It happens every single month … the irrational mood swings, the cravings, the cramps, and low and behold - your period. After a week its over and …. it starts all over again.
But fear not, I am here to offer some helpful insight into our monthly visitor and encourage you to get to know her a little better, so we can all work towards having an EASY period.
In medical terms, severe period cramps are referred to as dysmenorrhea. This is not to be confused with heavy period flow which is called menorrhagia (something that has different causes than the cramping). Here we will focus on period cramps and some natural remedies.
In a nutshell, the cycle goes as follows: Your body spends the first week shedding blood (your period), followed by the second week of preparing for ovulation. Ovulation occurs around days 14-16 (mid-cycle), after which your uterus begins to builds itself up preparing for a potential baby. If there is no fertilization, your uterus sheds all of its hard work in the form of your period.
Cramps are the contraction of your uterus as it sheds its lining. The reality is, a mild dull ache can be relatively inevitable when this process is taking place; however, severe painful cramps should be addressed. If you require pain killers every month, are bed ridden, experience chills, anxiety, diarrhea, fainting, pain that radiates to your low back or legs and so on…. this is something we can and need to deal with!
It is very important to note, if you are experiencing additional symptoms such as abnormal vaginal discharge, pain during sex, pain in other places of your body other than your lower abdomen & low back, pain with bowel movements, or cramping at a different time in the cycle please consult your medical or naturopathic doctor.
Seeing as I’m a Naturopathic Doctor, it is instinct for me to say that the best way to treat your cramps is really understanding what the root cause is! We often see the discomfort associated with our periods as something to fix. Yet your period can actually tell you a lot about your hormonal health, emotional health, your nutritional status and so on. Fun Fact: In Chinese medicine, your period tells you about the flow of your “qi”! Qi is the flowing energy that is your health in mind body and spirit. An abnormal amount of pain can signify qi stagnation in your liver and an imbalance of your yin: yang!
So where to start?
Track your period. In general, this is always the first step I recommend in turning our monthly visitor into a friend. It’s important to get to know her and start to identify the pattern of what’s happening every month for what could be the next 30-50 years of our lives! Understanding what the pattern looks like over a 3 month span of time is a good start. There are many apps available out there (e.g. Clue app which easy. founder Alyssa swears by) or even using a simple paper and pencil to record symptoms. Simply jot down start and end dates of your period and rate any associated pain out of /10 (0 = no pain and 10 = lots of pain).
Once you understand what your cycle looks like you can start to predict days you that you can anticipate symptoms and prevent them!
Exercise as your pain killer: exercise has endless benefits for your health - specifically for menstrual pain, exercise releases endorphins in your body which is a natural pain killer!
Stop Stressing! Finding ways to reduce your stress will not only have wide spread effects on your mood and overall health, but also cramps. Stress can promote excessive muscle tension, especially in the lower back and pelvic areas. Reducing stress can help alleviate muscle tension pain during uterine contractions.
Keep yourself regular! Our menstrual cycle is regulated through hormones, but did you know that excess hormones are actually removed from our body in part through our bowel movements? So yes, ensuring we have regular bowel movements can helps to reduce menstrual pain and other PMS symptoms!
Relax with Castor oil: this is one of my favourites! Castor oil has so many benefits! It is detoxifying, analgesic (pain killer), anti-spasmodic (reduces muscle spasms), and anti-inflammatory! For this treatment purpose you only use castor oil topically and do not consume it (Tip: It is extremely sticky and can stain clothing, so be aware!). It can be very effective as a nightly regiment the week before and at the beginning of your period! Apply castor oil to organic flannel and place on your lower stomach. Apply a hot water bottle for heat and then just relax! Learn more about castor oil packs.
Try Magnesium: Magnesium is very helpful for reducing muscle cramping throughout your body. Regular supplementation can be one of the most effective things for menstrual cramping! Green leafy vegetables, sea vegetables, and nettle are good dietary sources of magnesium. But it can sometimes be hard to achieve therapeutic doses through diet alone. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about Magnesium supplementation!
Drink chamomile and red raspberry leaf tea: these two are great teas for period pains! Chamomile helps to reduce smooth muscle spasms so its actually great for digestion and period pains. Red Raspberry tea is a uterine tonic and very helpful for many female issues.
Eat Healthy Oils: Flax, omega-3, and evening primrose oils can all be great for period cramps. Most people are familiar with omega-3 oils (found in fish oils) , but flax and evening primrose oils are also great for female issues! They are anti-inflammatory, mood stabilizing and hormone balancing—all of which help with those period cramps and other PMS symptoms. Again for regular supplementation talk to your naturopathic doctor!
Eat more Broccoli! Increase foods such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards). These foods have a high amount of B vitamins and indole-3-carbinol which helps detoxify your liver. B vitamins are specifically helpful for cramps and your mood. Detoxifying your liver helps to promote normal hormone levels and elimination.
This is only a short list of all the natural things to try for menstrual cramps. Start getting to know your monthly friend because well, she is gonna be around for a while. This is the time of the month that as women we are the most nurturing and creative! So have that cup of chamomile tea, and let that Qi flow. Periods, can be Easy.
If you or someone you know is seeking treatment for irregular periods or excessive menstrual cramps book an appointment with me !
Written by: Dr. Kirsty Gaylor ND