When I think of a “biohacker,” I envision a mad scientist in a white lab coat splicing DNA in a dark basement laboratory. So you can imagine my surprise when I realized that I, myself, am a biohacker.

I don’t have crazy hair or a white coat, but, like other biohackers, I do perform self-experiments in the name of optimizing my health — just not in the way you’d expect.

I struggled for more than a decade with severe dysmenorrhea, or painful periods, and probable endometriosis (according to doctors). I took the pill for almost 10 years to control my debilitating symptoms, but when crazy side effects made me quit, I turned to biohacking to take control of my periods naturally.

I’m living proof that even the most severe period problems can benefit from a little self-experimentation.
 

Now, after a year of more self-experiments than I can count (not all of them successful), I no longer need medication to manage my period pain.

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Here are the six ways I naturally improved my period and changed my life:

1. I trashed endocrine disruptors that were messing with my hormones.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are found in pretty much every commercial product imaginable — shampoos, soaps, makeup, toothpaste, cleaning products, nonstick coatings, and plastics — and they’ve been shown in studies to interfere with the body’s hormone system, or endocrine system.

For example, xenoestrogens are a common, man-made EDC that bind to your body’s estrogen receptor sites, throwing off the fragile balance of estrogen and progesterone (female sex hormones).

Estrogen has been linked to everything from endometriosis to cancer to fibroids, and while more research needs to be done, I found that removing estrogen-mimicking chemicals from my life was a powerful first step in getting my periods back on track.

I now opt for natural or homemade beauty and cleaning products and swapped my plastic storage containers for glass.

Once I switched my focus from calories to whole foods, my periods seriously improved.
 

2. I focused on eating whole foods.

I used to be so obsessed with counting calories that I avoided high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods like full-fat dairy, eggs, and coconut. But once I switched my focus from calories to whole foods, my periods seriously improved.

Eating whole foods has also improved my blood sugar (I check it in the morning and after meals with a blood glucose meter). High blood sugar is often a sign of insulin resistance, which has been linked to disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

I now usually have eggs and greens for breakfast and pastured, grass-fed meat with loads of organic veggies for dinner. My hormones have thanked me.

3. I learned to manage my stress.

Cortisol (the stress hormone) is part of the body’s fight-or-flight response, and since stress probably meant danger when humans lived in the wild, your body prioritizes cortisol production over other steroid hormones. Steroid hormones are all made from cholesterol, and modern stress can divert too much cholesterol to cortisol production and leave too little for your sex hormones.

My top hack: a stress journal. When I’m stressed about something, I write it down. This lightens my mental load and later becomes a way for me to reflect on my stress.

Over time, this has helped me control my stress in the moment, leaving my body with more resources for sex hormones.

4. I hacked my sleep.

Before the advent of artificial light, it’s thought that women would ovulate with the full moon because of increased light exposure at night.

It sounds pretty crunchy, but studies have shown that increased levels of melatonin — the hormone that regulates circadian rhythms like sleep and ovulation — improve progesterone production, increase pregnancy rates, and help regulate the menstrual cycle.

Melatonin production varies with light exposure, so minimizing artificial light after sunset is recommended to stabilize circadian rhythms.

I put blackout curtains in my bedroom, use a nightlight around the full moon, and use the f.lux app on my computer to minimize light exposure at night. I’ve been shocked by the changes: I consistently ovulate with the full moon, get my period with the new moon, and have eliminated the crazy variability in my cycle length.

5. I supported my gut health.

Your gut is responsible for things like nutrient absorption, vitamin production, and metabolism of hormones like estrogen. The research is still in its infancy, but it’s starting to show the importance of gut health.

Gut overgrowth of a yeast called candida has been linked to endometriosis. Gut dysbiosis (or bacterial imbalance) has been associated with everything from autoimmune disorders to depression, and emerging theories are even suspecting it in PCOS development.

More studies are needed, but I found that supporting my gut health has made a huge difference in my periods.

I lowered my carb and sugar intake (candida feeds on sugar, so this removes its food source), took caprylic acid to help kill it, and added a high-quality probiotic. This alleviated my intense period pain and healed the irritable bowel syndrome I’ve struggled with since I was a kid.

6. I tracked my periods.

As part of my journey, I actually built an app called Groove to track my periods, and what I discovered (besides a great birth control method) was a nasty hormone imbalance. I started tracking my cervical fluid and waking temperature (called basal body temperature), both of which are controlled by sex hormone levels.

My overproduction of cervical fluid pointed to high estrogen, and my low waking temperatures pointed to low progesterone. A lab test later confirmed my suspicions.

Tracking my periods meant I could gauge whether new biohacks were improving the hormone imbalance that was likely behind my extreme period pain. It also guided my biohacks — my low progesterone led me to hack my sleep, and my high estrogen led me to trash endocrine disruptors.

Overall, I’ve learned that biohacking, as strange as the stereotypes may be, can have profound effects on your health. I’m living proof that even the most severe period problems can benefit from a little self-experimentation, and I’m thrilled that I no longer need to rely on the Pill to manage my pain.

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