Period Cramping Your Style?
I’d need extra hands to count how many times I’ve sat across my office from women and have them tell me they have debilitating cramps when their period arrives, so nonchalantly like it’s “normal”. Well I have news for you, ladies.
Cramps accompanying your period may be common, but it’s NOT normal.
The intensity varies from woman to woman, some of you may not be able to get out of bed for 2-3 days while others are “luckily” able to get through your day with a few Tylenol. I want to help you live pain-free – but first, why is this happening to you?
Period cramps can occur for a multitude of reasons. It’s simple to brush them off as something that comes with having a uterus, but cramps are a clue that perhaps your reproductive system isn’t functioning optimally.
This is where your ND comes in as your trusted health detective.
Painful periods, or in the medical world, dysmenorrhea, can be either primary or secondary – meaning the pain is due to a physical abnormality or it isn’t. In secondary dysmenorrhea, cramping is likely due to things like endometriosis, fibroids, adhesions, cervical stenosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or cysts. Treatment here should first and foremost focused on treating the underlying condition causing the pain. For primary dysmenorrhea, getting to the root cause may be a bit trickier as this is likely not due to one of the existing physical conditions listed above.
Women between the age of 20-24 tend to suffer the most, with a decrease in severity and duration of cramping as we age. Smokers and those who are overweight tend to have cramps that last longer than 1-2 days. Women who started menstruating earlier, have heavier flow, and have never had children also tend to have longer, more painful periods.
After all physical causes are ruled out, primary dysmenorrhea may be due to a variety of causes. Including hormonal imbalances, poor blood flow to the uterus, and increased prostaglandin production – a naturally occurring compound within the body triggering uterine contractions. We all produce prostaglandins naturally, and need to do so in order to shed our uterine lining each month. However, women who suffer from dysmenorrhea have been found to have an overproduction of prostaglandins in the uterus during menstruation leading to increased severity and frequency of cramping.
So, what are we going to do about it?
First and foremost, we need to find out why this is happening. Identifying possible aggravating factors in your diet, lifestyle, or emotional state is important.
Many women with food sensitivities also experience painful periods due to an increase in prostaglandin production and body-wide inflammation from a not-so-happy gut. Finding these food triggers and healing the gut can make profound changes to your cycle. If you are also experiencing various gastrointestinal complaints such as bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, or constipation then food sensitivity testing may be warranted. Removing sensitivities and addressing gut health will also have positive impacts on your mood, skin, and hormones.
Quick Tip: avoid processed and packaged foods as much as possible to reduce your intake of saturated fats and refined sugar – two common culprits of inflammation.
Poor posture is often overlooked when it comes to cramps. If your low back is hunched and your muscles are tight, all those vital nerves and blood vessels keeping your uterus healthy are being pinched and squeezed. By opening up your low back with gentle strengthening and stretching exercises, and focusing on good ergonomics throughout the day, you can improve the blood flow to your uterus and decrease the duration and severity of cramps.
Quick Tip: Have a desk job? Make sure you are standing and stretching for 2-3 minutes every half hour. If your work will allow you to request a standing desk – even better! When you’re at home, invest in a stability ball to promote proper posture instead of slouching on your couch.
Stress - enough said. We are currently living in an age where being constantly ON seems necessary, and maybe even cool? I’m the first to admit that I have a hard time turning off, but self care and stress reduction are a huge part of my practice because of ALL the therapies we have to offer – teaching burnt-out women the importance of taking care of themselves is my passion. Stress can increase prostaglandin production, cause or worsen muscle tension, and contribute to that body-wide inflammation we discussed earlier. Not to mention, when we are stressed we typically begin putting our health on the back burner, which will likely worsen your cramps that cycle.
Quick Tip: Reducing your stress is easier said than done. So start by taking 5 minutes to brainstorm what it is that brings you the most joy. Perhaps it’s something that you haven’t done in a while because you’re too “busy” – like drawing, gardening, doing yoga, cooking, reading, etc. Now… do it. Pencil it in for 10-15 minutes day if you have to until taking that time for yourself becomes habit.
Start making these healthy changes and I can promise you will see results. While working through diet and lifestyle, acute relief can be found with supplementation and herbs.
Are you ready to live cramp-free? I’d love to meet you at Natural Choice Medical Clinic in Guelph. Call 519-265-8035 or go online at www.naturalchoicemedicalclinic.com to book an appointment.
In love and health,
Dr. Kelsey Duncan, Naturopathic Doctor
Dr. Duncan is a Naturopathic Doctor passionate about balancing women's hormones, optimzing thyroid health, and helping women get pregnant naturally. You can find her at Natural Choice Medical Clinic evenings and weekends. Call 519-265-8035 or click here to book your appointment.