How to Cure Your Period Cramps...Naturally
Before I understood how my food and lifestyle habits dictated my hormones, I spent several days each each month curled up in the fetal position. I wasn’t just sidelined with some mild menstrual cramps; my entire body was racked with pain as my uterus twisted and tightened with labor-like contractions. The waves of intensity turned my complexion green and pale, draining the color from my face and zapping my energy.
In my experiences with doctors and specialists, I was told cramps were a perfectly normal part of womanhood. My mind-blowingly painful periods were dismissed as unavoidable pitfalls of having lady parts. I was told to pop some Midol and take refuge on the couch until the days-long pain was over. The experience was disheartening and frustrating, and I know it happens all too often. I regularly hear from women that a week or so of every month is reserved for couch-time and pain-relievers, and they expect to be incapacitated by their periods.
I have news ladies: this is not how it should be. I knew the amount of pain I was tolerating wasn’t normal, no matter what doctors or all the cultural messages around womanhood told me. I needed to know why my cramps were happening and how to stop them. And I wanted to understand the science behind them so I could help inform other women. You don’t have to put up with period pain. Not today and not next month. You can actually alleviate your cramps right now while laying the foundation for a future that is free from menstrual discomfort of any kind.
There are actually natural alternatives to the Pill and painkillers so many of us rely on to numb the pain, and they work! Here’s what you can do to alleviate your current cramps and what will, over the course of three months, change your period for the better...
WHY DO YOU HAVE CRAMPS?
There are two causes for cramps: one is chemical and one is functional. A chemical series called Prostaglandins stimulate the uterine muscles to contract. There are three types — PgE1, 2, and 3. PgE2 is the one that causes uterine contractions and pain. PgE1 and 3 on the other hand are antispasmodic, meaning they’re natural pain killers! The more PgE2 you make, the more crampy you feel. To boot, they also play a part in the vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches that come with your cycle. This is caused by not having enough omega 3 fatty acids and having too many omega-6 instead — often caused by our over-consumption of canola oil! On the functional side, pain can be caused by any of the following conditions: endometriosis, fibroids, infections, IUD, ovarian cysts, narrow cervix, or a retroverted (tipped) uterus. In my case, I not only had a tipped uterus, but also elevated PgE2 levels.
HOW TO HEAL YOUR CRAMPS IN THE SHORT-TERM
If you’re reaching for the painkillers, know that in the long term these can worsen the problem by putting strain on your liver and exacerbating hormonal imbalances. If you must, take ibuprofen at the lowest dose and try to take it ahead of when you normally get cramps. So if you normally get pain the first day of your period, try to plan to take the dose first thing in the morning. Preventative use of ibuprofen will also stop you needing more and higher doses later on.
Instead of Advil, pop some almonds! A few days before your period take a high dose of vitamin E and magnesium and continue this protocol two days into your menstruation. Almonds and hazelnuts are good sources of vitamin E, along with leafy greens, like collard greens, for the magnesium.
Consider switching from tampons to pads. The insertion of the tampon can make pain worse if you’re sensitive to cramping. You can always swap back when the pain has subsided for that month. And absolutely make sure they are organic — just say no to pesticides and bleach in your vag!
Clary sage essential oil rubbed into the skin above the pubic bone and below the belly button, where your uterus is situated, has been shown in several studies to relieve cramps and even childbirth contractions. You can also diffuse this oil to aid with anxiety and stress or add a few drops to an Epsom salt bath.
An old-fashioned hot water bottle on your abdomen will work wonders. You can even wrap it with an oversized scarf around your waist if you can’t sit still or lay down for long.
Apply counter-pressure to the sciatic nerves in your lower back with your thumbs pushing inward toward the spine and down toward your feet will help take the intensity of cramps down. You can also apply the hot water bottle to your lower back as well. Trust me this works — I used this technique to get me through 20 hours of natural labor — it’ll totally help your cramps.
LONG TERM SOLUTIONS
1) Boost Omega 3 Fatty Acids
To really clear up cramps for good, you’ve got to lower your PgE2 levels and boost your PgE1 and 3 levels. This of course is connected to what you eat and drink throughout your cycle as well as your general, overall health. The facts show that dairy and saturated animal fats up that gnarly PgE2 series. So start by cutting those out. To increase the PgE1 and 3 series, you have to get your linoleic acid up, so load up on salmon, sardines, flax, pumpkin seeds, sunflower + sesame seeds.
2) Do less running around the day before your period starts
Stress hormones can make menstrual cramps worse. If you can start loosely planning your schedule to accommodate your period, you’ll alleviate some of the stress about what you can’t do when it come around. This doesn’t mean you must be confined to bed for three days every month, only that you may benefit from easing off on unnecessary activities and appointments. Try being super selective with your period day plans for three months and see if you feel better for taking some time out.
3) Massage your uterus!
To address the tipped uterus — learn the practice of Mayan Abdominal Massage! I loved doing this form of self massage to restore the uterus to it’s right position and even if your uterus is not retroverted, this massage can be helpful for many health issues associated with the reproductive organs since we all tend to lead very sedentary lives which cause general stagnation in this area — just like knots in your back hurt because they lack proper blood flow, your pelvic region suffers with poor circulation as well. You can look for a class in your local area or teach yourself self-massage via the Arvigo book series.