Experiencing cramping and pain with the menstrual cycle is incredibly common. So common, that many women have lived years and even decades with debilitating pain and have come to accept it as a monthly inevitability.
1 -2 days of very mild cramping at the onset of bleeding that does not require the use of painkillers is normal. Anything beyond this is a sign that there is an underlying cause driving the increased cramping and pain.
There are two main causes of period pain; inflammation driven by excessive prostaglandin production and an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. Both of these can be addressed through dietary and lifestyle changes, and in some cases additional support through supplementation.
Below are 4 simple steps that I encourage all women experiencing period pain to start with. If you have incorporated these into your life and are still experiencing pain, you may need additional investigation and support. A chronic condition known as endometriosis may need to be considered if your period pain is resistant to treatment and worsening over time.
There are also several nutrients, vitamins and botanical medicines that can be used in addition to the below strategies to provide relief if your pain does not resolve within 2-3 months after implementing.
Top 4 strategies to reduce period pain, naturally
Ditch sugar and dairy.
Did you know that both sugar and cow’s dairy are inflammatory? Both can lead to increased prostaglandin release. Prostaglandins are inflammatory molecules your body produces around your period and are a major contributor to pain. Dairy can also increase histamine production and release, further worsening pain.
Eliminate high sugar foods such as pop/soda, table sugar, juice, processed foods with sugar additives and cow’s dairy.
Get your digestion moving.
The detoxification of estrogen happens first through the liver and then the gut. If you don’t have frequent bowel movements, estrogen can get reabsorbed from the gut back into circulation leading to increased estrogen levels, which can worsen period pain.
At a minimum, you should be having a bowel movement once a day. If you aren’t, incorporating more fibre into your diet, getting 2L of water daily, and using magnesium when needed can get you there!
Move your body.
During cramping the uterus muscle contracts decreasing oxygen and blood flow and worsening the pain experienced. Aerobic exercise has been found to reduce period pain by improving blood flow to and from the uterus and reducing the onset of prostaglandin accumulation. Exercise on the days you are actually experiencing cramping can also be helpful as it can lead to faster removal of the inflammatory prostaglandins from the uterus.
Alcohol can also be a contributor to painful cramping. It can deplete B vitamins and impacts the liver’s ability to metabolize hormones, specifically estrogen. High estrogen levels can increase the thickness of the uterine lining leading to heavy and painful periods.
Dr. Kelly Clinning, ND
Dr. Kelly Clinning is a licensed and registered Naturopathic Doctor (ND) with a passion for research and evidence-based care. Her clinical focus is in treating women’s health with a particular concentration on reproductive health, PCOS, endometriosis and thyroid health. Her goal is to help women connect with their bodies, understand their remarkable physiology, and maintain sustainable balance in their health and life.
Dr. Kelly has her naturopathic prescribing license and incorporates natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) and bio-identical hormone treatment into her practice. She also uses nutrition, botanical medicine, acupuncture, and clinical supplementation.
After graduating from Western University with a Bachelor of Science and an Honours specialization in Kinesiology, she completed a Doctor of Naturopathy (ND) degree from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto. She is a member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors, the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, and the Endocrinology Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is in good standing with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.