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Wellness One-oh-Ones: Menstrual Health

by Hannah Smith

Welcome to the Wellness One-oh-Ones, a digital encyclopedia for all your wellness needs. This series is geared to tackle those everyday questions you secretly ask yourself in wonderment when you hear about a new trend. Instead of pretending to know what people are talking about, come hang with us as we uncover the latest and greatest in the wellness industry. Check back every other Wednesday to pick up your refill — no doctor’s signature required.

This week’s Wellness One-oh-Ones will be a little different – no trendy powders, here! Instead, we’re getting real about period health. As it turns out, research is lacking when it comes to women’s health issues (though, we do recognize cis-gender women are not the only people who experience their period), so we connected with Dr. Nicole Glathe and Lulu Ge, co-founders of Elix, a menstrual wellness brand that creates custom herbal blends through a nearly 50 question quiz to help with any and all period symptoms you might be experiencing. Ahead, get some of your most TMI period questions answered. If you’re still struggling, take the Elix quiz for yourself – it sheds light on every little question you might have about your own cycle.

What are the most common period symptoms?

Dr. Nicole Glathe: About 2,000 women took Elix’s online health assessment during our 2 years of beta testing, and the most common symptoms experienced were: pain (98%), bloating (86%), fatigue (85%), mood swings (84%), breast tenderness (72%), headaches (71%), acne (65%), loose stools (53%), and constipation (44%).

What causes clotting? What can be done to combat that?

Dr. Nicole Glathe: Clots can be normal if small (peanut size or smaller) or they can be a sign of an underlying condition–ranging from mild, in the case of estrogen dominance / low progesterone, to more serious, in the case of fibroids or endometriosis.  If clots are larger than a quarter, it’s definitely time to see a doctor. Clots and other symptoms of hormonal imbalance can be helped by improved sleep, reduced stress, improving diet and getting more exercise, etc. 

What causes the dreaded “period poops”?

Dr. Nicole Glathe: Period poop is caused by the fluctuations of hormones around the cycle. Progesterone, which is high in the days leading up to the period, causes slowing of bowel movements. As progesterone drops as bleeding is about to start, prostaglandins become highly concentrated, which causes an increase in contractions of the uterus and also the intestines, in turn speeding up bowel movements. This creates the perfect situation for alternating constipation and loose stools.  Using the hormone balancing herbs in Elix Cycle Balance, upping fiber and water intake, avoiding processed or prepackaged foods, and using a probiotic can help.

What causes cramping in the lower back as opposed to abdominal cramps? Why? 

Dr. Nicole Glathe: This is likely due to something called referred pain, which is when pain is perceived at a location other than the site of the painful stimulus (in this case, uterine pain felt in the back). It is the result of a network of interconnecting sensory nerves, where the nerves of the uterus and lower back converge at the same level of the spinal cord, causing misinterpreted signals in the brain. Referred pain is incredibly common in period pain (experiencing in the lower back or thighs). It is worth noting that while referred pain is common, it is not common to have debilitating symptoms. It is always wise to seek medical attention if pain or symptoms become unmanageable as they might point to underlying conditions. 

Why are period symptoms so different for everyone?

Dr. Nicole Glathe: Every person experiences their cycle differently. Our genetic makeup, unique hormone fluctuations, environmental factors, sensory experience differences, among other factors can all create a unique set of symptoms. This was one of our biggest motivators in starting Elix and offering personalized, holistic solutions. Our Cycle Balance formulas vary based on what you tell us you are feeling.  

What are some of the most common period myths? 

Lulu Ge: The #1 most common one that we seek to put an end to is that extreme pain with our periods is “normal”. It is definitely not normal (or okay!) for women to experience such severe pain that causes us to miss out on our daily lives. That’s why we created Elix.

Dr. Nicole Glathe: Other period myths include being told that your cycle must be 28 days in order to be considered normal, that birth control regulates your cycle (it actually shuts down our hormonal pathways entirely), or that you can’t swim in the ocean while on your period (due to eminent shark attack).

How do herbal blends differ from age-old period drugs?

Lulu Ge: Pain killers essentially act as a band-aid solution that only temporarily mask the symptoms. The Elix herbal formulas actually treat the underlying root cause of hormonal imbalances that cause our painful symptoms–we like to think of it as healing starting at the root! 

What are some of the most common herbs used to combat menstrual symptoms and why? 

Dr. Nicole Glathe: Some of the most prevalent herbs are Corydalis (Yan Hu Suo): analgesic, anti-inflammatory, sedative; Szechuan lovage (Chuan Xiong): reduces spasms, pain, & inflammation; Angelica Sinensis (Dang Gui): regulates hormones & anti-inflammatory; Vitex Berry: Hormone and stress modulator, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory; Cyperus (Xiang Fu): hormone regulator, antioxidant & pain reliever.

Would you say research is lacking in this space? Perhaps a lack of women in the space? Is this maybe why there are so few helpful menstrual drugs?

Lulu Ge: Yes, 100%. Research funding and diversity in healthcare leadership and decision making is definitely lacking. It’s appalling that only 4% of U.S. healthcare research spending goes to fund women’s health issues. The gender disparity is clearly seen in scenarios where a men’s issue like erectile dysfunction, which affects <20% of men, receives 10 times more funding than PMS, which impacts up to 90% of women.

What drove you to start looking into alternative methods of dealing with menstrual pain? 

Lulu Ge: Three years ago, I went off hormonal birth control (after almost 16 years) and experienced a roulette wheel of debilitating menstrual symptoms. The only solution my OBGYN offered at the time was to go back on birth control but I hated how it made me feel nauseous, unsettled and often like my body was literally rejecting the pill. I also noticed more and more alarming headlines of potential side effects that we often aren’t warned about when going on the pill as young girls. My search for a holistic (and side-effect-free) solution (that actually works!) led me back to my generational roots in Chinese herbal medicine and teaming up with Dr. Nicole Glathe to launch Elix, so we can help girls, women and all people find safe and natural solutions to their period symptoms.

Feature Image via Elix

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