Menstrual pain is pain that occurs in the abdomen or pelvis during menstruation. This discomfort is not normal, but it is extremely common. Over half of all women suffer from pain during their period, and surveys show that a staggering 90% of adolescent girls are affected. The pain can range from mild to severe and can potentially interfere with the ability to perform daily activities.
During the first half of a woman’s cycle, the uterine lining is built up; when the period starts, this extra lining and blood is shed from the uterus. To aid this process, it is normal for the uterus to contract. However, if the contractions are too strong, this process becomes uncomfortable. This abnormal pain and discomfort during bleeding is known in medical terms as dysmenorrhea.
It is a good idea to see a gynecologist to rule out potentially serious underlying causes, especially if your condition persists or worsens. In most cases of menstrual pain, however, dietary measures and holistic treatments are very effective in relieving pain and restoring a normal quality of life.
The chemical balance of the body plays a vital role in how we think and feel. An imbalance in the biochemistry, therefore, can cause or aggravate menstrual discomfort. The most common biochemical triggers of menstrual pain are excessive inflammation in the body (usually because of a poor diet) and nutritional deficiencies of vitamins and/or minerals. Too much inflammation can directly result in pain. Because there is a natural increase in inflammation while menstruating, this can push you over the pain threshold.
The body’s structural and joint health also plays a vital role in pain and cramping. Structural problems like misalignments of the pelvic bones and/or low back (the lumbar vertebrae) can place undue stress on nerves and cause pain or dysfunction in the nervous system. This type of problem is routinely identified and addressed by chiropractic physicians. In many cases, correcting spinal and joint alignment provides substantial relief when diet and supplements alone have not worked.
Acupuncture is another fantastic holistic tool to treat menstrual pain. Using needles or acupressure to balance the body’s energy pathways (meridians) can relax the overactive uterine muscles and smooth the flow of blood during the period.
Natural treatments and remedies for all kinds of menstrual-related pains and discomfort include:
1. Exercise. Mild exercise (jogging,walking, etc.) in the days leading up to and including Day 1 of your period can significantly relieve discomfort. Although exercise may not sound appealing when you’re in pain, the rewards are well worth the effort.
2. Eat a healthy diet. First, cut out sugars, grains, and starches (bread, rice, pasta, potatoes). All these foods are very inflammatory and therefore contribute to pain and discomfort in the body. Next, make sure you get plenty of animal protein (fish, beef, eggs, etc.) with your vegetables to help your body replace all the blood (protein!) it loses during this time.
3. Limit caffeine and chocolate intake. These foods are high in methylxanthines, which the liver must process and detoxify. An extra burden on a liver that is already busy processing hormones (and performing its many other vital functions) can aggravate symptoms.
4. Try a high quality supplement. A good general one for all kinds of menstrual pain is fish oil. Omega 3 oils have a great anti-inflammatory effect on the body, especially when combined with a good diet. In addition to consuming wild-caught fish from the ocean (not farm raised!), try supplementing with a good quality fish oil like Carlson’s Cod Liver Oil. One spoonful daily will help decrease inflammation, as it is naturally high in Vitamins A, D3, and DHA and EPA.
a. For cramping, try a calcium lactate supplement: 750 mg daily during discomfort and then 200 mg per day for the rest of the cycle. Magnesium can also be beneficial for muscle cramps. A Vitamin E supplement made from food (not synthetic) may also be helpful.
b. For back pain related to periods, try taking a Zinc supplement or eat foods naturally high in Zinc (oysters, fish, beef, dark chicken meat… ).
c. For abdominal pain (not cramping) during periods, try a Vitamin B6 supplement or eat more foods naturally high in B6 (salmon, liver, cod, beef, wheat germ, sunflower seeds). Vitamin B6 is also helpful for water retention that sometimes accompanies a woman’s period.
5. Try a homeopathic remedy. Hyland’s Menstrual Cramps is especially good for the kind of menstrual discomfort which is made better by heat and pressure and aggravated by motion.
6. See a holistic doctor for a chiropractic and acupuncture evaluation to determine if you will benefit from one or both of these treatments.
While taking over the counter medications such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can temporarily relieve pain and discomfort, it does nothing to correct the aforementioned biochemical or structural cause of pain. There are also side effects and risks of more serious complications like ulcers (bleeding in the stomach or gut) with prolonged use of such medications. Midol, one of the more common drugs taken for menstrual cramps, is comprised mostly of acetaminophen (Tylenol); this is not considered an NSAID, but it can damage the liver if taken in excess or for a long period of time. It is best to address all the underlying triggers of menstrual pain for long lasting relief and health.