It seems to be true that for a majority of women there is some pain associated with our menstrual cycle. It can be mild, or it can be extremely severe, even requiring hospitalization in a few instances. It can last for less than 24 hours or it can go on for days and days at a time. The entirety of a full menstrual cycle affects so many different parts of our bodies, from the uterus and ovaries to the endocrine system (the hormone producing glands that regulate sleep, mood, metabolism, sexual functions, and a many other things), that we need a many-pronged approach to tackle these issues.
Menstrual irregularities of PMS symptoms can start 1-2 weeks before your actual period begins. The pain can manifest in different ways and in different body locations as well: bloating in the belly, overall weight gain, splitting headaches, water retention, swollen breasts, throbbing aching backs and of course cramps. There is even the possibility of various health risks, one being anemia (not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to your tissues) in cases of heavy blood loss.
Get to the Root
We think it is best to get to the underlying issue that causes a problem, in this case different types of pain related to menstrual cycles, and work on addressing the difficulty at this level. Unfortunately the practice of most modern doctors (at least in North America) seems to be the ‘Band-Aid’ approach, which uses pain medications to mask the irritation in the moment and never addresses the underlying issue. And remember, this kind of medicating can have really unpleasant side effects.
Taking a holistic approach to menstrual pain and PMS symptoms can offer changes at ground zero where the problem started in the first place. Holistic means, “…characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.” Now that sounds like an excellent plan! Treat the whole person not just the cramp or the headache. This type of healing can only lead to long-term success and possibly reducing or eliminating menstrual associated pain altogether.
Our bodies are meant to function in perfect working order. If healing is not occurring it means your body it trying to get your attention, telling you that something needs additional care. Pain is one of those signals—something is not right and needs fixing. Let’s look at causes and some natural solutions.
PMS and Menstrual Cramps: The Causes
Too much estrogen: although a hormone that is needed for reproduction, when the body is producing excess, you are left with painful periods. Your body reacting to stress can create unnecessary estrogen.
Solution: Believe it or not changes in your diet can help hormone balance a great deal. More on this later.
The thyroid: this little butterfly shaped gland is responsible for a mind-boggling amount of important things that are regulated in your body.
Solution: In connection to menstrual cycles and symptoms, the thyroid will be the one to deactivate excessive estrogen production.
Stress: our adrenal gland will release cortisol when we are feeling stressed. This stress can be life threatening or an argument with a co-worker or just horrible traffic.
Solution: Cortisol produced because of stress causes our levels of progesterone and thyroid hormones to drop. As we now know, these hormones are needed to balance the estrogen in our bodies.
Each of the hormone imbalances noted above can be caused by bad eating habits, lack of exercise, stress, chemicals in foods, body products and water. And what’s the good news here? We can make changes in all of those categories!
Tips for Symptom Improvements
1. Try to cut out sugar, white flour, and processed foods at least 80% of the time.
2. Eat GOOD fats. The unprocessed and extra virgin fats in coconut and olive oil absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in your body–A, D, E and K. Other good fats include ghee, flax oil, and hemp seeds.
3. Reduce grains and soy, which can increase blood sugar imbalances, lower thyroid functions and reduce the liver’s ability to detox excess estrogen. Try alternatives made with coconut, almond, sunflower and other flour alternatives for your pasta and bread selections.
4. No more diary products unless they are organic or raw milk.
5. Change your salt choice to Celtic sea salt or Himalayan pink salt.
6. I personally noticed a radical change in cramps when I eliminated caffeine on a daily basis. Try to make the gradual adjustment to decaffeinated coffee or tea.
Period Pain Reduction Tips
1. Water, water, water. Stay hydrated. Starting the day off with lemon water is the best, as it creates an alkalizing environment in your body.
2. Vitamin D3—get it in your diet, with food, supplements or by 30 minutes of sun exposure every day.
3. Eat your leafy greens! They supply you with vitamin B, fiber, minerals, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Some of the best include Swiss chard, collard, and spinach.
4. To help balance hormones add fatty fish or flax seed oil every day.
5. A delicious tea of cinnamon and ginger is a soothing gentle cramp and PMS symptom reliever. Half a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of ground ginger or a few fresh ginger slices boiled for 5-10 minutes and you’re all set.
6. Evening Primrose Oil is an anti-inflammatory and contains omega-6 fatty acids. Both of these are good for reducing breast tenderness and other PMS symptoms.
7. Heat through heating pads or hot water bottles helps to relax stiff muscles in the belly and low back areas.
8. Rest and sleep. Proper relaxation offers a great way to aid in stress reduction. Meditation and breathing practices should also be incorporated.
9. Exercise! When you do, endorphins or the ‘feel good’ hormones are released and pain is reduced.
10. A natural progesterone cream (such as wild yam) applied a week before the start of your period can also ease symptoms.
In summary, the majority of our suggestions come down to addressing quality sleep, stress reduction and healthy food intake. If you can implement some of these changes (of course the more the better!) to your routine you will notice significant improvements in pain symptoms in as little as 4-8 weeks.