We’re kicking off Women’s Health Week with a topic that I unfortunately have a very personal relationship with…menstrual cramps. This is something that has seriously impacted my school, work, social life, and finances because I have had quite a few urgent care, and ER visits because of it. After doing some research, I realized I am not alone. Over 50 % of women deal with painful menstrual cramps, and about 10% of those women have pain that makes them incapacitated for a few days. If this is you, this post will help give you a holistic approach to preventing your period cramps!
SEE A DOCTOR:
The first thing you should do is determine whether you have primary or secondary dysmenorrhea (or painful menstruation). Secondary means that there is some underlying disease state causing your painful periods , such as Endometriosis, or Fibroids. It’s important to rule out these potential causes so you can get to the root cause of your menstrual cramps and treat them accordingly.
This post will focus on primary dysmenorrhea, or painful menstrual cramps not caused by an underlying disease. Over half the women who experience these kind of period cramps, also experience PMS symptoms like low back pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and even fainting. This can be so traumatic, especially if this is something you are having to deal with for a few days out of each month!
WHAT CAUSES MY PERIOD CRAMPS:
A few possible causes include lack of blood flow and oxygen to your uterus, and high levels of mediator molecules called prostaglandins which cause inflammation and uterine contractions. Studies have found that women who experience with painful menstrual cramps have almost 10 x higher prostaglandin levels than women who do not.
HOW TO TREAT YOUR MENSTRUAL CRAMPS:
One of the main problems in terms of the current treatment of menstrual cramps, is that we put a huge emphasis on pain relief without focusing on prevention or treating the underlying cause. That means that most women are relying on pain meds like Midol, every month and might have to do so for the rest of their menstruating lives. Trust me, I understand why. Even with my Naturopathic background, I have taken more pain medication than I would like to admit because I have experienced times where I couldn’t get off the bathroom floor at school, the gym, or work and the pain was just unbearable. This brings us to one of the biggest challenges of natural medicine, because people want instant pain relief and there isn’t really anything natural that’s comparable to a conventional pain medication.
Where natural medicine can be extremely helpful is preventing these cramps from occurring as often, and from being as severe. Taking a more holistic approach can be really powerful, and help to reduce your other PMS symptoms as well.
It’s important to consider that not all of these recommendations will work for everyone, and it’s really important to consult with your doctor so you can get the best recommendations for you personally, especially when it comes to supplement recommendations.
Things that can help reduce your period cramps:
- eating breakfast
- plant based diet
- foods high in omega-3 content: salmon, sardines, walnuts, and walnuts
- nuts and seeds rich in linoleum acid can help with muscle relaxation: flaxseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
Things that might be making your cramps worse:
- foods high in arachidonic acid and polyunsaturated fatty acid (increase those prostaglandins we were talking about earlier): mostly egg yolks, red meat, and poultry
- foods that cause bloating and other digestive complaints, like dairy products
- too much salt, which causes water retention and can worsen the pain
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and B3 (Niacin): 100 mg of Thiamine taken for 30 months has been found to help reduce menstrual cramps,
- Vitamin E: Taking about 500 IU was shown to help reduce painful cramps and menstrual migraines.
- Calcium: Taking Calcium can help with muscle tone and to reduce cramping.
- Fish oils: Omega-3 helps reduce inflammation and prostaglandin production, which means less contractions and less pain.
- Rose: Tea made with the rose buds and leaves has been shown to help relieve pain and mental PMS symptoms like mood swings and anxiety.
- Cramp Bark and Black Haw: These herbs are uterine anti-spasmodics, and really help relax your uterine muscles and relieve pain.
- Ginger: Also has anti-inflammatory properties, helps reduce prostaglandin production, and is thought to increase warmth and blood flow to the uterus.
- Exercise: Consistent exercise helps to prevent painful period cramps, even a light walk can help reduce severity and frequency of the pain.
- Yoga, and pelvic opening stretches and exercises: having tight muscles to start off with will only make matters worse. Keeping your pelvic muscles relaxed can help your reduce the pain and spasms.
Lastly, just another reminder that these are just general suggestions, but your women’s health doctor or ND can help you rule out pelvic disease states that could be causing your pain, and a licensed naturopathic doctor can help you manage both conventional and natural therapies to help you come up with a treatment plan that’s both preventative and that also helps reduce acute pain as well.
If you experience painful period cramps, I’m really sorry that it’s something you have to deal with. I truly hope these recommendations bring you some relief!
If you are interested in seeing me as a patient for more specific treatment recommendations or for any other women’s health needs please visit www.DrKananiND.com or email me at Contact@DrKananiND.com
In health and wellness,
// Dr. Nikka Kanani, ND