The arrival of your period should be an exciting time as you embrace womanhood. Our periods are a wonderful sign that our bodies are healthy and functioning as they should. Flowing through the different phases of your menstrual cycle can even be a source of joy and empowerment. Unfortunately, for many women, this experience is marred by the all-too-familiar discomfort of period cramps. Studies estimate that anywhere from 50% to 90% of women will experience some degree of menstrual pain during their reproductive years. Just think about it: you will have approximately 450 periods in your lifetime. It's disheartening to imagine spending 450 days or more curled up in misery when there are so many benefits to be gained from your period.
While it's normal to have some light cramping, it is not normal to have to halt your life, call in sick to work, and endure debilitating pain that leaves you curled up in a ball. Just because period cramps are common doesn't mean they should be accepted as the norm. I've been there myself, having to leave school or work because I couldn't physically function on the first day of my period. It was embarrassing and disheartening; I yearned to show up and be reliable. Being curled up in agony on the couch or by the toilet is far from glamorous, and it certainly should not be the standard.
The belief that period cramps are an inevitable part of the menstrual cycle is nothing more than a myth. The notion of a cramp-free period is not just wishful thinking; it is entirely possible. Your body is not designed to endure period cramps. In fact, it is beautifully designed to function without them. All it needs is a little support from you to return to its natural state of balance and well-being.
Why do you get period cramps?
The simple explanation for why you experience period cramps is inflammation in your body. However, uncovering the specific trigger for this inflammation can be a personal and challenging process. That being said, let's delve into the scientific aspects of what happens in your uterus during your menstrual cycle.
During your menstrual cycle, the lining of your uterus called the endometrium, produces a substance called prostaglandins. When you have your period, the breakdown of the uterine lining causes the release of these prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are responsible for constricting blood vessels and triggering the uterus to contract, resulting in the cramps you feel. Women who experience period cramps have higher levels of these prostaglandins in their uterus lining compared to those who have minimal or no period pain.
Interestingly, your body produces different types of prostaglandins. While one type, called PgE2, causes uterine contractions and thus period cramps, your body also naturally produces two other types, PgE1 and PgE3, which actually work to counteract the contractions and act as natural painkillers. This means your body has twice the potential to alleviate pain than causing period cramps. PgE2 is also responsible for playing a part in other period symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches.
Now in the medical world, period cramps are referred to as dysmenorrhea. There are two main types: primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea refers to cramps that occur without an underlying medical condition and usually begin within a few years after starting menstruation. It is the most common type of period cramp, and what I just talked about above. On the other hand, secondary dysmenorrhea is characterized by menstrual pain caused by an underlying condition such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease. That's why understanding the underlying root cause of inflammation is crucial, as it helps determine whether you are dealing with additional conditions like endometriosis or experiencing regular period cramps alone.
Finding the Underlying Root Cause of Your Period Cramps
As I mentioned before, the challenging part is finding the underlying root cause. It is important to figure out if you are dealing with primary dysmenorrhea or secondary dysmenorrhea as you address your period cramps differently if you have an underlying medical condition or not.
Here are 3 easy steps to starting to find your underlying root cause:
Get a pelvic exam done & check in with your doctor
Get Functional Medicine Lab Testing done with an integrative health practitioner
Testing will allow us to see where the inflammation comes from. Is there a digestion, mineral or hormonal imbalance? Is heavy metal exposure a concern? These are critical factors to investigate.
Possibly get lab imaging done - like a transvaginal ultrasound.
How to Prevent Period Cramps
Now that you understand why you get period cramps, you can work towards preventing them. The key is to support your body in producing less of the prostaglandin PgE2, which causes cramps, and more of the natural painkillers PgE1 and PgE3. Various factors can influence the production of these substances in your body. For example, consuming too much canola oil, which is high in omega-6 fatty acids, can lead to increased PgE2 production. On the other hand, increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like salmon, sardines, sesame seeds, and flax can boost the helpful, painkilling prostaglandins.
It's also important to be mindful of your diet in relation to red meat and dairy products. These foods contain arachidonic acids, which can contribute to the overproduction of PgE2 prostaglandins. Therefore, adjusting your consumption of these foods, depending on your individual body's needs and timing them within your cycle, can have a positive effect.
I BELIEVE NO WOMAN SHOULD SUFFER SIMPLY BECAUSE SHE HAS A PERIOD.
If you are one of the many women dealing with period cramps, it's important to know that there are solutions available to you. You don't have to suffer from this for the rest of your life. While I can provide you with a list of supplements, self-care practices, and specific foods that can help with period cramps, it's crucial to understand that everyone's body is unique, and each person is at a different stage in their health journey. You might be just starting out, and cleaning up your diet can make a tremendous difference, or you might have tried numerous remedies for years without success. In such cases, a general list of suggestions may not be helpful. To get started on the right path, I encourage you to book a 20-minute free call with me to discuss your specific situation. You have nothing to lose by exploring personalized guidance. Additionally, you can check out my service to see if working with me 1-on-1 resonates with you.
In the meantime, here are five points that can help you start moving in the right direction:
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet, such as a whole-foods Mediterranean diet.
Reduce your consumption of prepackaged and processed foods. Instead, focus on shopping in the produce aisle.
Switch unhealthy oils to healthier options like olive or coconut oil, and opt for plant-based fats like avocados and olives.
Applying heat to your abdomen can provide relief from cramps during your period.
Remember, finding the right solution for you requires personalized attention. Feel free to explore my services and courses for further support tailored to your needs.