Food and lifestyle are the basis of her approach to tackling period problems. "Lifestyle changes" can sound intimidating - like we have to live on kale and tofu and do endless yoga, but Lara Briden's approach is more manageable, it includes:
- Exercise in a way that you enjoy - it flushes out the stress hormones that can disrupt your cycle. Walking, running, dancing, netball, tennis - whatever works for you.
- Look after your mental health – do things you enjoy, make time for loved ones, enjoy nature, sleep well, get therapy if you need it. Again, good for those stress hormones.
- Honour your hunger – eat proper meals with protein, vegetables and plenty of carbs - low-carb diets aren't a good option for women. Avoid wheat and sugar as much as you can, and aim for a BMI between 20 and 24.
- Eat good fats – that includes olive oil, nuts, butter and cheese (hurrah!). Avoid milk, especially skimmed milk, as it can be inflammatory in a similar way to wheat and sugar. As well as general health benefits, good fats help us to feel full and avoid overeating - something that is hard to do on a low-fat diet.
"Eat good fats" is controversial, but Lara's suggestions echo the recommendations of a major fertility and diet study and those of several leading cardiologists.
The impact of stress on periods and fertility might be overstated. There's good research that low to moderate stress doesn't stop you getting pregnant, but it's no fun being too stressed about things, or depressed, so it's worth looking after your mental health - and acknowledging the impact of society's expectations on mental health, especially women's mental health.
I am slightly wary of all the herbal medicine and vitamins Lara recommends. In a perfect world I'd wait for big pharma to do some trials and publish all their results. But the world isn't perfect and Lara provides suggestions for everyday cycle problems that more official sources are pretty hopeless about.
You can experiment with them in a suitably sensible way - maybe ignoring the herbs and checking out food sources of whatever vitamin she recommends. The NHS website and the British Dietetics Association are good sources of information - even if the NHS website does dismiss period pain as "normal".
For example cyclical breast pain. I've had this. Lara says it can be a sign of low-level thyroid issues and suggests (very careful) use of iodine and selenium. She also says to of course get checked out as these lumps might mask something more sinister. I prefer to get my vitamins from food so if my boobs are painful I eat a bit more dairy and fish (for the iodine), and have a few brazil nuts (for the selenium). It seems to work. Thanks Lara.
She doesn't claim to have all the solutions. Sometimes you will need help from a doctor, or even surgery, but most of her recommendations help our overall health and well-being. It's good to have another reason to bother with them and an approach to period problems that doesn't involve simply taking the pill. You can visit Lara's blog and buy the Period Repair Manual here.