If you are plagued by cramps each month, you’re not alone — millions of women experience menstrual pain. For some, dysmenorrhea — also known as painful menstruation — may begin a few days prior to the onset of menstrual flow, while others experience it only on the first day or two.
The symptoms — which include mild to severe cramping in the lower abdomen, low back, inner thighs or legs — may last from one day to the whole length of the menstrual flow, up to six or seven days. Other symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting or headaches may occur in severe cases.
Fortunately, there are various remedies and lifestyle changes that may help to make your periods more comfortable. Below are seven easy tips to ease your period pain:
Lifestyle changes and supplements that can help
1. Using a hot water bottle or a heating pad on your abdomen during the first few hours of pain may provide some relief.
2. Adequate rest and regular exercise can also help prevent menstrual pain. Exercise provides a wonderful dose of natural anti-inflammatory compounds.
3. Stress management is essential to maintain healthy hormonal balance, which is important for reducing the likelihood of menstrual pain. Under chronic stress, progesterone levels may become depleted, causing premenstrual tension and increased incidence or severity of pain. Progesterone is the hormone that is naturally highest in the second half of the menstrual cycle (from ovulation at day 14 to the first day of bleeding). It is responsible for the thickening of the uterine lining each month in preparation for implantation of the fetus if you become pregnant.
If you suspect stress to be a contributing factor to your PMS or menstrual pain, consider using products to decrease the negative effects of stress on your health. These include herbs like licorice and ashwagandha; vitamins including C, B6 and B5; and the minerals magnesium and calcium.
Nutrition tips that offer relief
1. Many women find their digestion is affected during their menstrual cycle, so choosing the right types of foods can mean the difference between excessive bloating or constipation and smooth sailing through the week. Certain foods are more inflammatory because they contain fats that are broken down into inflammatory prostaglandins; limiting or removing them from your diet may be beneficial.
These foods include dairy products, red meats, peanut products, anything containing vegetable oil and those high in saturated, hydrogenated or trans-fats like muffins, pastries, chips, pizza and other processed foods. Choose fish, soy, chicken, turkey, eggs, almonds and healthy types of oils like olive, flaxseed and organic canola instead.
2. Along with removing the source of inflammatory prostaglandins from your diet, you may also use products to reduce their production, such as fish oils; I recommend extra strength EPA/DHA capsules, such as Clear Omega, and the herb turmeric, throughout your cycle. Turmeric is best taken on an empty stomach to maximize its natural anti-inflammatory effect. I normally recommend it on rising and before bed, otherwise it should be taken 30 minutes before a meal or two hours after.
3. Ensuring proper fibre intake may also help bowel function. High-fibre foods include whole grains like oatmeal and rye, lentils, chickpeas, vegetables and fruit. You may also want to consider a non-psyllium fibre supplement such as Clear Fiber. Fibre intake, as well as the use of antibiotics, affects bacterial balance in the digestive tract.
4. If you have taken antibiotics in the past or consumed an abundance foods containing sugar, you may benefit from supplements containing probiotics such as acidophilus and bifidus. Probiotics are the healthy bacteria living in our digestive tract. They are essential for the production of certain vitamins and healthy immunity. If you experience digestive upset along with your menstrual pain, or on its own, probiotic supplements taken daily on an empty stomach may bring you some relief.
When to seek treatment
In some cases, medication for dysmenorrhea may be necessary. Aspirin, as well as ibuprofen, reduce prostaglandin production and may bring relief for some women during their monthly period. Birth control pills have also been shown to help relieve dysmenorrhea, but are associated with some other health risks. The birth control pill prevents ovulation and the subsequent development of the uterine lining responsible for the production of the prostaglandins linked to menstrual pain.
If the recommendations provided above do not bring relief, see your naturopathic doctor for other possible treatment options. It is also important to see your doctor to rule out other causes of menstrual pain, such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.