone is lower than estrogen, leaving it looking high (even if estrogen levels are normal), which leads to mood swings, acne, weight gain, bloating, etc.

You can also have the opposite–high progesterone and low estrogen. This is not as common, but I do see it. Some women don’t have any pre-period symptoms with this and other get headaches/migraines due to low estrogen levels. Some other common symptoms of high progesterone include fatigue, dizziness, waking feeling groggy, low sex drive, spinning sensations.

The best way to reduce mood swings before your period is to approach it like a longterm game. Our current period is impacted by the last 100 days. No matter what imbalance you’re dealing with, it takes time for that imbalance to occur.

Focusing on reducing stress, feeding yourself appropriately, adding in flaxseeds & cruciferous veggies, and prioritizing sleep can all help. If you want to learn to eat for your hormones and have awesome periods, I recommend downloading my free healthy period guide. 

Tell Me The Truth, Are Cravings Normal?

Time to address the thing that got me fired up to write this in the first place–pre period cravings. It’s normal to have cravings leading up to your period. You have having hormone shifts and your body is working hard. Your metabolism even increases a bit leading up to your period, which means you require a couple more hundred calories a day. If you are feeling a bit hungrier and wanting certain foods, that’s normal AND healthy. I don’t care what anyone else says.

If your cravings are really strong and all month long, that’s not normal and there could be a deeper issue. I always recommend having a healthy treat on hand before your period.

Learn more about period pain and things that can help in my podcast episode Period Pain Toolkit.

reminder: i’m currently taking on 1:1 clients. if you’d like to explore what it would be like to work together and if we are a good fit, fill out this form to get more details!​

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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