Did you know up to 50% of Americans are deficient in magnesium? This has significant health implications because magnesium is needed to make hormones, detox, and take care of countless other vital processes in the body. Are you deficient? What can you do about it?
Dr. Eric Karchmer is a doctor of Chinese medicine and co-founder of DAO Labs. In this episode we talk about his clinical experience, the concept of Chinese medicine and how it applies to women's health, and Chinese formulas.
Here's what you'll hear:
Min 02:20 Introduction to Dr. Eric Karchmer & his education
Min 07:50 Dao Labs & Chinese medicine
Min 11:25 The concepts of Chinese medicine for women's cycles
Min 19:20 Eating cold food
Min 21:45 Blood deficiency & Dao Labs' formulas
Min 29:10 Formulas for perimenopause & menopause
Min 36:50 Selling formulas directly to consumers
Min 43:10 Formulas for PMS
Min 44:40 Seeing & treating clients
Min 47:35 Sourcing for herbs & testing for purity
Private Coaching with Bridgit
Check out our current coaching options on our website HERE.
If I were to ask 10 women on the street, “What is peri-menopause?,” I would probably get just 1 out of 10 who would know the answer, at best.
Peri-menopause is the about 10 year period before the full stopping of your period, called menopause. The stopping of your menstrual period doesn’t just come out of nowhere, it happens after a slow decline of ovarian function.
Your ovaries, the two little organs that shoot out an egg every month when you ovulate, come to life at puberty, and peak around 27 years of age. After that, their function starts to decline very gradually, and then much more rapidly.
If you recall your teenage years, you may remember having acne, mood swings and irregular periods. This was because your brain was learning to work with your newly active ovaries together.
At peri-menopause, you may also have hormonal symptoms, that could include:
So why do the symptoms of peri-menopause happen?
Sadly, you can’t live forever, or make babies forever. Your genes are programmed to turn on your reproductive powers at puberty, and gradually fade them before menopause.
As you entered puberty, your ovaries started making estrogen, the dominant female hormone, like crazy. You grew breasts and hips and your periods may have been really intense.
You rode this nice estrogen high with gorgeous skin and a healthy sex drive in your 20s. But as you aged, your ovarian function declined and you made less estrogen, slowly.
Just like in puberty, the brain is trying its best to work with the ovaries at peri-menopause. Some months it's pushing them to work harder, and estrogen level go up. Other months estrogen levels are low. This is a normal aspect of peri-menopause, but it can result in symptoms.
Because the eggs in the ovaries aren't as prime in our older years, their function is less robust. This leads to less progesterone production, the hormone that is made after your ovulate, in the second half of your cycle. It is also normal that progesterone declines, but this change can again cause symptoms.
Here’s one last detail: you make a certain type of estrogen, estradiol, in your reproductive years. As you shift towards menopause, another type of estrogen, estrone, becomes dominant. But that shift is a little rough on your body, because it got used to using estradiol for many years.
You don’t have to be a victim of your changing hormones. Once you get to know your hormones and what they need, you can be the hero in your own hormone story.
Stayed tuned for information on how to best take care of yourself in these years to avoid symptoms as much as possible!
Bridgit Danner is at the author of this article and the founder of Women's Wellness Collaborative.
She designed a private, collaborative coaching service exclusively for women which utilizes the accuracy of functional medicine for outstanding results.
As I prepared for this article, I googled “tips for PMS.” Some suggestions were basic but good, such as stopping smoking. Others were very disappointing, like use ibuprofen for cramps or take antidepressants for severe symptoms. Yes those are solutions, but only temporary ones. They don’t get to the root of your PMS problem. And for actual prevention, that’s what you need.
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, was first defined as a group of symptoms with no known cause that arises before or during your menstrual cycle. In our modern culture, it’s become a common term and an expected part of having a period.
PMS is actually not a required part of your life, and it does have a cause: low progesterone / estrogen dominance. Why you get into this pattern will vary with each woman, but there are a few main culprits.
For today I’m going to give some of my best tips for PMS I’ve learned over my 12 years working with women.
1. Drink Water
Ok, this one may seem too easy. You drink it everyday. But if you aren’t getting enough water for your cells to function properly or for your body to detoxify, you can have symptoms of PMS.
Some of my clients have relieved their symptoms just by making sure to drink eight 8 oz. glasses of water per day in the week before their period.
Ideally we should all drink that much pure water everyday. Tip: start right away with a glass in the morning, and keep water near you to sip between meals all day.
2. Get More Magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that we need to make progesterone in the second half of our cycle, and the we need to prevent menstrual cramps.
Food sources of magnesium include sunflower seeds, beans, nuts, dark leafy greens, avocado and dark chocolate! That’s often why you crave it around your period!
If you are thinking, “well I take a multivitamin,” check the amount you’re getting on your bottle. Magnesium is very bulky and the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of 400 mg of magnesium can’t fit in a one-a-day pill.
Magnesium bisglycinate chelate is one of the best absorbed forms of magnesium, and this is the one that I have chosen to use personally. Click here to learn how to tell if you have a magnesium deficiency, or check out my favorite brand here.
3. Take Fish Oil
Fish oil is anti-inflammatory, and quelling inflammation allows your cells to receive hormonal signals. Translation: your hormones won’t be going wack-a-doodle. Fish oil also prevents inflammation that can cause cramps. And it helps regulate the immune system in cases of autoimmunity that can be involved in female disorders such as endometriosis.
However, finding a high-quality fish oil is essential, and it’s not always easy. Read my article on healthy fats (including fish oil) here, and check out my favorite brand here.
4. Eat Fiber
Fiber is an unsung hero for hormones. To have balanced hormones, you need to clear out old hormones. How do you do that? You need to support your liver and digestive tract.
Fiber helps you move your bowels so toxins aren’t reabsorbed. It also supports a healthy gut microbiome (the community of organisms in your digestive tract) so that you make vitamins and brain chemicals, which further keeps you balanced. You also get all the good stuff out of food through a healthy gut. If I haven’t totally convinced you yet, fiber keeps your gut healthy. An unhealthy gut is a major source of inflammation, which as you learned is no bueno for your hormonal health.
I’m not talking about that weird fiber you buy from the drugstore and mix into water. Aim for eight different sources of fiber a day from a variety of leafy veggies, root vegetables, fruits and gluten-free whole grains and seeds. In a week, aim for twenty different sources. The more variety is the better, so try new foods from the produce section and from your farmers’ market.
You want to get 30 gm of fiber a day, which is kind of a lot. I get extra by adding hemp seed and chia seed to my smoothies.
5. Dose Up on Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is a power compound for women’s health. B6 is needed to make progesterone in the second phase of your menstrual cycle. If you are deficient, you could end up with PMS, a short cycle or spotting. This factors into fertility issues as well.
If you take a good-quality multivitamin, you are getting a dose of B6. But if you have severe PMS, you may want to try a high dose for a few months, along with some of the other tips in this article.
Some food sources of B6 are brown rice, liver, beef, lentils, tuna, banana, cashews, cabbage and turkey.
The RDA for B6 for women in their childbearing years is 1.3 mg. I would try taking 100 mg a day for 3 months. You can use the same dose (divided into 25 mg doses) for morning sickness.
6. Try Borage Oil
Borage oil is derived from cold-pressing the seeds of the borage, or starflower, plant. This oil is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and is high in GLA (gamma-linoleic) fatty acids. You may have heard of using evening primrose oil for PMS, and that is good too, but borage oil is higher in GLA; it’s the highest of any seed oil.
It may be that, like black cohosh, it’s the potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of borage oil that enable your glands and organs to function correctly, thus alleviating PMS.
I recommend 1 capsule a day in the two weeks before your period.
7. Get Sleep
When you sleep, you heal. You make growth hormone and repair tissues. When you don’t sleep, you get cranky and have food cravings. Then you eat a doughnut, feel guilty and feel sick.
When you are trying to fix PMS, you want to create as much stability as possible in your body. This makes the changes that come with a menstrual cycle much easier to endure.
So please get about eight hours of sleep each night. Some of us need a bit more, and some a bit less. Your sleep timing is also important. At 10 PM your adrenal glands start to repair, so you want to be sleeping like a beauty by then.
8. Avoid the Sweet Stuff
What do processed sweets and starches, pumpkin lattes and wine have in common? They all disrupt your blood sugar and contribute to PMS. I know it’s not what you want to hear, but it’s so, sister.
When your blood is often high is sugars, your cells block more sugars from coming inside. This is called insulin resistance. (Insulin is the hormone that helps delivers the sugars.) This insulin lingering in your blood can cause increased production of testosterone, which converts to estrogen, and now you have that estrogen dominance / low progesterone state of PMS.
I invite you to spend a full menstrual cycle avoiding the sweet stuff and trying these other tips and see what happens in your cycle. If you think about giving up lattes forever, it’s too much. But you can commit to a month, and once you fall off the wagon and symptoms resurface, it’s much easier to choose to avoid the sweet stuff.
If you are going to eat a processed carbohydrate or sweet, pair with protein, fat and fiber so it won’t spike your blood sugar as much.
Tips 9 & 10: Acupressure and Essential Oils
These times are brought to you, in video form, by my friend and colleague, Brodie Welch, LAc. Enjoy!
What are YOUR best tips for PMS? We'd love to read them in the comments below!
Have a friend who is struggling with PMS? Please post this article on social media and tag her.
More Help for Your Hormones
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Add in a simple 5 minute routine to have more energy for the day!
Grab our Five-Day DIY Detox Guide and get some spring back in your step, naturally.
This article is suitable for: Perfect Periods, Fertility, Post-Partum and Perimenopause
I am creating a new online quiz, and as I compiled the reasons behind various conditions- PMS, infertility, postpartum depression, disruptive menopause- one reason was dominating the answer field: low progesterone.
I don’t know why the sheer dominance of the pattern just hit me now after years of research! Hopefully I can save YOU a few more years of hormonal confusion with this article. This article is suitable for women in any stage of life!
What is Progesterone?
Progesterone is a hormone made primarily in the ovaries by the corpus luteum (the tissue left behind after you release an egg at ovulation). It is also made by the adrenal glands, and if you are peri-menopausal or menopausal with infrequent or no ovulation, then you really rely on the adrenals as a source of progesterone.
Progesterone has various functions in the body:
After your ovulate, it helps ‘ripen’ your uterine lining, preparing for a possible pregnancy
Raises your basal body temperature in the second half of the cycle
Serves a precursor hormone to cortisol, your energy/stress hormone made by the adrenal glands
Lifts you mood and calms your body
Prevents water retention
Helps the cells utilize fats
Helps maintain blood sugar levels
You can surmise by the list above that if you are low in progesterone, you may have some of the opposite effects- bloated, moody, can’t sleep, craving sugar, gaining weight, and periods are irregular or heavy.
How Does Low Progesterone Happen?
Low progesterone can occur for many reasons that are very common in modern life, which is likely why I am seeing this pattern so frequently with my clients.
1. Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance is both a cause and a result of low progesterone.
It’s a cause because you can get too high in estrogen due to carrying excess body weight, and your fat tissue produces estrogen. Even if you are thin, you can put yourself into excess estrogen if you have high blood sugar and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a state in which your cells block insulin from getting inside because your blood sugar is too frequently too high.
Symptoms of blood sugar dys-regulation include: feeling hungry all the time, getting very irritable if you miss a meal (or a snack), fatigue, weight gain around the middle, acne.
The most common hormonal disorder amongst women of reproductive age is PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome. In this condition, there is insulin resistance, high androgen production, and disordered function of the ovaries. This often leads to missing or infrequent ovulation. As you learned already, most of our progesterone is made after you ovulate, so you don't ovulate, then you won't make much progesterone, and you'll be in estrogen dominance.
Another major disruptor are xenoestrogens, which are synthetic compounds that activate estrogen receptors in the body.
Some key sources of xenoestrogens are:
Commercially-raised meat and dairy products
Medications, including birth control pills
Non-organic foods (with traces of pesticide)
Shampoos, body lotions and perfumes (contain xenoestogenic compounds unless all natural)
Bleached tampons and sanitary pads
You can see that it’s easy to get exposed to a lot of xenoestrogens in day! The xenoestrogens in your body confuse the feedback loop between your brain and your ovaries. If your liver is overloaded, you won’t break down these xenoestrogens well, and they can get stored up in fat tissue (hello, belly fat) for you body to handle later.
Here’s an article by the Environmental Working Group if you’d like to deepen your research on this topic.
Even if you don't have excess estrogen, if progesterone is low, you can still end up in estrogen dominance.
Estrogen and progesterone play a seesaw game over the course of a month, and over the course of your life as a woman. Estrogen is needed to stimulate your ovaries and grow your uterine lining in the first part of your cycle. This strong first half leads to strong progesterone in the second half, unless something goes wrong. The following points can all be causes of low progesterone.
2. Poor Nutrition
With the busyness of modern life, it’s easy to choose processed foods, caffeinated drinks and sugary pick-me-ups. Living in a grind, without time to reflect and connect, can also draw us towards ‘comfort food,’ or that after-work glass of wine.
Besides these easy-to-make poor choices of modern life, even organic food is not as nutritious as it used to be, due to decreased soil quality. And let’s face it, we don’t alway eat organic, whether it’s because we don't have access, we can’t afford it or we’re eating out.
The last point I’ll mention here is weak digestion. When we’re stressed, have taken antibiotics, don’t chew our food, etc., we aren’t getting the most out of the food we eat.
How does this contribute to low progesterone? We need certain ingredients to make and utilize hormones. You need enough B6 and cholesterol for progesterone production, but there is more to it than that. All our micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates) are needed for the proper functioning of our coordinated hormonal system.
You are a highly productive woman, but you are likely under chronic stress. (If not, congratulations!) Stress can come from so many places: your commute, the chemicals in your environment, a tense relationship, an undiagnosed dental infection, etc. Chronic stress makes your adrenal glands react with a high level of cortisol…at least at first. In this stage you may feel wired, not be able to sleep, not be able to focus on sex, feel anxious, etc.
As you learned earlier, progesterone is a precursor to cortisol. So if you are making lots of cortisol, is it fair to assume that your progesterone level is being affected? Yup.
Have a look at the chart to the right. Not only will you burn through progesterone to make cortisol, your body will start to favor that pathway at the expense of your other sex hormones: testosterone and estrogen (pictured at lower right).
Remember how you learned earlier that progesterone is made mainly by the corpus luteum? There is another hormone that is needed to get you to a nice, strong ovulation: estrogen. Estrogen is made by the ovaries, upon signaling by your brain, to stimulate your ovarian follicles and mature a healthy egg in the first half of your menstrual cycle.
This is why we can’t overly focus on the low progesterone aspect. We have to look ‘upstream’ at what other hormones are being affected and what’s really behind our imbalances.
Low cortisol can be related to some other symptoms like catching colds and flus frequently, getting dizzy easily, or feeling overwhelmed easily.
Perimenopause is the ten year period before menopause during which your ovarian function is declining. For some women, they are still getting a period pretty regularly and feeling pretty good. For others, this ten year period can be tumultuous. After learning about stress and nutrition above, I’m sure you could guess these things could play in to a rockier perimenopause.
But this declining ovarian function is natural. As your egg quality declines with age (even if you’re enjoying low stress and good nutrition) you could still fail to ovulate, or ovulate a ‘weak’ egg, and its corpus luteum may not produce as much progesterone.
As you learned earlier, the adrenals can pick up some slack…as long as they aren’t depleted from years of stress and malnutrition!
There is another change that is occurring too, especially as you get close to menopause: the main type of estrogen you use is changing form estradiol to estrone, and this a big switch for your body. You have different receptors for estradiol versus for estrone, so there can be some ‘wobbles,’ such as memory lapses or hot flashes as you go through this process. You can also have what feels like constant PMS, and that’s no good! Be sure to read our ‘what to do to support progesterone’ section at the end of this article.
What’s another time that you are not ovulating for natural reasons? Pregnancy and postpartum! While you are pregnant you are on a hormonal high, with corpus luteum and then the placenta producing producing very high amounts of estrogen and progesterone, up to 30-50 times higher than your non-pregnant level!
But after childbirth, your hormones levels drop like a bad habit. This can produce some of the same reactions as in perimenopause, like night sweats and depression.
As you breastfeed, you are high in the hormone prolactin, and that inhibits ovulation. As you are learning no ovulation leads to low progesterone. Again, your adrenal glands can pick up the slack, but if you came into pregnancy with moodiness and poor stress-handling, you likely will end up there again after childbirth. Be sure to read through for our 'fixes' at the end!
6. Low Thyroid Function
Lastly, let’s learn about low thyroid function. If you have an under-functioning thyroid, whether due to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or another reason, it can affect your progesterone. This happens in two ways:
When you have low thyroid function, you have decreased sex-hormone binding globulin (that’s a mouthful) which binds up sex hormones like estrogen, possibly letting estrogen levels get too high compared to progesterone.
Because thyroid hormone stimulates activity in every area of the body, when thyroid hormone is low, your production of sex hormones will be low.
It’s estimated that up to 15% of Americans have thyroid disease, if you include subclinical hyptothyroidism. Up to 10% of women will experience post-partum thyroiditis. Women are 5-10% more likely to have thyroid disease than men, and the age group over 50 is most at risk. (Source: Your Healthy Pregnancy with Thyroid Disease by Dana Trentini and Mary Shomon,
How are we getting to this heightened incidence of hypothyroidism? Again, the factors of modern life are the perfect storm for it: high stress, toxins everywhere, an ‘altered’ food supply.
Autoimmune Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is the leading cause of hypothyroidism. The gut, as we discussed in the Poor Nutrition section and will discuss again in the closing section, is a key area of focus in healing Hashimoto’s. When peptides (parts of the protein in foods) cross the gut barrier into the blood stream it stresses the system and the immune system responds by going after those peptides that shouldn’t be there. But the trouble is that this dysregulated immune system will also attack the body’s own tissue, in this case the thyroid gland.
The most touted symptoms of low thyroid are foggy thinking, cold limbs, fatigue, hair loss, constipation and weight gain. But I fight with hypothyroidism and I am skinny and tend more towards loose stool, and luckily still have all my hair! There are many manifestations of hypothyroidism, so it’s worth taking a deeper look if you suspect you may have hypothyroidism. A great place to start looking is the website of Dr. Izabella Wentz, aka the Thyroid Pharmacist.
What to Do to Support Progesterone Production:
Herbs and Supplements:
Maca- Maca is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it can adapt to find and serve the needs of your body. It can increase your energy by supporting your adrenal glands. My friend Dr. Anna Cabeca, who developed a green drink mix called Mighty Maca, says that in a before and after lab test, her client’s DHEA doubled using Might Maca. DHEA is a precursor to our sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, so that’s great news! Testosterone, by the way, is the dominant sex hormone in men, but women do need and want it for sex drive, muscle tone and confidence, among other things.
Vitamin C- The ‘simple’ vitamin C is greatly needed by your adrenal glands. So boosting your supply of this vitamin helps your adrenal glands make more hormones. Food sources include fresh broccoli (not so much week old broccoli), peppers and lemons. As a supplement, look for alma powder or a vitamin C with bioflavonoids. It’s also in the Might Maca powder mentioned above. You can take quite a bit; I’d suggest 1,000 - 3,000 mg/day. Check with your doctor if you have any special medical conditions.
Vitex- Vitex, or Chaste Tree Berry, has a special ability to support your brain’s communication with your ovaries. This can really support a strong ovulation and a resulting high progesterone level in the second part of your cycle.
Avoid processed foods, gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. According to Dr. Tom O’Bryan, author of the Autoimmune Fix, gluten, sugar and dairy are the three biggest triggers of autoimmunity and inflammation. Learn more in my podcast interview of Dr. Tom.
Fill your day with thing like hot lemon water and smoothies in the morning (I like to pair my smoothie with bacon or sausage), generous salad with nuts and beans at lunch, and fish or meat and veggies in a fat-rich sauce at dinner.
If you have low cortisol, you probably also have low blood sugar and will need a couple healthy snacks between meals. Avoid ‘grazing,’ and don’t snack if you don’t need to, but if you tend to crash dramatically without food, then eat more often.
Remember that you don’t have to avoid natural fats to be skinny, you just have to avoid processed carbs!
As we learned earlier a leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability), can increase your odds of autoimmune diseases. It can also decrease your odds of get nutrition out of your foods. So your digestive system is important to heal and maintain. Do this by eating a wide variety of plant fibers- aim for twenty different types a week- to feed your friendly gut flora.
If your digestion is weak, cooked food with just a side of raw salad is best for you. Eat in a calm environment and chew your food well. I recommend a high-quality probiotic, and it may require a higher dose while you heal. You can check out the probiotic we love, MegaSpore Biotic, at our Programs and Products page.
You’ll also need to rest (you read that right). Remember earlier how we said that running around without time to rest and reflect can lead to poor food choices? Beyond poor food choices, it can lead to poor life choices! So take some time each day to let your mind unwind. You can read a book, journal, meditate, nap…whatever you like. It’s great to occasionally take a retreat in a natural setting too. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep each night, as critical healing and rebuilding happens nightly.
For cycling women, we offer a Perfect Periods self-study course to help you identify and treat your root causes of low progesterone! Check it out here.
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Bridgit Danner, LAc, FDNP