5 Natural Treatments for Period Pain
Every month, far too many women suffer horrific period-related symptoms. Many of us dismiss these symptoms as “normal” or are put on a hormonal contraceptive to “fix” the problem, only to discover the symptoms return the minute we stop taking the contraceptive. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, let’s clear up some misconceptions about what is “normal” period pain and look at some natural ways to reduce pain.
Normal versus abnormal pain
Pain that is a mild cramping, heavy or dragging sensation in your pelvis or lower back for a day or two when your period starts is normal.
This pain does not interfere with daily life or activities, and responds well to painkillers like Ibuprofen.
Pain that is stabbing, burning or throbbing, lasts for several days, doesn’t respond to pain killers, is so severe it causes vomiting or forces you to miss days of work or school is not normal.
This type of pain is a sign of an underlying condition. If you suffer from this level of pain, I urge you to seek medical advice from a reproductive or women’s health specialist to investigate potential causes further. One likely cause of significant period pain is endometriosis and this needs to be confirmed by your doctor. Once a diagnosis has been identified, there are many natural strategies to reduce and manage symptoms.
This blog post focuses on strategies to reduce normal period pain. If you suffer from severe pain, you can still implement this advice, but please seek further help.
Why does it hurt so much?
Right before your period begins, the lining of your uterus begins to break down – this causes the release of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins trigger the muscles of your uterus to shed its lining. This is a necessary part of bleeding, however too many prostaglandins can cause pain and inflammation.
One of the most effective conventional treatments for period pain is Ibuprofen. This is because it works by blocking the production of prostaglandins. The good news is, so long as you are not suffering from an underlying condition, by improving your diet and employing some natural treatments, you will be able to reduce your production of prostaglandins, and enjoy pain-free periods.
Let’s jump in to my top 5 natural treatments to reduce period pain:
#1: Reduce inflammation through diet
Eating a diet that promotes inflammation in the body will increase your production of inflammatory prostaglandins, leading to more pain. The first step in reducing period pain is to improve your diet. This means reducing your consumption of sugar-sweetened foods (like cakes, pastries, soft drinks and confectionery) and overly processed foods (like fast foods and deep-fried foods). These foods are also low in nutrients so will not support your overall health.
Replace these foods anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3-rich oily fish (like salmon, sardines, mackerel), colourful fruits and vegetables, and complex carbohydrates (like brown rice, sweet potato and pumpkin).
#2: Consider cow’s dairy elimination for 3 months
Cow’s dairy contains a protein called A1 casein. This particular protein causes inflammation in some people because it stimulates your immune system to produce inflammatory compounds. How do you know if you have casein sensitivity? A common sign is recurrent middle ear, chest or tonsillitis infections during childhood. This is a sign of immune system reactivity. You likely grew out of these infections but as an adult suffer from hay fever, asthma, eczema or chest infections. If this is you, try removing cow’s dairy for 3 months and record changes in your level of pain.
The good news is sheep and goat milk products don’t contain A1 casein, so you can replace your cow’s dairy with almond, coconut, sheep or goat milk cheese, yoghurt and milk. Don’t have any signs of casein sensitivity? You probably don’t have the enzyme that converts A1 casein into inflammatory compounds and should be able to happily consume dairy.
#3: Get your sweat on
Engaging in regular movement is hugely beneficial for your period as it reduces stress, improves blood flow to your reproductive organs, and reduces inflammation. The best kind of exercise is something that you enjoy and will keep doing. Movement doesn’t have to be traditional exercises: it might be gardening, cleaning the house or playing with your kids – any movement is better than none.
#4 Improve your oestrogen-progesterone ratio:
Having higher levels of oestrogen and less progesterone can lead to increased production of prostaglandins during your period which increases pain. To support your body to clear oestrogen after it has exerted its effect in your body, you need an efficient detoxification system. Oestrogen is detoxified in two ways: firstly, the liver breaks down oestrogen into small compounds, then the bowel excretes these compounds in the stool.
Eating foods that are high in sulphur helps to support the second phase of liver detoxification which is responsible for breaking down oestrogen. The best sources of sulphur are cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and cauliflower. Aim to include at least one serve of these vegetables (around 1 cup) daily. Support your gut detoxification by eating plenty of fibre-rich foods like vegetables, whole grains and beans.
#5: Consider supplementing
The above 4 tips will go a long way to improving your period pain, however adding one or two of the supplements below to support natural reduction of prostaglandins can be a dramatic step in achieving pain-free cycles. My top 3 supplements for period pain are:
Turmeric (or curcumin): reduces prostaglandins. Bonus: turmeric is also a treatment for heavy periods. Follow the instructions on the bottle as each formula varies.
Zinc: supports the immune system to reduce to reactivity that leads to increased pain. Zinc works by reducing inflammation and also supports healthy ovulation. 30-50mg after dinner daily is an appropriate dose.
Magnesium: reduces prostaglandins and is a natural muscle relaxant that helps to reduce the uterine spasm that occurs during your period. There are many forms of magnesium and some that are poorly absorbed, leading to diarrhoea or digestive discomfort. I recommend magnesium bisglycinate at a dose of 300mg per day throughout your whole cycle. This can be taken twice daily on the worst days of your pain
As women, we have the right to experience pain-free periods and embrace our monthly cycles. I encourage you to take responsibility for your period health and remember that your body wants to be in balance. When we experience symptoms like pain our body isn’t working against us, it is trying to let us know that something is out of balance. Listen to your body and treat the cause, rather than masking the symptom.
If you would like more help to reduce your pain naturally or get to the bottom of frustrating period issues, please get in touch – I would be honoured to support you.