Got menstrual cramps? You are not alone, sister! Periods are one of the most basic facts of life. However, we don’t often talk about the pain that can come along with them each month.
Did you know that;
88% of women experience menstrual pain
In 40% of women, period pain is accompanied by premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, tender breasts, a swollen stomach, lack of concentration, mood swings, clumsiness and fatigue
In up to 10% of women the pain is severe enough to disrupt their life
53% of women find that period pain affects their ability to work
And up to 30% of women had said they’ve had to take a day off work because of the pain
Society has been slow to recognise that period pain can be a significant issue for working women, although attitudes seem to be slowly changing. Countries including South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Japan have laws in place allowing women time off work when they are menstruating and suffering from painful cramps.
While period cramps and PMS are incredibly common, they're actually not normal. They are our body's way of telling us that something is not working as well as it should be. Think of PMS and cramps as warning mechanisms, and pay attention to what is happening to your body. If you’re like most women, what people probably have told you are things like "cramps are completely normal," or my personal favourite: "It can't be that bad." But it is that bad, and most of us are enduring it almost every month unnecessarily.
HOW DO WE AVOID CRAMPS IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Personally, I find that when I'm really on top of my lifestyle: managing my stress, making time for movement, eating a balanced, blood sugar stabilising diet filled with healthy fats, quality proteins, loads of cruciferous and green veggies and the right complex carbohydrates, staying away from sugar/alcohol/gluten/dairy/soy and processed foods, my cycle is practically symptom free. Keeping track of your lifestyle and then paying attention to your PMS/ menstruation symptoms are a great way to get better in touch with your body so you figure out what you need to improve and can actually see the results for yourself.
Given that I'm all about using natural remedies, I'm sharing some natural remedies that have helped me in the past and now help many of my clients. I have put them all together in a single blog post for you to read through so you can find out what works for you.
HOME REMEDIES FOR MENSTRUAL CRAMPS
IMPROVING YOUR DIET WILL HELP TO ALLEVIATE MENSTRUAL PAIN
In western medicine, many practitioners overlook this simple yet very effective way of combating most ailments: the food we eat. Food can and should be used as medicine. My favourite way of reducing cramps is by focusing on my diet and make sure I'm including plenty of the right healing foods during my cycle. Why? Because I have to eat anyway, so why not include foods that can possibly help lessen my cramps too? I learned a lot about which foods are good for menstruation and which ones are best to avoid.
FOODS TO AVOID DURING MENSTRUATION
I recommend you stay away from the following foods which will increase inflammation in your body and can contribute to having more pain during your bleed.
Processed, packaged foods
Too many raw, bulky vegetables as they can put a lot of strain on the digestive system
We already know drinking excessive cups of coffee, wine or beers daily aren’t ideal for a healthy body or lifestyle. But consuming them more around your cycle can cause additional stress and fatigue on your body during this delicate time of the month. Eating sugar around this time of the month, though sometimes tempting, can actually worsen your symptoms too. So I don’t recommend turning to sweets during this time. You can try some of the following sugar free recipes to help curb your sweet tooth if you do need something to get you through.
FOODS TO INCLUDE DURING MENSTRUATION
INCREASE IRON RICH FOODS - women lose about 30-80ml of blood and 15-25ml of iron during each menstruation. So it’s important to replenish your blood and iron during this time. Foods rich in iron include organic red meat, liver, egg yolks, spinach, collards, dried fruit, oysters, turkey and artichokes.
INCREASE BORON RICH FOODS - this mineral helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus. It also reduces menstrual cramps and the intensity and length of menstrual pain. Boron rich foods include avocados, bananas, apples, coffee, almonds and hazelnuts.
CONSUME GOOD QUALITY FATS - are essential to consume because they provide the building blocks for sex hormones including testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone. Focusing on implementing lots of good quality fats such as avocados, coconut, olive oil, whole eggs, grass-fed/ organic meats and salmon especially in the week leading up to your period, can help keep hormones on an even keel from one period to the next. Salmon also contains vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and iron which also contribute to alleviating menstrual pain.
INCREASE ZINC RICH FOODS - such as; oysters, organic chicken, quality meats, pumpkin seeds and cashews a few days before you are due has a good effect on cramps, bloating and inflammation. Remember that zinc needs vitamin B6 to be absorbed, so be sure that the food you eat contains enough vitamin B6 which include liver, eggs, quality meats, nuts, sweet potato, bananas and avocados.
TAKE COD LIVER OIL - omega-3 fatty acids strike again because these are essential to our health, but our bodies can’t produce them, so we either need to get them from our diet or supplement when we’re lacking. For several years, I used to experience PMS symptoms a few days leading up to my period. But ever since I started taking cod liver oil, my PMS symptoms are almost non existent! Why? because cod liver oil is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which have a crucial role to play in hormonal balance. They're actually the building blocks of our hormones plus they help to transport them throughout the body by improving blood flow. And because they're so anti-inflammatory they can also help reduce PMS symptoms such as bloating, sore boobs, anxiety, depression, lack of concentration and nervousness. Many studies have also shown that Omega 3's works even better than painkillers like Ibuprofen to reduce period pain. If you’re struggling with hormonal acne, cod liver oil can also help clear up your skin because the DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids fight acne by controlling skin inflammation, according to studies. Plus Vitamin D has potent antioxidant and non pore clogging properties that help prevent skin damage.
Make sure you purchase cod liver oil (CLO) from a reputable brand that doesn't use any fillers in their products (always check your labels). I personally use Nordic Naturals. Of course not every supplement works for every person, but I personally have found CLO to be incredibly effective for me.
ADD HERBS TO YOUR DIET
GINGER - this is my #1 favourite herb for cramps. Researchers found that ginger was effective at relieving a number of different PMS symptoms including abdominal, joint, muscle and lower back pain, headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances and nausea. Ginger doesn't just reduce menstrual cramping; it can reduce the amount of menstrual bleeding as well. One study demonstrated that giving ginger capsules 4x a day, starting 3 days before the period, works just as effectively as ibuprofen to treat menstrual pain. Ginger is also helpful for nausea, so I love to recommend this herb specifically for women who experience cramping pain with nausea, vomiting, and bloating associated with period onset. Aside from utilising ginger capsules or liquid, you can also increase ginger in your diet. Here are a few ways to incorporate ginger into your dietary routine:
Chop fresh ginger and add generously to your stir fry or as a topping to baked salmon with lemon, garlic and fresh herbs
Drink fresh pressed juice with ginger, lemon, cucumber and celery
Make fresh ginger tea. Bring to a boil then simmer sliced fresh ginger root in a pot, covered, for 15 minutes
Add a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger to your smoothies in the morning
Replace your second coffee of the day with ginger tea bags
Make a warming turmeric tea latte with a generous serving fresh ginger root
Add ginger powder to your next batch of chocolate brownies
FENNEL SEED - a 2012 study found that fennel seed was more effective than a placebo for controlling severe menstrual pain. On average, women started the study with 6/10 menstrual pain, and five hours after taking fennel seed, they rated their pain just a 1/10. Fennel seed has also been shown to relieve nausea and fatigue associated with menstrual bleeding + decrease the duration of the period. Try adding ground fennel seed to fish, seafood or curries as a seasoning.
CINNAMON - one study demonstrated that a cinnamon capsule taken 3 times a day for the first 3 days of the menstrual cycle can reduce menstrual pain, nausea and vomiting. Cinnamon is also excellent for heavy or excessive bleeding. For my clients who experience both painful cramps and heavy bleeding, cinnamon is one of my go-to herbs. You can increase cinnamon in your diet by;
Adding 1/2 tsp ground ceylon cinnamon to your morning Bulletproof coffee (delicious)
Double or triple the cinnamon in baking recipes like brownies or make my chocolate coconut cinnamon rough
Drink cinnamon tea
CHAMOMILE - is great for people who get especially grumpy before or during menses. It is mildly sedative, reduces stress and calms the nervous system. Chamomile is also anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic so will help reduce cramping and pain! Sip chamomile tea as often as you like whether Aunt Flo is visiting or not.
TURMERIC - is helpful in regulating menstruation and balancing hormones. The antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties also help to relieve menstrual pain. Try increasing it in your diet. I often use dried turmeric in;
These days, it seems like people claim cannabidiol (aka CBD) will cure pretty much any health concern or bodily ailment you're dealing with. Got anxiety? Take CBD oil. Got horrible period cramps? Stick CBD up your vagina. It's not surprising that people are turning to CBD, a legal compound found in marijuana and hemp, as a way to relieve painful periods. Even though the research on CBD is somewhat limited, it's known to have incredible anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. CBD also helps fight nausea and vomiting attached to severe menstrual cramps and it also reduces inflammation in the brain corridors that lead to excruciating migraines. CBD can also help prevent or modify mood swings and it relaxes all systems and stops muscle spasms, that same mechanism reduces cramping in and around the uterus.
There are some gentle yoga poses you can do to help relieve cramps. Child's pose, happy baby, and camel pose have all been said to help ease some of the pelvic discomfort. This study, found that yoga was associated with a reduction in levels of chronic pelvic pain in women with endometriosis.
Applying heat directly to the cramps is always super helpful for me. You can use a heating pad or a hot water bottle and fill it with warm water. I also love taking Epsom salt baths during my period. Contrary to popular belief, baths are 100% safe to take during menstruation, the magnesium in Epsom salts reduces inflammation and soothes pain and the hot water can provide comforting relief and boost blood circulation, which helps with period cramps. Do whatever feels best for you.
From putting essential oils into baths, into an oil diffuser or applying them to your body, they can become a huge part of menstrual wellness.
LAVENDER– is one of the best all-around oils out there. It can help to improve blood flow and reduce cramps, but it’s the calming, relaxing mental effects that the oil has that makes it so instrumental for combating PMS.
YLANG YLANG – this essential oil is widely regarded as an excellent antidepressant. This can help calm the mood swings of PMS, and the oil even has sedative properties that can calm down the mind entirely and fight anxiety. It can also help to reduce cramps thanks to its antispasmodic qualities.
PEPPERMINT - Last but not least, peppermint oil is amazing because it can relieve headaches and inflammation and boost your energy. Fluctuating oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can leave you feeling fatigued at different points of your menstrual cycle. I love rubbing a few drops onto my belly with some coconut oil and the cooling effect peppermint has helps to decrease cramping and pain.
UP YOUR MAGNESIUM
Low levels of magnesium can have a major impact on how your body feels during your cycle. Magnesium calms the nervous system, reduces headaches, mood symptoms of PMS, muscle cramps and similarly menstrual cramps. One study demonstrated that taking a magnesium supplement starting a week before the period, for 2-5 months, helped to reduce the severity of period cramps dramatically. So if you want to boost your magnesium levels, you have options. You can take a good quality magnesium supplement, and/ or take epsom salt baths, or use magnesium body spray as well as focus on increasing your intake of magnesium-rich foods. These include; salmon, leafy greens like kale, spinach, and rocket, nuts like cashews, almonds, and walnuts. Try adding more pumpkin seeds and avocados to your diet and decreasing your overall salt intake, as this makes it easier for magnesium to prevent bloating and water retention.
Lastly, the biggest yet oftentimes most difficult thing is to take it easy. In a fast paced world, it can be hard to give ourselves permission to cancel plans or push back deadlines. And sometimes, that’s not possible. But if you know you get painful cramps, it can be helpful to plan your schedule ahead of time. Finish deadlines the week before your menstruation cycle. Take a few days off from the gym or your training program. Try not to plan any social activities the first few days of your period. If there is ONE time of the month to take it easy, it's this time. Schedule in some reading time, bath time, nap time or Netflix time. Give yourself the gift of slowing down. Our bodies are going through a very intense process during menstruation, and honouring that is a form of beautiful, simple self-care.
Do you get cramps? If so, how do you handle them?