Thousands of women suffer from monthly menstrual cramps and resort to pill-popping to stop the pain. I know I have been guilty of this myself. But something in my gut (no pun intended) kept pushing me to find a better solution.
Popping pills just seemed like a band-aid quick fix to me and knowing that pain is the the body’s way of telling us to investigate further, I decided to heed the call and find what natural solutions were out there. I’m going to share a few of them with you here before answering the question about supplements…
- Eliminate dairy food, especially ice cream, cottage cheese, and yogurt. It has been shown that significant relief of symptoms such as menstrual cramps, heavy bleeding, breast pain, and endometriosis pain occur when the consumption of dairy foods ceases. This is not true for everyone, but it works often enough to be worth a try. Though it is not conclusive why dairy foods are associated with women’s pelvic pain symptoms, there are quite a few strong theories. One possible explanation is that most milk produced today is produced by cows treated with bovine growth hormone (BGH) which over stimulates the cow’s udder. These cows tend to have infected udders and thus require antibiotics. Both hormone and antibiotic residues in their milk then stimulate the female hormonal system. We do know that antibiotics fed to livestock make their way into the human food chain. Antibiotics change the way hormones are metabolized in the bowel and thus can change and alter your hormonal levels.
- Dairy foods produced organically, without BGH, antibiotics, or pesticides in the cows feed don’t seem to have the same adverse affect on uterine and breast tissue. Many women have noticed when they switch to organically produced dairy foods, their symptoms go away. But don’t you think it strange that humans are the only species that drinks another animal’s milk? This doesn’t seem natural. And all other animals stop drinking milk after the infancy phase….makes you go, hmmm. Soy products are a good alternative to dairy. If/when you do choose to eliminate dairy from your diets, know that you can get calcium from other sources such as broccoli, artichokes, kale and mustard greens. You can also get calcium from soy beans, figs, papaya, raisins, almonds and salmon.
- Cut way, way down on refined carbohydrates. More than any other food, excess carbohydrates — especially refined ones such as those in cookies, cake, chips, crackers, and so on — can trigger an eicosanoids imbalance that results in cramps.
- Limit red meat and egg yolks to no more than two servings per week, or eliminate them completely. If you do eat red meat, eat low fat cuts from organically raised animals. Red meat and egg yolks are very rich in arachidonic acid (AA) which can result in increased series 2 eicosanoids and uterine cramps in susceptible individuals. Not all individuals are sensitive to AA, so this recommendation will not apply to everyone.
- Avoid and eliminate sources of trans-fatty acids whenever possible. These increase production of a series 2 eicosanoids, associated with cramps. Trans fatty oils are found in all foods containing partially hydrogenated oils. Margarine and shortening are examples, so deep fried foods should be eliminated.
Limiting your sodium intake is also a great homeopathic remedy for menstrual cramps and is something you should really be doing anyway. Water retention is partially caused by having too much sodium in your diet and when you are menstruating this sodium intake can really increase your bloating and water retention. Decreasing your sodium intake to a very low level will help decrease the water retention which will naturally help decrease the pain associated with menstrual cramps. It also lowers high blood pressure and all sorts of other beneficial health symptoms.
Now let’s get to the nutritional supplements. Do they really help?
Take essential fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil have been shown to work well for menstrual cramps even in those who didn’t change other aspects of their diets. Eating sardines packed in their own oil or olive oil three times a week is a healthier and cheaper alternative to diet supplements. Other free-range cold water fish such as mackerel, salmon, and swordfish are also good sources of fish oil. Cold-pressed Flaxseed oil-500n mg two to four times per day can also be used if fish oil is not available or if it is not palatable.
You can also take a multivitamin-mineral supplement, 100 mg B6 per day, in combination of B complex. Vitamin B6 has been shown to decrease the intensity and duration of menstrual cramps. Magnesium relaxes smooth muscle, and should be taken as much as 100 mg every two hours during the menstrual cycle itself, and three to four times per day during the rest of the cycle. And finally, Vitamin E taken 50 mg three times a day has also shown to be effective. However, keep in mind Vitamin E must be taken in the form of d-alpha tocopherol for it to have any biological effect.
- Reduce stress. Everybody talks about it but few tell us how to actually do it. I mean, who really wants to be stressed out anyway? If I had a cure-all for stress, I wouldn’t be stressed in the first place right?
- Learn to appreciate and understand the rhythms of your cycle. You may need a calendar to document, if your memory is slowly seeping away with age.
- Castor oil packs on the lower abdomen at least three times per week for several months improve immune system functioning and decrease stress and adrenaline levels. Packs should not be used when bleeding regularly.
- Massage, yoga, and homeopathy are great alternatives to pill-popping as well, so treat yourself! But keep in mind, homeopathic remedies, especially those involving herbs and supplements are best when administered by a competent practitioner who is familiar with the field.
- Hot baths and heating pads are also great remedies, the warmth is said to increase blood flow which can help with clotting, increase circulation and help relax muscles.
Being a woman does not mean it has to be painful and it does not mean you need to swallow a pharmacy’s worth of pills once a month either. Exercise, the right nutrition, and other gradual changes to your routine can help eliminate the pain. Menstruation is a natural function, and thank goddess there are plenty of natural ways to make it a little easier on all of us.