Painful (or heavy) periods are not a normal event – yes it may be extremely common, but still this doesn’t make it ‘normal.’
Painful periods, technically known as Dysmenorrhoea, is one of the leading causes of all female school and work absences. Usually, the pain begins on either the day before, or the day of the start of the period, and can last up to two days. It is more common in younger women and girls, but can hinder a woman for her entire (fertile) life if it is left unchecked.
Hormonally, dysmenorrhoea is usually associated with an estrogen dominance, and can therefore also be linked with things like a heavier menstrual flow, bladder, pelvic or uterine pain, fibroids, chronic PMS or general inflammation.
I would also like to point out, however, that it is still very common to have none of these underlying pathologies, and still have a lot of discomfort around ones cycle.. Estrogen is known to stimulate excessive production of prostaglandins, including PGF2-alpha, which in turn constricts endometrial vessels and contracts smooth muscle causing cramping and pain.
I’ll keep this simple, and explain that this estrogen dominance can be caused by one of two things-
1- Estrogen Dominance; An excessive amount of estrogen in the body at any given time, or
2- A Progesterone Deficiency; This creates what we call a ‘relative Estrogen dominance’, as there is not enough Progesterone to counter the effects of circulating Estrogen.
As some of you may have seen on my recent social media posts, Progesterone deficiency is extremely common in our society. Poor sleep routines, high stress loads, over-training, and highly processed diets can all deplete Progesterone at a rapid rate. This is because Progesterone is broken down and converted to Cortisol, our stress hormone, when required.
This one is a little more complex, because not only do we have to deal with our own rising Estrogen levels throughout a cycle, but there are many foods and chemicals in our environment that will act like Estrogen once they get into our body.
Without giving an entire chemistry lesson (perhaps ill save that for another article), know that in order to detoxify and excrete ANY of the estrogens, our Liver and Bowel needs to be in a healthy state.
This means, again, that a highly processed diet, and/or a toxic environment, will bump up the natural Estrogen stores immensely. (and remember that teenage girls have much higher circulating levels already, which is naturally required for development and maturation through puberty).
So if painful periods are not normal, but so common that it is pretty much classed as ‘normal’.. what are the things we can do to help both ourselves and our younger girls? Here I have compiled a small list of the basics, but remember that if none of these work, I would suggest you seek the advice of a trained Naturopath (or herbalist or nutritionist), and I want to bring home the fact that you do NOT need to put your teenage daughter onto an Oral Contraceptive pill to reduce her pain. (please see my other article for more information CLICK HERE
Checklist to help banish Period Pain forever!
- Exercise Regularly; Endurance type exercise helps boost Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHGB), which in turn helps to dampen the rise in Estrogen across our cycle
- Reduce dairy, eggs and red meat; No im not suggesting to go Plant based, but these three foods contain the highest levels of estrogen, and can exacerbate pain when it is there. (really this bit comes down to the body’s ability to detoxify it)
- Choose Magnesium!! Magnesium helps to relax the muscles of the uterus and reduces cramping. Dark green leafy vegetables, Cacao (not cocoa), avocado, nuts and seeds. These are our highest food sources of Magnesium. (yes, this is also quite possibly why we crave chocolate around our periods ladies!)
- Epsom Salts baths or Magnesium Sprays- again, a perfect way of getting Magnesium into the body.
- Reduce coffee and energy drinks; counter-productive to Magnesium, caffeine not only dehydrates the muscles and tightens them, but it also drives our Cortisol levels up which in turn depletes our precious Progesterone. (I challenge big coffee drinkers to reduce their caffeine consumption and see if their breast tenderness goes away, premenstrually!)
- Increase your cruciferous vegetables, and sulfur-containing herbs; The cruciferous vegetables contain constituents which help the liver to detoxify Estrogen, so try and increase your consumption of broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, garlic, onion, tumeric and rosemary. (These will also help the liver if youve had to live on painkillers for period pain).