Tag Archives: teens

When teen menstrual cramps and PMS are disabling

teen girls cramps pms copy

It’s an all-too-common scenario for teen girls today: That time of the month comes around they are home from school white-knuckling it through agonizing menstrual cramps, having only just endured a week of equally debilitating PMS depression and anxiety.

It’s just your standard entry into womanhood, right? Not!

Although hormonal irregularity is normal in the early years, excessive pain and anguish is not. It signals underlying causes of hormonal imbalance that may be alleviated through diet and lifestyle changes.

Of course one must also consider the possibility of serious medical disorders  such as uterine fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, or, most commonly, endometriosis, disorders that tend to be overlooked in young girls in early menses.

Going beyond NSAIDS and the pill for teen cramps

The conventional approach to severe cramps and PMS is the use of over-the-counter pain medication and low-dose oral contraceptives.

Oral contraceptives are synthetic hormones that interfere with the body’s natural hormonal feedback loops and disrupt the balance of intestinal flora, not to mention raising the risk of serious medical complications such as migraines, stroke, and even cancer.

Although birth control pills can bring relief, it’s better to ask why hormones are imbalanced in the first place. Birth control pills merely resolve the symptoms but not the cause of teenage menstrual cramps and PMS.

Underlying causes of severe teen cramps and PMS

The female hormonal system is intricate, complex, and easily toppled by many modern habits we consider normal. Add standard teenage predilections for excess and indulgence, and you’ve got a recipe for monthly sick days home from school.

Here are some common factors we see when looking at teenage menstrual cramps and PMS with a functional medicine perspective:

Unstable blood sugar skewing hormones. This is very often an underlying factor of hormonal imbalance in women of all ages, but particularly in teens. Skipped meals, diets high in sugar, caffeine, processed carbohydrates, junk foods, and other staples of teen diets can cause the delicate balance between estrogen and progesterone to spiral out of control

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) frequently occurs when blood sugar is chronically out of balance, and brings with it the requisite symptoms of severe cramping and PMS. Other PCOS symptoms include depression, acne, irregular periods, and ovarian cysts (with pain).

A diet that eliminates sugar, minimizes caffeine, regulates carbohydrate consumption, and focuses on plenty of produce and healthy proteins and fats can help bring blood sugar, PCOS, and the accompanying cramps and PMS under control. Of course, this won’t be easy for the average teen girl, but sometimes the pain of the problem outweighs the pain of the solution.

Adrenal imbalances. The adrenal glands are two walnut-sized glands that sit atop each kidney and produce adrenal hormones. Teen habits of missing sleep, pushing themselves too hard, skipping meals, and eating too much sugar all send adrenal function into over drive or under drive.

Adrenal imbalances severely impact hormonal balance and can deplete progesterone, the “calming” hormone that helps prevent PMS.

Too much screen time. Hormonal balance is tightly linked to the light cycles of day and night. The blue light emitted from smart phones, tablets, and TVs are interpreted as sunlight by the brain. When teen girls stare into their phones texting and sharing late into the night, the brain, and then the hormones, become awfully confused as a result. (This also causes insomnia.)

Although restricting exposure to screens is a tall order for today’s teens, you may be able to convince your daughter to wear orange glasses  use an orange film over the screen, or download an app like f.lux or Twilight that filters out blue light after sunset.

These are just a few ways in which modern teen habits can result in severe menstrual cramps and PMS. For more information on how to balance hormones and alleviate cramps and PMS using functional nutrition, schedule a visit with me.

Teens need enough sleep as much as they need air, water, and food

427 teens need more sleep copy

Teens burn through life because, well, they can, and research shows two out of three teens are severely sleep deprived. But what teens and the adults in their lives don’t realize is that sleep deprivation raises the risk of car accidents and driving fatalities (driving sleepy is as bad as driving drunk), obesity, diabetes, depression, risk-taking behavior, and suicidal ideation. It also raises the risk of the very adult diseases of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Studies show sleep deprivation also impairs judgment, impulse control, and good decision making, areas where teens are already compromised due to incomplete brain development. Lack of sleep hinders proper development of these skills.

Teenagers need at least 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night and research shows only a small minority meet that requirement. The rest are short changing themselves by two or more hours a night, a significant loss to a body and brain that are still developing and need that precious downtime to rest, regenerate, and grow.

Lack of sleep not only raises health risks but it also robs teens of cognition, good mood, optimal well-being, and even safety. One study showed that the driving accident rate among teens was 41 percent higher in a school that started at 7:20 a.m. than a nearby school district where classes began at 8:40.

Later school starts, which allow for more sleep, have also been shown to improve student test scores and grade point averages; researchers also noted that well rested students were able to finish their homework faster.

Sleep deprivation in teens has been linked to a threefold increase in suicide attempts as well, and depression goes up with sleep loss. Another startling finding showed that for each hour of sleep lost, the odds of obesity goes up 80 percent.

Not only do teenagers need more sleep than adults, their internal sleep-wake cycle shifts by as much as two hours after puberty, making it harder for them to fall asleep early. A teenager who manages to fall asleep by 11 p.m. — already a long shot — should not be getting up until 8 a.m. It’s no wonder so many teachers say their students are “useless” during morning classes. Adding to the problem is that many teens are overscheduled, with sports, dance, jobs, and other activities running late into the night before homework has even started.

Another impediment to sleep, and one that parents didn’t have to grapple with when they were teens, is the intrusion of smart phones and other screens. Texting and social media compel teens to keep each other up, as can video games and favorite shows on tablets and TVs. Not only do these devices distract teens from getting to bed on time, the blue light emitted from such screens suppresses melatonin, the sleep hormone. An electronics curfew each night can help teens get more sleep.

Teens typically spend the weekends getting caught up on sleep, which, unfortunately, throws their internal clocks out of whack and can promote a jet lag state that makes for brutal Monday mornings.

Ask me about nutritional and dietary support that can help bolster your and your teen’s attempts to get enough sleep.