Many teenage girls and women in their 20′s and 30′s suffer from painful periods each month. Some experience mild discomfort while others have to deal with debilitating pain. There are many reasons for period pain and sometimes it’s hard to diagnose, but if you do have pain, it’s good to see if you can get to the root of the problem to reduce menstrual cramps and pain.
Some causes of menstrual pain:
While it’s not easily known why women have menstrual pains, there are a few schools of thought.
1. The mainstream thought is that the primary cause of menstrual pain is from chemicals called prostaglandins series two (funnily enough series one and three are good prostaglandins). Your body naturally increases prostaglandin production to contract the uterus and expel the endometrial lining each month (your period). The problem is sometimes prostaglandin levels become too high, which can cause painful uterine cramping (i.e. painful cramps during menstruation). Another factor is estrogen. Excess estrogen in your body thickens your uterus endometrial lining which in turns requires your body to produce more prostaglandins so it can shed the lining. In order words, more estrogen = more prostaglandins and more prostaglandins = more painful periods.
Birth control pills lower prostaglandin production which explains why many women on the pill have reduced cramps (BUT, despite this perk, I do not recommend the pill because it causes havoc on your hormones. Read more about the side-effects of the pill here).
2. A secondary cause of menstrual pain are conditions in the uterus such as endometriosis or fibroids. These conditions are more rare, though 1 in 10 women have endometriosis (endo) and that number might grow as awareness about endo continues to spread.
3. According to Chinese Medicine, menstrual cramps are from the stagnant qi and blood. Ayurveda believes that vata might be out of balance.
Regardless of the causes, there are a few things we can do to eliminate menstrual pain instead of taking pain-killer (NSAIDS) each month. Ibuprofun or Midol will eliminate the pain, but at cost to your health. Taking these pills each month can be harmful on your stomach lining, can overload your liver and cause heart problems. The other issue is the more NSAIDS you take, the more adapted your body will become to them, requiring you to take higher doses. Taking NSAIDS is just putting a “bandaid” on the problem. In my mind it’s best to get to the root of your period pain and get pain-free periods naturally!
Solutions for reducing menstrual cramps!
1. Cramp Bark Tincture is my number one solution for lessening menstrual cramp pain. While it doesn’t fix the root cause, it is an amazing drug-free option to use while you are working on solving the root cause. Read my blog post dedicated entirely to this product.
Diet can play a big role in decreasing prostaglandins (and estrogen which increases prostaglandins) in the body. Foods that lower estrogen and prostaglandins include: high fiber foods (vegetables, grains), omega 3′s (chia and flax seeds and fish oil), and green vegetables. Eat these in abundance. Foods that increase prostaglandins include: dairy, red meat, sugar, wheat and alcohol. Try cutting down on these for a few months and see if that makes a difference.
3. Reduce Stress
You might notice you have a particularly painful period (or just more cramps than normal) after a stressful, busy month. Your emotions and lifestyle habits play a role in your stress levels, which can elevate estrogen and cause an imbalance in your body. Find ways to lower stress and live a more relaxed life.
4. Reduce Xenoestrogens
Xenoestrogens (don’t ask me to pronounce that) are common chemicals found in household cleaning supplies, cosmetics/toiletries and conventional dairy. These chemicals cause a disruption of your hormones and mimic estrogen in your body, making you more estrogen dominant, which in turn leads to cramps and other health problems. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a great resource online that rates cosmetics and toiletries, so you can make smart choices on what is safe to use in your home and on your body.
5. Focus on the Liver
When you have a sluggish liver it cannot cleanse the body of estrogen; it is too busy working on cleaning out toxins from the environment, diet, alcohol, caffeine or other factors. Besides working on your diet (see above) there are a few foods and herbs that support optimal liver function. Lemon, turmeric, dandelion greens, artichokes, cruciferous vegetables, onion, garlic and dark berries are a few good ones. For herbs try taking milk thistle (unless you are pregnant).