Easier Periods ARE Possible — Here's How!

Easier Periods ARE Possible — Here's How!

Painful periods, also called dysmenorrhea (“dis-men-oh-ree-ah”), are a common concern for people who have menstrual cycles. While roughly 80% of period experiencers report discomfort during bleeding days, it is important to know that just because something is common doesn’t mean it's normal!

Naturopathic Medicine, along with several other traditional systems, is rooted in the belief that the body is more than the sum of its parts and that symptoms are signals of imbalance that need attention, not suppression. In restoring balance, we must consider the needs of the whole body, not just the area exhibiting a symptom. In the case of painful periods, it's not unusual to consider gut health/diet, mental health, the impact of stress, inflammation, and more.

So, if you’re ready to work towards milder menstrual days by making choices that support the body overall, consider the following “whole-health/whole-month” strategies of healthy fueling, healthy movement, and healthy habits:

Healthy Fueling: Eating to Reduce Inflammation

Part of what makes periods hurt is the increase in inflammatory molecules that are produced by the body to cause the shedding of the uterine lining. This is a normal process, but if a body is already inflamed, this increase in inflammation can become painful and disruptive.

To help keep inflammation in check:

• Build a diet that is rich in variety, plant-based foods, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
• Get rid of extra/added sugars and minimize your caffeine intake.
 Consider a temporary (30-60 days) elimination of dairy products and gluten-containing grains (you don’t have to eliminate them simultaneously), as these can be particularly inflammatory to some bodies.
 Increase healthy fats, like avocados, raw nuts, and olive oil; while reducing trans fats, like those in fried foods and fast foods.

Healthy Movement: Exercise and Mobility

We all know the importance of exercise and moving our bodies for heart, mental, and bone health. What about menstrual health? Like my chiropractor friend who has a sign in his office that says “exercise is nature’s ibuprofen,” I find regular, consistent (all month long) exercise to be a reliable strategy to ease menstrual pain over time. Other healthy movement and mobility strategies that may be beneficial, include:

• Stretching (especially of the low back, hips, hip flexors, and upper leg muscles)
• Yoga and Tai Chi
• Chiropractic work
• Dry brushing (a technique used to move/cleanse the lymphatic system)
• Acupuncture, Reiki, or other modalities that create movement in the body’s energetics

Healthy Habits

Along with healthy fueling and movement, other day-to-day habits will also influence how balanced, or out of balance, the system is. Adequate sleep is irreplaceable. Regardless of gender, most adults are not getting enough sleep at night. However, current research suggests that women do need MORE sleep than men, so if you’re working towards better overall health, prioritize sleep!

Other healthy habits of leaning into include:

• Meal/Food Prep: Carve out time to prepare meals and snacks that align with an anti-inflammatory eating strategy
• Stress management strategies. High-stress hormones can make you feel irritable, bloated, and more sensitive to pain. So, is it a period problem, or is it a stress hormone problem?

While working towards a lifestyle that lends to easier, less painful periods, enjoy botanicals that have properties that support menstrual health:

• Viburnum (cramp bark) and Valerian to ease monthly cramping.
• Traditional herbalism often includes hepatic herbs (those with action on the liver) like Dandelion, Milk Thistle, and licorice when formulating a blend meant to improve menstrual symptoms.
• Adaptogenic herbs, like Holy Basil and Eleuthero, help the body adapt to both internal (i.e. undereating) and external (i.e. work, financial) stress.

Remember, you should NOT have to suffer month after month with painful periods. It is important to visit with a healthcare provider if:

• Pelvic or lower abdominal pain occurs throughout the month, not just during periods.
 Pelvic/period pain keeps you from completing daily tasks Nausea or vomiting occurs during periods.
• You experience radiating pain, away from the lower pelvis to the back, legs, abdomen, etc.
• At any point, you feel concerned or need more information about your periods!

This blog was written by Dr. Stephanie Nishek, ND, click here to learn more about this author.
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