Do menstrual cramps interfere with your daily life every month? The pain alone is bad enough, but when it’s accompanied with sweating, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, it’s next to impossible to function. Please know you aren’t alone. I have dealt with it (and still do when I don’t implement the tips below) and so do 91% of all women, with 30% reporting severe pain every month. That’s 9 out of 10 too many, which is why I want to help you alleviate these symptoms so you can spend less time in pain and more time doing whatever brings you joy.
Menstruation is a beautiful and wonderful gift that allows us to create life—create life!!! That’s amazing! It just doesn’t feel quite so amazing when your abdominal pain is so intense that the only thing that sounds helpful is ripping your uterus out… or is that just me? The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the norm for any of us. Dysmenorrhea, which is the medical term for menstrual cramps, is caused by the uterus contracting in order to shed its lining. So, feeling a little cramping is a normal part of our cycle, but feeling intense pain while you’re also vomiting, sweating, and have a pounding headache is not. Phew. The severity of menstrual cramps can be caused by a multitude of things including the tilt of your uterus (it has to work harder i.e. contract more to shed its lining), lifestyle habits (smoking, stress, lack of exercise), and as a secondary condition to pelvic diseases such as endometriosis and fibroids. Women who experience more severe cramps are found to have higher levels of inflammatory hormones called prostaglandins (PGF2 alpha to be exact). These inflammatory hormones can be caused by various things including too many refined carbohydrates and stress.
Now that we know some possible causes, let’s focus on the lifestyle factors we can change and bring sweet relief into our life. Go ahead and grab a hot water bottle and warm herbal tea (‘cause warmth helps cramps too!), and let’s get down to business.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Studies show these anti-inflammatory friends offer a wide array of health benefits, including calming menstrual cramps. Incorporate more into your diet by either consuming omega-3-rich foods such as walnuts, chia seeds, Atlantic mackerel, herring, wild-caught Pacific salmon, flax seeds, and sardines, or by taking a fish/cod liver oil supplement* (1-2 grams daily).
Magnesium. Research supports that this essential mineral and electrolyte helps with over 300 functions in the body, including muscle relaxation, which is crucial when you’re experiencing cramps. Be sure to include plenty of magnesium-rich foods in your diet, including leafy greens, green veggies (broccoli, asparagus, etc.), pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocados, and raspberries. It’s also a natural laxative, so start slow (250-800 mg) to prevent disaster pants if you decide to take a supplement.*
Vitamin D. Studies also show an association between vitamin D deficiency and inflammation. This fat-soluble vitamin can actually decrease inflammation, and thus, cramps. It also helps regulate hormones, including our sex hormones and blood sugar, which can have a positive impact on your menstrual cycle as well. Good sources of vitamin D include sunlight (be cautious if you have a sun allergy or skin cancer) and fish. Whether you choose to supplement* or not, I recommend getting your vitamin D levels checked by your doctor, because most of us are deficient.
Balanced Blood Sugar. Research also shows a link between high sugar diets, low vegetable/fruit intake, and skipping breakfast. For more great tips, visit these blog posts on the benefits of balancing your blood sugar and how-to do it. You can also sign-up for the free 10-Day Blood Sugar Balance Challenge, complete with recipes and extra guidance.
Explore Dairy. This is a controversial topic, which is why I support you in exploring this more. I almost didn’t write about it, because I have no desire in vilifying a food, and I didn’t find any research that supports decreasing dairy in order to improve menstrual symptoms. However, I have found both personally and professional with clients, that decreasing dairy has been helpful in alleviating painful periods as well as balancing hormones. In short, the theory behind reducing dairy is due to the use of hormones and antibiotics to keep cows pregnant and producing milk. More estrogen in them may mean more estrogen in you. If you are experiencing intense, painful periods, you may want to explore removing dairy for a month and see if you feel any improvement. I still consume dairy with the occasional pizza, but I’ve tuned into what amounts work for me and I encourage you to do the same. When consuming dairy, focus on organic, grass-fed dairy with no added hormones. If dairy doesn’t work for you, incorporate non-dairy calcium-rich foods such as sardines with their bones, leafy greens, almonds, and broccoli into your diet. Calcium supplements may also be used, taking 500 mg at 2-3 meals per day (and away from iron supplements) or as your health practitioner recommends.
Movement. Exercise is beneficial for many things in your life, including regulating your blood sugar and therefore decreasing inflammation. A few studies found that Pilates in particular was associated with less menstrual cramps. This could be due to its focus on pelvic floor strengthening, breathwork for decreased stress, and more gentle movement, which is beneficial during menstruation when your body is undergoing so many changes.
Essential Oils.* Many Eastern Medicine philosophies advocate the use of essential oils for various health issues, and menstrual cramps is one of them. Studies have found that the use of lavender, clary sage, rose, and marjoram significantly reduced menstrual pain due to their naturally occurring pain-relieving properties. Try mixing these together with a carrier oil like jojoba oil and massage them onto your abdomen and low back.
Stop Smoking. If you currently smoke, please stop and get support. It’s a huge risk factor for a multitude of diseases, not just menstrual cramps.
Please comment below: what is one tip from above that you’ll start doing today to alleviate your menstrual cramps?
If you felt this post was helpful, please like it and share it with your friends and family. I’d really appreciate it.
With love, Steph
*As always, check with your doctor prior to adding supplements, essential oils, herbs, or starting a new exercise routine.
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