Tips for Alleviating Period Pain
Are you or someone you know experiencing regular period pain?
Are you or someone you know experiencing regular period pain? Sadly dysmenorrhea, as it is medically known, is so common today that hugging a hot water bottle and reaching for the painkillers for a few days of each month is simply accepted as part and parcel of being a woman.
However, period pain, believe it or not, is not actually normal. Most cases of mild to moderate period pain can be remedied within one to two cycles, while more severe cases may need more support and investigation before they improve.
Period pain can be classified into two different types. Primary dysmenorrhea, or “normal” period pain, usually occurs on the first or second day of menstruation in the form of mild cramping that improves with pain killers, or a hot water bottle and will not generally interrupt daily activities. It often lessens with age and may be caused by hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, stress, inflammation, or a combination of these.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is such a severe period pain that it interferes with daily activity. It can last many days and may be so bad as to cause vomiting. This pain won’t be ameliorated by your standard ibuprofen, and usually worsens with age. Severe period pain is usually a sign of an underlying condition such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or fibroids and needs further investigation by your doctor.
Assessments to investigate the underlying cause of period pain may include:
- A full clinical case assessment discussing signs and symptoms, age of onset, duration and level of pain
- Physical investigation, possibly including internal exam
- Ultra sound scan to check for fibroids
- Full blood tests to check for nutrient deficiencies, thyroid function, inflammation
- In more complex or chronic cases, functional tests such as Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones (DUTCH) or salivary hormone testing can tell us a lot more about your individual hormone balance
Tips for alleviating period pain:
The good news is that for both forms of period pain, there are a lot natural approaches to help improve, and in many cases completely alleviate the pain and discomfort. It can be useful to make an appointment with a naturopath who can assess which approach would work best for you as well as guide you with the correct dose and forms of supplements. They can also provide valuable support through the process. It can take 2-3 cycles or more before a significant improvement in symptoms occurs so having someone experienced to work with can make all the difference in achieving results.
A low inflammatory diet can be one of the most powerful things that you can do to help period pain. Dairy is probably the number one inflammatory food group that contributes to period pain. Many women find that removing this alone can have a hugely positive impact. Gluten, alcohol, caffeine, sugars and trans-fats are also very inflammatory. It can be challenging to remove all these from your diet, but at least consider reducing them and see how it makes you feel. Foods such as vegetables, fish and flaxseed oils, as well as herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger, garlic and cinnamon, are very anti-inflammatory and great to include. It usually takes one to two months of eating an anti-inflammatory diet before an effect is noticed, so do persevere – it will be worth it!
Magnesium is a smooth muscle relaxant as well as helping to calm the nervous system, reduce inflammation and lessen our experience of pain and discomfort. Taking a high dose – 300mg or more- of a good quality magnesium supplement daily will help to reduce the inflammatory chemicals that cause uterine cramping. Increasing the dose over the most painful period can also help to reduce acute pain and cramping.
Zinc is another important mineral when it comes to period pain. It helps to regulate hormone production as well as reduce inflammation. Zinc deficiencies amongst Kiwis are common because New Zealand soils are low in in this vital mineral, which means most of our foods are too. It is a good idea to have your zinc levels tested to check for zinc depletion and supplement if there is a deficiency.
Fish oils are powerfully anti-inflammatory, and anyone who is not eating at least two servings of oily fish per week would benefit from a good quality supplement. Studies have shown fish oil supplementation to be as effective as taking ibuprofen for relieving mild to moderate period pain, and without the side effects. It is important to take a high standard fish oil supplement, as some off-the-shelf products have been found to be rancid, or contain traces of toxic metals. Speak with your naturopath or doctor to ensure you are taking the best quality fish oil and therapeutic dose for you.
Turmeric is one of the most powerfully anti-inflammatory spices. For addressing period pain it is best taken daily using therapeutic doses in supplemental form as the spice itself is not well absorbed.
Exercise increases circulation, boost mood and reduces inflammation and is a great way to help support the reduction of period pain and cramping. Try to include regular movement in your day – be it dancing, yoga, team sports, running or walking, whatever floats your boat. Excessive exercise can have the opposite effect so no need to sign up for a marathon just yet!
More specific approaches using supplements and herbal medicines such as chaste tree, bupleurum, cramp bark, and DIM (di-indolymethane – an extract from broccoli) can also have a powerful effect on alleviating period pain through regulating hormone balance and inflammation. These should always be prescribed by a qualified naturopath or health practitioner based on an assessment of your specific requirements.