This is a transcribed excerpt from the Womensync Podcast , episode #4 Food as a powerful tool for a menstrual cycle and balanced health with Maria Särén . Some adaptations of the text have been made. To listen to the podcast episode with Maria click here .
You started in 2014 with a focus on women's health and have since met a lot of women. What would you say are the most common challenges that women bring to you?
It is very different but if we are to see the basic structure, there are often many different ovulation problems; either that you don't ovulate at all or that there are too frequent low-quality ovulations. This can be due to various things. IBS is something that has a big impact and many people probably don't know how much it affects ovulation to have inflammation and gas. For example, if you have gas and problems with acid reflux, diarrhea or constipation, it will affect ovulation and this is something I think very few people are aware of.
How can IBS affect ovulation?
If you walk around with, for example, diarrhea, it can put a lot of stress on the body and you won't absorb as much nutrition. It is important to remember that the gastrointestinal system is one of our most important information channels. If we eat things we cannot tolerate, what kind of signals does that send to the body? Or, for example, walking around with constipation, which is partly negative in itself but also depends on something that does not just have a local effect in the gut. Although IBS is often not diagnosed, many people feel that they have problems with the stomach and intestines.
In Womensync, we also experience that many have challenges linked to IBS in particular. If clients come to you with IBS, how do you work to heal those particular symptoms? What can you do yourself?
I always start with the diet and start from a simpler form of the elimination diet, which means that we remove the most common things that can irritate the gut (this is individual), such as gluten, milk protein or legumes, depending on what the person in question eats a lot of. If, for example, a woman eats large amounts of seeds, nuts or beans, adjust where, both what and how. Especially in the case of IBS, we usually focus simply on foods that are easier to absorb and digest and reduce things that can be difficult to digest. If someone eats a lot of raw food, I usually recommend her to cook the food as it is easier for the stomach to digest. Other parts that come into play is not eating all the time, it's something that many people can get upset about that it doesn't have to be optimal to eat every two hours. Likewise, I also tend to look at burnout and fatigue, although undiagnosed it can be affecting. Regarding the food, it is not forever but a form of treatment method to give the body a chance to recover and heal.
What do you think it is that causes so many women to have challenges connected to the menstrual cycle right now?
I believe that in today's society there are great demands on us women and that we must be "good", save the world and everyone around us. If you have children, you must be the best mother or the best partner. If it is the case that you do not have children, it should instead be planned for children and preferably be able to set an exact date where everything should fit in with accommodation, job, salary, knowledge of the body and health and everything else possible. I think that a key to healing many period-related ailments is for us to lower the demands, back off a little and not read about everything. Instead, it becomes important to think about ourselves and what we need. There is a risk with reading about everything and that is that we get stuck in it. I have been there myself, especially with rheumatism, where it was advocated and was clear in what to eat and not to eat, for example don't eat red meat, eat a lot of vegetables and fibre, etc. But for me it didn't work, my body just got worse from eating meals largely based on whole grains and vegetables. It can absolutely be good food, but it's about how and what we eat. I think many of us women get stuck in being " good ", which affects our mood and thus our fertility.
It is interesting when it comes to challenges connected to the menstrual cycle in that it is about issues that have not been raised much. Many feel that these are personal challenges that they do not want or dare to seek help for, or that they do not get the help they need when they actually seek help. This often leads to women taking matters into their own hands or avoiding dealing with it. It is easy to find yourself in a difficult situation where you put a lot of pressure on yourself.
Many women also believe that it is normal to have various symptoms linked to the menstrual cycle such as PMS, IBS, irregular menstrual cycle or missed period as one's girl friends experience the same things. This means that the symptoms are normalized in a way, even if it is something that shows that the body is not doing as well as it should. As women, we are cyclical creatures and perhaps shouldn't expect the same thing from ourselves every day of the month. When did we lose this with being allowed to have a tired day, for example?
This is an important part that we highlight in Womensync, that as women we are cyclical which means our needs will change depending on where we are in the menstrual cycle and stage in life. When we are in our 20s-30s we may need something different than when we are 40. We change all the time but many times today you want to find a way to live and continue like that, but what we need to realize when it comes to health is that it is constantly changing. We change, the world changes and the environment changes - the question is how we can adapt based on that.
It's so true. It is easy to get stuck in your training routines, food and sleep, for example " I have always eaten this way and it has worked" . And yes, it may have worked but now it may not as you are in a different period of life and need something completely different. I myself am in a stressful period with small children and work. This means that more of certain nutrients will be required as more is consumed now than it was six months ago (in case of stress, certain nutrients are used up faster, such as magnesium for example). In this period of life, it becomes important to perhaps not train as intensively as usual, but I need to prioritize more sleep and recovery in relation to all the stressors that exist. When it comes to health, it's about being flexible and being able to parry what happens, because life will happen around us.
–––––Maria Särén works based on a functional medicine approach and is educated at the Kresser Institute, is a certified ICF coach and runs the women's clinic Liva in parallel with her own practice Emanera . Maria's mission is to help as many women as possible feel good and live in sync with their biology. Read more about Maria here and follow her on Instagram for more inspiration and knowledge.