Period pain is not normal. Yep, I said it. Why on earth would pain be normal? It wouldn’t, and it isn’t. Sadly, period pain is common and is debilitating for many – debilitating enough to take strong pain killers each month, or to go on the contraceptive pill which is sold as a cure. The pill is simply shutting down ovulation, shutting down natural hormones, and shutting down the entire menstrual cycle, whilst pushing the body into a temporary state of menopause, and replacing natural hormones with synthetic hormones. When you later want to come off the pill to start a family, the period pain returns, and the endocrine system has no idea what is going on – because the pill has not actually fixed the problem, but has merely masked the symptoms – the pain, the heavy bleeding, the acne. Wouldn’t you rather fix the problem?
The technical term for period pain is dysmenorrhoea. There are two different types, primary dysmenorrhoea and secondary dysmenorrhoea. Let’s explore these below:
Primary dysmenorrhoea is a mild cramping in the pelvis or lower back and is caused by the release of prostaglandins (inflammatory chemicals). It usually occurs on the first 1-2 days of your period.
Secondary dysmenorrhoea is a stabbing, burning, throbbing or searing pain which can cause vomiting and does not respond to basic pain medication such as ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This type of period pain is obviously debilitating, and is caused by an underlying medical condition such as endometriosis or adenomyosis. These are complex, chronic conditions and will be explored in separate articles.
To manage normal period pain/primary dysmenorrhoea, the following options can be helpful:
- Anti-inflammatory herbs such as ginger and turmeric – add these to smoothies, curries, or grate into hot water and enjoy them as a herbal infusion
- Herbal medicines such as cramp bark, vitex and black cohosh can all be beneficial but need to be prescribed by a qualified naturopath or herbalist. Vitex (also known as Chaste tree) is not for everybody and should not be self-prescribed.
- Magnesium supplementation – magnesium is a muscle relaxant, so it relaxes the muscle of the uterus and prevents cramping. It also reduces prostaglandins – the chemical messengers which cause pain. I generally recommend a dose of 300-600mg/day of magnesium citrate (make sure you are taking a good quality, practitioner grade supplement – many people take magnesium oxide because it is cheap, without realising that this is a laxative and very poorly absorbed!
- Zinc – a wonder mineral for all sorts of hormone problems, zinc improves blood circulation to the uterus, balances hormones and reduces prostaglandins, thereby reducing inflammation and pain.
- Avoid cow’s dairy – this contains a type of protein called casein which worsens inflammation and can make periods very heavy and painful. If you have period problems, cow’s dairy should be avoided.
- B vitamins – especially B6, can be very helpful at reducing period pain, but must be taken consistently and throughout the entire month. There are different types of B vitamins, some better than others. Speak to your healthcare practitioner about which type is right for your individual biochemistry and hormone picture.
- Heat – hot water bottles, heat packs, hot showers and baths can all be beneficial – you can add Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) to baths to assist in relieving muscle spasms.
- Peppermint essential oil can be diluted in almond, olive or another carrier oil and applied topically to the abdomen with a gentle massage to help relieve pain on the days of bleeding.