At sixteen years of age, Dr. Aviva Romm left college to become a midwife and an herbalist — no doubt, before that was a cool thing to do.
Later, while raising four children, Romm decided to go back to school — Yale School of Medicine, that is. A school that Romm calls “the most innovative, student-empowered medical school I could find”.
As the author of seven best-selling books and a leading voice in holistic medicine, we’re excited to begin sharing insights from Romm in the lead up to her new book, Hormone Intelligence: The Complete Guide to Calming Hormone Chaos and Restoring Your Body’s Natural Blueprint for Well-Being.
Hormonal health couldn’t be a hotter topic in wellness, as the challenges surrounding the new vaccine unfold around us every day. It may be holistic practitioners like Dr. Aviva Romm that help us to navigate these unusual times best.
We asked the world-renowned midwife, herbalist, Yale-trained MD, and board-certified family physician to talk to us about truths she wishes every woman knew about her body, hormones and overall health…
Dr. Aviva Romm Breaks 10 Myths On Women’s Health + Hormones
Myths and misconceptions about women’s bodies have been perpetuated for centuries — and have left a lot of us in the dark and misinformed about our hormones, health, and more. Separating fact from fiction can help clarify what’s normal and in doing so, ease some of the worry and stress so many of us secretly have about our bodies.
Here are some of the top myths I hear from women – and the actual truth!
Myth 1: Period Pain is Normal | Your period is a vital sign that gives you important information about your body and your overall health.While we may naturally experience the occasional cramp of pelvic heaviness, your period should never feel like a life sentence of suffering. It should not require you to pop ibuprofen or other pain meds each or most months, and you shouldn’t have to stop your life because of pain.
If your period is painful, it could be a sign of inflammation, elevated estrogen that causes heavy periods and a lot of cramping, or could, indicate an underlying gynecologic condition, most commonly endometriosis or adenomyosis and is important to explore further.
Myth 2: Taking the Pill is “No Big Deal” | When it comes to the Pill, the truth is that we have not gotten the whole story. While it’s prescribed to us as if it’s no big deal (4 out of 5 women have been on the pill at some point in their lives, and many are on it for 10 years or more), in fact, the Pill comes with a long list of side effects, mild to severe, that we should be aware of in making our decision about whether to use it. Depression, flares or new onset of autoimmune conditions, blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes are among the most serious. In the least, it can deplete numerous nutrients, including folate, vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, E, and D, magnesium, selenium, and zinc, so taking a multivitamin and vitamin D are important on hormonal contraception.
Myth 3: Supplements and Herbs Don’t Really Work | While there is a lot of hype in the wellness world about supplements, there are many that really can make a difference in how we feel, as well as in our hormonal and general health.
Thoughtful supplementation can buffer what you’re not getting in your diet and can play an important role in the prevention and treatment of various health conditions. To name just a few that I turn to in my medical practice, calcium has been shown to reduce period pain, St. John’s wort can be very effective for depression, Vitex (chasteberry) can improve PMS, ovulation, fertility, and perimenopausal symptoms, and myoinositol has been shown to reduce insulin resistance and improve symptoms in PCOS.
Myth 4: Your Vagina Shouldn’t Smell | Given the millions of bacteria and yeasts hanging out down there, which alter our vaginal pH, it’s natural for your vagina to have a fragrance — and each of ours is uniquely our own, but can smell earthy, musky, briny, any number of ways.
It also varies throughout your menstrual cycle, and your life cycles — it may shift in pregnancy and menopause, for example, and is often different post intercourse — and may vary with sexual partners. When your scent is very different from normal, or should it become noticeably unpleasant, it could be a sign that your vaginal ecology and pH balance is disrupted or that there’s infection. Knowing when something’s off can also help you nip a problem in the bud.
Myth 5: Carbs are Bad for Our Health | Going “against the grain” is trendy, with many “carbophobic” women now eating zero-carb diets, but much of the anti-grain information is fake news from the wellness world and very low-carb diets tend to backfire for women, especially prior to the perimenopausal years.
Complex carbs provide steady energy, are loaded with vitamins and minerals, provide healthy fiber, feed a healthy microbiome, keep cortisol in balance and promote calm moods, and benefit hormone health. The trick is choosing the right carbs, which makes a difference in how you feel. Whole grains, for example, are packed with B-vitamins which support a calmer mood. Sweet potatoes have lots of Vitamin A and other hormone- and immune-healthy nutrients. On the other hand, quick sugar sources like cookies deplete your nutrients while giving you a quick sugar high and then a low that worsens our moods.
Myth 6: There’s One Perfect Diet For Women | So many women are after the “perfect” diet. The diet that will be their magic wand solution to solving symptoms and the “ah-ha” eating plan that they can stay on for a lifetime. The truth is, there’s no such thing! Not only are our food and nutritional needs unique, but our personal needs change throughout our life cycles. What you needed in your teen years will not be the same as your childbearing years, pregnant years, breastfeeding, menopause years and all those subtle changes in between.
That said, there are core foods that form the foundation of what we all need to support optimal health: Whole, fresh foods, plenty of vegetables and fruits, good quality protein, especially fish, eggs, and vegan sources like legumes, healthy oils and fats, nuts and seeds, and slow-burning carbs in moderation. From there, being in tune with your own body and remaining open to shifts in your mindset are key to optimal eating across your lifespan.
Myth 7: If You Don’t Get Pregnant in 6 Months, You Need Fertility Treatment | Women often become concerned when they aren’t able to conceive within a few months, but it’s not unusual for conception to be a far longer process! It’s all too common that, instead of waiting a reasonable amount of time, many gynecologists foist you all too soon onto a road of fertility fear that is financially, physically and emotionally costly.
Even with no special treatment, on average by 18 months, 90% of women will get pregnant. Couples in their late thirties have a 91% chance of conceiving naturally within 2 years. A fertility work-up can be considered if you’re under 35 and have been trying to conceive for a year without success, or if you’re over 35 and have been trying for 6 months. If you want to get fertility treatment, of course, it’s your call, but you can wait longer – even up to 18 months – and try natural approaches, with great success, in my experience.
Myth 8: Perimenopause Signals “Drying Up” | Of all our life cycles, perimenopause is the least celebrated. While each of us experiences this next phase of our hormonal lives uniquely, the idea that this natural shift in our hormones signals some kind of slowdown or depletion state is simply ludicrous. Internalizing the message that we’re irrelevant, dried up, or past our prime holds us down and keeps us from claiming our authority and strength. By the time we reach our mid-to-late forties and early fifties, we’re smarter, sexier, and more badass than ever, with more wisdom, maturity, and life experience — and often a whole new level of freedom in our lives that can make us more productive, energetic, and in my opinion, downright sexy. Own your strength. You’ve earned it.
Myth 9: Your Doctor Knows Your Body Better Than You | Ten years of medical training may mean that your doctor knows anatomy and physiology better than you do, but nobody knows you better than you. After all, you’ve had how many years of training in yourself? By now, at least a few decades!
It can be hard to trust yourself, especially if your medical provider is telling you that you’re just fine. From the time we’re kids, we’re raised on the ‘doctor-as-god, expert-knows-best’ model. But if you’re having symptoms that are affecting your well-being, something has changed from your usual baseline, or you just feel that something is off, trust your instincts and seek help until you get the right answer.
Myth 10: Your Hormones are the Enemy | We tend to think of our hormones as a source of distress, dysfunction, or at least an inconvenience of being “hormonal”, but your hormones aren’t the enemy and hormone imbalances aren’t just random. They also don’t mean you’re broken or crazy. They’re actually your body’s best friend — because they’re giving you a major heads up that something’s going on that needs your attention. Your hormones, and your symptoms that happen because of them, are vital signs offering you powerful information that act as a complete inner guidance system and sometimes a warning system, too, alerting you when you’re not getting what you need for hormone health — which also means for your best total health.
When we take back the knowledge of our bodies that’s been held from us for so long, we begin to enter into a whole new, deeper relationship with them. It’s a revolutionary act to listen to our bodies – something our culture totally devalues. But we all have powerful innate body wisdom that’s there waiting for you when you’re ready to tap into it. It’s our secret language. Let’s reclaim it. To learn much more about your hormones, natural approaches that really work, and more myths that are getting in the way of living our best and biggest lives, check out my new book, Hormone Intelligence, wherever you love getting books.