Although PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) can be made up of many symptoms, for the sake of this article, we will be focusing on menstrual cramps (also referred to as dysmenorrhea).
Periods shouldn’t hurt! Yes, you heard that right. Although menstrual cramps are common, they are NOT normal or inevitable. When something is not right in the body, it is always a warning that we should heed. Heeding a warning is different than denying it, covering it up or ignoring it. It means to listen/pay attention to…once you have paid attention and gathered the appropriate information, you can adjust in the right direction.
Menstrual cramps are one of the most common health concerns amongst woman of childbearing age. They can range in intensity from mild to debilitating and can last from a few minutes to a few days. The pain and cramping can occur in the lower back as well as the lower abdominal area. Cramps most often occur in the second half of the cycle (the Luteal phase) and into the first couple of days of menses.
Conventional treatments include ibuprofen or other pain relievers and sometimes birth control pills. Both options are a last resort as the side effects are problematic and the long-term impact is even worse (including organ damage and nutritional deficiencies that can lead to a myriad of other health problems). Not to mention that they don’t address the cause of why the cramps are there to begin with. If symptoms persist, especially in cases of endometriosis, eventually, doctors may recommend a full or partial hysterectomy.
Causes of menstrual cramps:
If there is too much estrogen in the body, the lining of the uterus gets too thick and releases a great deal of inflammatory prostaglandins which can result in cramping, heavier blood flow and other PMS symptoms. So of course, that begs another question…how do you get too much estrogen in the body? Doesn’t the body naturally create estrogen as needed? An excessive amount of estrogen can come from a diet rich in animal products (especially dairy)1, a diet high in dietary fat2 or the use of plastics3, sometimes grouped into a category called, xenoestrogens. These estrogenic compounds are even found in some processed foods as well.
What can you do in the long term?
Ultimately, the goal here is to get your body super clean and health internally so that everything works as it should without pain or discomfort. This section is about getting to the real root (or roots) of the issue and preventing cramps down the road. This can take some time, so be in it for the long haul and be patient with yourself.
- Cardiovascular exercise can reduce painful cramping.4
- Decrease fat in the diet5 (especially animal products but even nut butters, avocados, olive oil, etc)…this is not to say that fat is bad or that you should never eat it, but it may be a good reason to limit fat for a couple of months if you are suffering with this condition.
- Increase fiber- fiber helps the body get rid of excess estrogen (fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans/legumes, etc). Fiber helps bind to excess estrogen to remove it from the body. It also aids in the alleviation of inflammation (the cause of pain).6
- Plastic as much as possible (water bottles, food storage, etc)
- High fat foods (fried food, oils, trans fats, etc)
- Animal products
- Cheese is especially high in estrogen
What can you do if you have menstrual cramps RIGHT now?
Of course, in this case, the goal is to reduce pain and discomfort as soon as possible, without causing undo side effects.
- Cinnamon has been compared to ibuprofen for menstrual cramps and although may not be quite as strong, is worth trying as the side effects are nil and the benefits are great.7 I typically recommend for client to put a full tsp of organic Vietnamese cinnamon into hot water (to make a tea) or oatmeal.
- Iron rich foods such as dark leafy greens can be helpful especially if you have a heavy flow. The more blood you shed, the more iron you’re losing. Plus, iron deficient anemia is often associated with painful periods.8
- Heat9 – Although there are multiple ways to use heat to alleviate cramps, my favorite is with the full spectrum Therasage heating pads.
- Hydration…It may not seem intuitive, but being well hydrated can actually help with menstrual cramps.10
- Tea- There are lots of tea blends that have a combination of herbs that can be helpful. Plants such as fennel, peppermint, chamomile and many others can reduce the pain and duration of cramping.11
Supplements that can help:
If you have followed me for any amount of time, you know that all of my supplement recommendations come with a disclaimer. It’s important to me that you’re never mis-lead. Supplements can be powerful, but they are just that…a SUPPLEMENT…they are to be used in addition to and alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle. A supplement that can be beneficial to one person could be harmful to another. Therefore, I practice personalized nutrition. That said, here are some options that I have found helpful for clients with menstrual cramps.
- Radiant Woman
- Estro Flavone
- Ultra Pollen
- And liver support products such as Gall Bladder ND, Liver ND, Fermented Turmeric, Turmeric caps and Max B can also be helpful.
Of course, to know exactly which products would be best for you, you’d need to be tested. These are general recommendations that can prove helpful for many ladies, but there is no one size fits all. Also, again keep in mind that hormones can take some time to adjust, so stick to your plan.
If you are already doing these things and are still having challenges, please seek help. Don’t continue to suffer. There are lots of things that could be going on, and you may need to be tested for iron levels, fibroids, cysts, etc. But don’t go into fear! All of these things submit to your self-healing body. Remember that everything is connected. You are made of yesterday’s diet choices…the good news is, you can make changes today that will help you have more comfortable tomorrows. If you need help, please feel free to reach out to the New Hope Health clinic 269-204-6525.
1. Malekinejad H, Rezabakhsh A. Hormones in dairy foods and their impact on public health- A narrative review article. Iran J Public Health. 2015.
2. Chakraborty TR, Donthireddy L, Adhikary D, Chakraborty S. Long-term high fat diet has a profound effect on body weight, hormone levels, and estrous cycle in mice. Med Sci Monit. 2016. doi:10.12659/MSM.897628
3. Darbre PD. Chemical components of plastics as endocrine disruptors: Overview and commentary. Birth Defects Res. 2020. doi:10.1002/bdr2.1778
4. Dehnavi Z, Jafarnejad F, Kamali Z. The Effect of aerobic exercise on primary dysmenorrhea: A clinical trial study. J Educ Health Promot. 2018. doi:10.4103/jehp.jehp_79_17
5. Barnard ND, Scialli AR, Hurlock D, Bertron P. Diet and sex-hormone binding globulin, dysmenorrhea, and premenstrual symptoms. Obstet Gynecol. 2000. doi:10.1016/S0029-7844(99)00525-6
6. Haghighatdoost F, Bellissimo N, Totosy De Zepetnek JO, Rouhani MH. Association of vegetarian diet with inflammatory biomarkers: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Public Health Nutr. 2017. doi:10.1017/S1368980017001768
7. Jaafarpour M, Hatefi M, Khani A, Khajavikhan J. Comparative effect of cinnamon and ibuprofen for treatment of primary dysmenorrhea: A randomized double-blind clinical trial. J Clin Diagnostic Res. 2015. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2015/12084.5783
8. Fernandez-Jimenez MC, Moreno G, Wright I, Shih P-C, Vaquero MP, Remacha AF. Iron Deficiency in Menstruating Adult Women: Much More than Anemia. Women’s Heal Reports. 2020. doi:10.1089/whr.2019.0011
9. Jo J, Lee SH. Heat therapy for primary dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis of its effects on pain relief and quality of life. Sci Rep. 2018. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-34303-z
10. Torkan B, Mousavi M, Dehghani S, et al. The role of water intake in the severity of pain and menstrual distress among females suffering from primary dysmenorrhea: a semi-experimental study. BMC Womens Health. 2021. doi:10.1186/s12905-021-01184-w
11. Mirabi P, Alamolhoda SH, Esmaeilzadeh S, Mojab F. Effect of medicinal herbs on primary dysmenorrhoea – A systematic review. Iran J Pharm Res. 2014. doi:10.22037/ijpr.2014.1547
Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease. It does not take the place of a qualified health care practitioner and is intended for educational purposes only.