For my ladies: Menstrual Cramps 101
Updated: May 8, 2020
Your period should not be painful! Although we’ve been conditioned to believe pain is a ‘normal’ part of our monthly cycle, it is often a sign that something else may be going on. If you need to schedule a full day off the first day of your cycle because the pain is too much to bear see below for some tips to prevent & treat menstrual cramps:
Why we get them
There are many reasons why we may be experiencing cramping during our period. One of which are fats called prostaglandins, a group of hormone-like chemicals that stimulate uterine contraction (too much contraction = pain).1,2 These are produced naturally in the body and are necessary and protective of our reproductive health.
Your cramps can also be a sign of infection, fibroids, endometriosis or cysts.1 See your OBGYN to rule these causes out if you’re experiencing severe pain. Cramps can also be caused by chronic infections, adrenal dysregulation, and/or nutrient imbalances so high levels of stress and an unhealthy diet may be the culprit!
Lastly, an unbalanced microbiome or inflammatory gut condition may also contribute to a hormonal disruption, Our gut health is key for hormonal balance because a healthy gut will help you absorb and use the nutrients you need to make necessary hormones and eliminate the ones you don’t need.1 So proper digestion and elimination will be crucial to get our hormones back in check.
How to prevent them
o A diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids will help decrease inflammation – aim to get 2,000mg daily for that anti-inflammatory effect.1 Include salmon, sardines, walnuts, hemp and flax seeds in your diet for a good boost in omega 3 fatty acids.
o Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep – aim to get in 7-8 hours of deep sleep each night (bonus points for getting to bed before 10 pm). Avoid using electronics before bed, try a relaxation exercise before bed such as breathwork, journaling or meditation, and create a bed time ritual. Magnesium supplementation (300-600 mg/d1) will also help boost melatonin to help you fall asleep. If you’re not sleeping, there is no chance you will be able to balance your hormones!
o Reduce and manage your stress levels – take a yoga class, a long walk or try journaling. Ashwaghanda (an adaptogen that helps our bodies respond to stress) may also make a good addition to our diet. Stress, both physical and mental, can delay your period and chronic stress contributes to PCOS, perimenopause, and diabetes among other conditions.
o Avoid or limit alcohol consumption as alcohol interferes with liver detox. Our liver is the main detox hormone in the body in charge of eliminating the hormones our bodies no longer need – what goes in is just as important as what comes out!
o Follow an anti-inflammatory diet filled with vegetables, low-glycemic fruits, organic/wild proteins and healthy fats. Focus on dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, avocados, olive oil and nuts/seeds. Limit dairy, sugar, gluten, and soy as well as refined fats.
Help, I’m in pain! What can I do right now?
o As tempting as they may be avoid NSAIDs (Tylenol, Aleve): taking pain relievers regularly may cause your body to suppress ovulation, making it harder to recover from the hormonal imbalances causing your cramps in the first place.1 Taking these pain killers may worsen the problem long-term as they strain your liver and worsen hormone imbalances.2
o Instead, try some Almonds! A high dose of vitamin E (almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds) and Magnesium (collard greens, spinach, cacao) a few days before and during your period may help ease the discomfort.
o Brew a large batch of Hibiscus tea to sip throughout the day – hibiscus helps reduce muscle spasms and minimizes the inflammatory response; this has been surprisingly helpful for me! Place ~1/4 cup of dried hibiscus flowers in 3 cups of boiling water – let them steep for 15 minutes and drink warm or cold.
o Try herbal tinctures - cramp bark is anti-spasmodic and a muscle relaxant, try 1 ml 2-3 times per day or as needed to help ease cramping; dong quai is a Chinese herb known for nourishing the blood, acts as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever and may help regulate menstrual cycles3
o Add turmeric to your foods, take as a tea, golden mylk or in a capsule form – aim to get 1 gm/d1 for a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.
o Ditch the meds! Ginger has been shown to be just as effective at reducing pain as NSAIDs - 1,000 mg twice daily works well for most people.1 You can also try ginger as a tea or in powdered form to add flavor to your meals and smoothies.
o Try CBD for pain relief – no it won’t get you high, but it is pretty effective at relieving the pain and noticeably reducing inflammation. I love Charlotte’s Web (not sponsored) – I have tried their tincture and capsules, and both have been effective. As a guideline to dosage, Gaia Herbs recommends 18mg for a person weighing 86-150 lbs experiencing severe pain, and 27mg for a person weighing 151-240 lbs experiencing severe pain.4
o Applying heat to your abdomen helps ease contractions and thus pain but no more that 20 minutes at a time as this may affect your circulation.
o Try Magnesium supplementation (300-600 mg/day) and/or Magnesium Oil applied topically to your abdomen to encourage muscle relaxation.
o I know the last thing you want to do right now is stand up, but light movement encourages circulation and may help alleviate the pain. Try walking or stretching in a way that feels good.
To put it all together try this tea below – make a large batch and sip throughout the day!
Easy Flow Tea: boil 1-2 cups of water (depending on how strong you’d like your tea) and add: 1 medium cinnamon stick, 3 inches fresh or dried ginger root, and ¼ cup dried hibiscus flowers. Allow the herbs to steep for 15 minutes and enjoy hot or cold. Bonus: add 1 dropperful each cramp bark tincture and dong quai tincture to your cup of tea.
1. BRIGHTEN JOLENE. BEYOND THE PILL: a 30-Day Plan to Eliminate Period Problems, Boost Libido, Improve Mood, Clear ... Skin, and Ditch the Pill When Youre Ready. Place of publication not identified: HARPER ONE; 2019.
2. Vitti A. Woman Code: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source. New York, NY: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers; 2014.
3. Dong Quai Root: Dong Quai Tea: Dong Quai Benefits: Dr. Weil. DrWeil.com. https://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/herbs/dong-quai/. Published June 20, 2017. Accessed July 2, 2019.
4. Bove M. What’s Hot in Botanicals? Hemp, the Brain and ‘Shrooms. Gaia Herbs - Professional Solutions. June 2019.