Do you groan — maybe outwardly — when Aunt Flo rolls into town? If your period comes with debilitating pain and lost days of work, you're not alone. The majority of women report experiencing menstrual discomfort, sometimes severe, every month.
That said, is it even possible to have a pain-free period? Absolutely. Sometimes, doing so takes little more than making lifestyle changes and using certain medications. Other times an underlying health disorder may be the cause of the agony, requiring a trip to the gynecologist.
What Causes Period Cramps?
When you ovulate, levels of progesterone begin rising in your body, which slightly raises your body temperature. As you get ready to menstruate, your progesterone levels drop as the endometrial tissue—the tissue lining the uterus—begins breaking down.
Hormonal shifts account for part of the agony. And if you seem to suffer from depression either right before or during your period, fluctuating hormones likely play a role.
Additionally, when your period starts, your uterus contracts to expel the unnecessary endometrial tissue. These contractions send pain signals through your vagus nerve, the longest of 12 cranial nerves running from your abdomen all the way to your brain. This process results in the signature dull or sharp cramping many women experience.
How to Stop Period Pain with Natural RemediesIf you have mild to moderate period pain (meaning you can still function, though not necessarily at your best), the following natural remedies can bring you considerable relief:
Yoga for period pain relief
Yoga makes for the ideal exercise during your period if you don't feel up to jumping around in a Zumba class or putting in miles on a treadmill. Because there's no impact, you can practice yoga even if you suffer degenerative joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, and indeed, the practice can alleviate pain from such conditions as well. Certain poses, such as Marjaiasana-Bitilasana, or cat-cow pose, activate the vagus nerve, bringing relief. Plus, the release of endorphins alleviates pain too.
Essential oils for period crampsYou can use essential oils in two ways: Suspend them in a carrier oil like coconut oil and massage into the abdomen, or add them to a diffuser to inhale. Cinnamon essential oil proves especially helpful to overweight and obese women with cramps. You can use cinnamon internally to balance blood sugar levels upset by insulin resistance, which can help balance other hormones. Other oils to use include lavender, frankincense and clary sage.
Acupuncture for crampsWestern scientists believe acupuncture works by stimulating certain nerves as the practitioner manipulates the needles. You'd do well to seek out a certified practitioner and slate approximately 60 minutes for your first treatment.
Menstrual cramp massageSome women swear by menstrual massage for relief of both bloating and pain. Some practitioners gently manipulate the abdomen, while others use heat on the stomach and low back while manipulating acupressure points.
Heat pad for cramps
A hot water bottle or heating can be a menstruating woman's best friend. Research indicates that heat interrupts the pain signals traveling along the nerves to the brain.
Foods to help period cramps
Eating a diet low in meat — hormones used in raising livestock may disrupt human hormones — and high in nuts and dark, leafy greens like kale can bring relief. Nuts, seeds and deep greens contain high levels of magnesium, a mineral known to moderate moods and relieve pain, which can be especially helpful if you get headaches with your period.
Supplements to reduce period pain
Some women find relief from taking magnesium supplements — but go easy, as they can make you poop — or fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids can help balance hormones naturally.
Allopathic Therapies for Menstrual Discomfort
If you track your period, you can alleviate much menstrual pain before it starts. Begin taking an over-the-counter pain reliever approximately one to two days prior to the usual start of your period. This method will work more effectively than waiting until you're doubled over in agony.
Additionally, using birth control pills can regulate and lighten your period, reducing cramps. If you're not trying to conceive, talk to your gynecologist about your birth control options. Different pills contain varying levels of hormones, so you might need to experiment to find which option works best for you.
When to See the Doctor
If your symptoms grow severe enough to warrant calling off work each month, it's time to call the doctor. You could suffer from endometriosis, which occurs when endometrial tissue grows on other organs outside of the uterus.
Do you experience unusually heavy periods? You may suffer from uterine fibroids. These growths can impact fertility, and seeking help can lead to identifying your treatment options.
Finally, severe hormonal fluctuations may signify polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition where the levels of progesterone, estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone drive the ovary to release many eggs, many of which form fluid-filled sacs called cysts. If you experience stubborn weight gain that won't budge despite lifestyle changes, this condition could play a role.