Let’s talk about painful periods.

Written by: Taryn Symington

Are you one of the many women who struggle with painful cramps during your cycle? 

If you are, you’re not alone. Painful periods (aka dysmenorrhea) are extremely common – but common doesn’t have to mean normal. A bit of discomfort is natural during your period, but you shouldn’t need a whole bottle of Advil just to ease the pain.

Imagine a life without painful periods. Think about living pain-free, without cramps for the rest of your life. How would it make you feel? What would you do with all that time you used to spend curled up in bed watching Netflix? 

Fortunately, there ARE ways that you can naturally prevent, manage, and reduce cramps during your period! 

First of all.. what is dysmenorrhea? 

There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common, and in this case the cramps are recurrent, but are not due to another illness or disease. 

Secondary dysmenorrhea comes with other conditions such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, infections, or uterine fibroids, and is usually more long-lasting than it is cyclical. 

*Note: This post will mostly focus on ways to prevent and manage primary dysmenorrhea, but feel free to try some of these suggestions if you are also struggling with secondary. 

Why do I get cramps? 

There are a lot of reasons why you might get cramps during your period. They can be caused by:

  • A lack of blood flow – and therefore oxygen flow – to the uterus
  • Psychological and emotional factors 
  • Increased production of prostaglandins (see below)
  • Low progesterone levels, or high/unopposed estrogen levels

In more severe cases, cramps may also be a sign of:

  • PID (pelvic inflammatory disease)
  • Endometriosis
  • Adenomyosis
  • Fibroids

Prostaglandins are a group of fats that act on injury or in this case, are a result of the shedding the endometrial lining that is your period. Before your period, the endometrium makes prostaglandins which are then broken down and released at menstruation, which causes the muscle contractions and inflammation that contribute to cramps. Prostaglandins are low during the first half and early part of second half of your cycle, then rise to their highest level just before you get your period. This increase in the production of prostaglandins contributes to inflammation and causes uterine contractions that lead to the pain you might experience.

So, what can I do to reduce my cramps? 

Here are some ways to reduce the pain you feel during your period. 

  1. Drink Water

I know that drinking water seems to be the cure for everything, but in this case it actually does help. Water, especially warm water, will prevent your body from becoming dehydrated and experiencing painful bloating and gas. Dehydration can be a big cause of muscle spasms that happen with cramps during your period, and in general. 

  1. Vitamins and Minerals 

There are a few vitamins and minerals that you can focus on during (and before) your period to manage the pain. 

  • Magnesium: Magnesium relaxes the uterus and reduces those “bad” prostaglandins that I talked about earlier
  • B vitamins: All of the B vitamins help to reduce cramps, and certain B vitamins are vasodilators (which means that it dilates or relaxes the blood vessels), and have roles in muscle contraction and relaxation
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is good for so many things, but here it improves blood flow in the blood vessels, and also helps to increase the effect of other vitamins and minerals
  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E is connected to a decrease in menstrual cramps and overall blood loss. It can also relieve breast pain and tenderness, raise HDL cholesterol (what some think of as “good” cholesterol), and acts as an antioxidant in the body 
  1. Omega 3s

Omega 3s are a fatty acid that can be found mainly in fish (salmon, tuna, halibut, sardines). We often have an imbalance in omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids from the foods that we eat regularly because omega 6s are found in corn, safflower, canola, and cottonseed oils – aka the oils used in most of the processed and refined foods that we consume. Too much omega 6 can increase inflammation and promotes cramps. Omega 3s can be taken in supplement form, or with the foods mentioned above to lessen the uterine contractions that cause the pain you experience from period cramps.

  1. Tea, Herbs, and Botanicals (Oh My!) 

There are a few natural ways to reduce period pain, if you don’t feel like going out and spending money on a ton of supplements. Some teas that can help with cramps are raspberry leaf, ginger, turmeric, and chamomile. There are many other herbs and botanicals which vary in their exact effect, but many of them help relax the muscles that are contracting in the uterus, and work to reduce inflammation all over the body. Essential oil massages using lavender or clary sage might also be helpful to relax the muscles. Lavender improves blood flow and relaxes the muscles, and clary sage has positive effects on hormones, in addition to its benefits of reducing pain. 

  1. Lifestyle 

Increasing exercise helps some women reduce the pain they experience from cramps by improving blood flow to the uterus. Listen to your body, and if it is telling you that you need to rest, that’s okay too! 

A heating pack or hot water bottle may also help to relax the uterus and again, improve blood flow, or taking a hot bath/shower will do the same thing. 

Orgasm. There are a few reasons why this seems to work. When you experience an orgasm, the body releases oxytocin and endorphins (“feel good chemicals”). Oxytocin relaxes the uterus, and the endorphins promote happiness, which is beneficial for women who experience mood changes during their cycle. Having an orgasm can also help to temporarily reduce headaches, which are commonly experienced together with cramps. 

What are the best foods to eat on your period? 

Although we might want to reach for the chocolate, chips, pizza, or pretty much anything we can get our hands on, this unfortunately won’t help to reduce cramps. Good quality dark chocolate can help because of cacao’s high levels of magnesium. Beans, fish, flaxseed, sesame, hemp, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds, lemon, fruits (bananas, watermelon), broccoli, kale, and high fiber foods are a better choice to reduce cramps. 

That these are all ways to get relief short-term. If you’re looking for pain-free periods to become your new normal, it is essential to adopt a healthy lifestyle. This means adding all the fruits and veggies into your diet, eating lots of healthy fats and proteins, drinking tons of water, and reducing the amount of processed and take-out food and drinks that you might consume. Make it a lifestyle and create healthy habits!

Remember that it’s not only about what you eat (although this is a HUGE part if it), but also about how you live your life. Reduce stress, try meditation, and make time for other forms of relaxation that you enjoy! 

Once you combine all of these strategies, you will find that you are so much more productive, pain-free, and ready to take on what life throws at you. The more that you implement these things into your life, the easier and more pain-free your next cycle will be. 

And if you need support using a personalized, holistic approach, click HERE to book a Discovery Call with Taryn to get started!